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The 'ultimate volunteer vacation'

HistoriCorps helping to preserve America's cultural heritage

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June 25th, 2013
HistoriCorps volunteers celebrate
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Across the country, some of America’s treasures, the landmarks that define our cultural heritage, are being threatened—not from bulldozers or progress, but rather, from the ravages of time and neglect. With funds in short supply, Revolutionary War battlefields, Native American sacred sites, log cabins, and other historically significant locations are literally wasting away.

Thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers led by the nonprofit organization HistoriCorps, some of that decay is being arrested and old, dilapidated structures are being brought back to life. HistoriCorps partners with federal, state, and municipal agencies to provide maintenance and repair work in parks and other public lands. They keep their costs as low as possible by enlisting volunteers to do most of the work.

Since it started in 2009, HistoriCorps has completed over 40 projects. Current projects include reconstruction of a log cabin in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo., and repair of the Devil’s Head Fire Lookout in Colorado’s Pike and San Isabel National Forests.

What makes a good volunteer?

Offering what it calls, the “ultimate volunteer vacation,” HistoriCorps welcomes anyone with a good attitude and a willingness to try something new. Volunteers are average people from all walks of life who don’t necessarily have any special skills before signing up.

“The one common denominator among our volunteers is an interest in our public lands,” says Townsend “Towny” Anderson, executive director of HistoriCorps. “Many of them like to camp out. Many see this as a working vacation. Many of them pick our projects based on how special the place is. We like to say that we do preservation work on some of America’s last great beautiful places.”

Each HistoriCorps project is overseen by an experienced project leader who trains and guides volunteers. Jobs are generally broken down into five-night segments so volunteers arrive on a Sunday and depart on a Friday.

“The higher the quality of the volunteer experience, the higher the quality of our product,” says Anderson. “We let the volunteers know that there’s absolutely no experience necessary. We let them know exactly what we are going to be doing in terms of work so they can pick the projects based on what they are comfortable with. In other words, if they are not comfortable being up on scaffolding or doing roof work, they don’t have to do that. If heavy lifting is not well-suited for them, that’s all spelled out and they know in advance what’s required.”

‘Jaw-dropping gorgeous’

Last summer, Dan Perry and his son Josh drove from their home near Scranton, Pa., to Gunnison, Colo., to join a HistoriCorps group working to stabilize Tabasco Cabin, the last standing structure from a large gold mining site. Perry says, “The scenery was breathtaking, which I think is one of the perks of HistoriCorps projects. Some of these sites are just jaw-dropping gorgeous. We were in tents. You provide your own tent and sleeping bag. Then HistoriCorps sets up a kitchen tent, and on our project, they had a wonderful camp chef who was a retired state legislator from Colorado. He was phenomenal.”

Perry also enjoyed getting to know the other volunteers. “There were all ages,” he says. “A brother and sister team from Utah; another father-son team. It was a real mixed group. We all lived and ate and worked together.” Perry enjoyed the experience so much, he and Josh will volunteer for another HistoriCorps project this summer.

A four-time volunteer

Megan Potter from Alma, Colo., has volunteered on four different preservation projects and has put the skills she learned through HistoriCorps to good use. “Each project challenged me with totally different skills,” says Potter. “On one project, the Dexter Cabin, I learned to glaze and do other minor window restorations. This has proven to be a hugely useful skill, as this past weekend I started on the windows of my own home!”

What keeps Potter coming back? “The fantastic leaders and staff of HistoriCorps encourage you to do things at your pace, always with great patience and understanding,” she says. “I can’t really explain how much these experiences have broadened my horizons and knowledge bank. Also, the sense of accomplishment of not only learning something new but doing it in the field and being able to step back and see the result is fantastic. Not everyone has the ability to visit their handiwork in the physical world, to leave a visible mark!”

Like Perry, Potter has already signed up for more HistoriCorps projects this summer. “I can easily see how this isn’t for everyone, but I know there are groups of folks out there like me that enjoy nature, history, and learning,” she says. “I’ve always been a hands-on kind of person, and my love for historic buildings has only grown with time. It is also amazing how individual volunteers come together as a group that is really driven toward a goal—the camaraderie in the field and afterward is fantastic.”

For more information about HistoriCorps, visit HistoriCorps.org or call 303-893-4260.

michele.harris@erickson.com

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