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Eco-Friendly Volunteer Vacations in Your Own Backyard

GreenLandscapeAs many of you know, Earth Day — a day dedicated to the appreciation and awareness of our environment — was Sunday, April 22.

However, if you missed it, don’t worry — there are still plenty of ways in which you can show your appreciation for the planet.

In fact, with the help of some groups, you can do it year-round, even in your own community — in many cases within 100 miles of where you live.

The following are just some of the many organizations dedicated to putting nature first, along with information on how you can get involved.

The American Hiking Society (AHS) is an organization dedicated to protecting America’s hiking trails and the nature surrounding those trails. AHS partners with sponsoring organizations to provide volunteer vacation programs available in a little over half of the United States, for about $130 ($100 if you’re an AHS member). In this volunteer vacation, you’ll have the opportunity to rebuild trails, construct cabins, shelters, and footpaths, and explore mountains and valleys with other volunteers.

For example, there’s the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Volunteer Vacation, sponsored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which lasts about seven days (easy to moderate work level). This program entails day packing while performing trail rehabilitation on the Odell Creek Trail in southwestern Montana.

AHS also has projects that include installing wildlife viewing platforms, pulling tree stumps, and reconstructing drainages. For more information, call 800-972-8606 or see

The Sierra Club is a grassroots environmental organization dedicated to conserving nature through the use of educational trips. They offer approximately 90 “service trips” per year throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Most service trips last seven days, and typically cost anywhere from $350 to $600 (for participation in a basic program), with some trips as low as $255. Trips are available year-round at a variety of national parks and wildlife refuges.

The “Across the Arctic Plain” program takes you on a mission to help save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. This takes place from June 18-29 of 2007, and costs $3,895. On this trip, you can observe the Alaskan wildlife in addition to backpacking your way to conserving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

For more info, call 415-977-5522 or see

The Appalachian Mountain Club is an organization based out of Boston, dedicated to conserving the mountains, rivers, and trails of the Northeast. The AMC offers programs for children, teens, and adults, focusing on how to be safe outdoors while maintaining and caring for nature.

Among their programs are the AMC Outdoor Explorations, which combine naturalist walks around New England with the chance to learn outdoor skills. These explorations are offered on a daily or weekend basis, with occasional multi-day adventures. Daily programs may include skills clinics and table talks, in which guests are taught how to use a map and compass, and how to leave no trace of one’s path.

Weekend programs consist of longer walking hikes, ranging anywhere from three to five hours long, allowing guests to hike up Appalachian peaks. For more info, call 617-523-0655 or see

United Planet offers a unique program called Explore the United States of America, in which volunteers work to protect the environment while helping travelers cross the United States. Among some of the volunteer duties is assisting on an organic farm.

This program is offered as one of the long-term programs, in which one volunteers for six months to a year, with start dates every August and January. Short-term volunteer programs last anywhere from one to twelve weeks, and both short-term and long-term programs are available in countries around the world.

The Explore program costs $4,695 for six months, and $7,195 for the year, including food and lodging, local transportation, orientation, and health, accident, and third party liability insurance. For more info, call 617-267-7763 or see

Wildlands Restoration Volunteers (WRV) is a non-profit organization based out of Colorado, which is dedicated to preserving the environment through restoring and caring for the land.

WRV organizes roughly twenty volunteer programs a year, all of which take place in the Northern Colorado Front Range area. Projects may last anywhere from a day to a weekend, or longer. The Castle Rock Restoration Project takes place on Saturday, June 2, and volunteers will plant native seeds and install erosion control in order to halt further erosion to the northern slopes.

There is no fee required in order to participate in these programs, but you are responsible for your own transportation, work gear (i.e., boots, gloves), and whatever food is not provided during the event. For more info, call 303-543-1411 or see

Washington Trails Association is a company dedicated to protecting hiking trails and wild lands in Washington, and promoting hiking as a healthy and safe way to explore the state. WTA offers weeklong volunteer vacations every summer for $125 ($100 for WTA members).

The volunteer trip may include car camps to backpacking in remote locations. The Clear Fork (Cowlitz River) Trail takes place on May 26 through June 2, 2007 and involves camping at an old CCC shelter in the forest, in addition to helping repair a long neglected trail. Also included in the trip are tread work, drainage, and some log-out. There’s a two-mile backpacking hike where you’ll also be able to walk among streams, wetlands, and ancient trees.

For more info, call 206-625-1367 or see

By Sharon Brooke Uy for

For more volunteer opportunities, check out our Voluntourism page.

To learn about traveling responsibly, visit our Responsible Travel section.

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