Texas state parks and historic sites are seeking retirees, vacationing educators and any others looking for something interesting to do this summer.
With more than 100 state parks and historic sites, volunteer opportunities abound throughout the state. Parks seeking volunteers include such popular Texas Hill Country in parks as Blanco and Garner, as well as Mustang Island State Park along the Gulf of Mexico and Panhandle jewel Palo Duro Canyon.
The Texas State Park System’s volunteer program provides park lovers an opportunity to give something back to their favorite state park and also provides parks with much-needed manpower, saving the state millions of dollars in labor costs. In fact, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates conservatively that state park volunteers save the agency roughly $7 million a year in labor costs.
“Without our dedicated group of volunteers across the state, we couldn’t operate many of our parks,” said Walt Dabney, director of Texas State Parks.
State park volunteer opportunities run the gamut — from park hosts and office assistants to park maintenance workers and tour guides, according to Carolyn Gonzales, TPWD’s state parks volunteer coordinator.
“There are numerous opportunities for park hosts around the state from now through September,” said Gonzales. “Snowbirds tend to flock to Texas during the winter to help out at our state parks, but that makes volunteers scarce during the warmer summer months. Even some of our most visited state parks right now are experiencing a need for summertime volunteers.”
Busy Blanco State Park, about an hour’s drive west of Austin, is one such park seeking more volunteer help. The scenic, 104-acre park, which straddles the spring-fed Blanco River, currently needs three park hosts to fill its four summer slots.
Campground hosts typically set up their RV or trailer at a park host site for a month, receiving free camping in exchange for doing campground counts, answering campers’ questions and picking up trash, said Jim Cook, Blanco State Park’s office manager. He said the park has a San Antonio school principal who works on many weekends, mowing grass and trimming trees as a break from his usual office routine.
Martha Stafford, a middle school teacher in Terlingua in the Big Bend Country, is volunteering her services at a Texas state park for the second time in three summers. A recent weekday morning found her applying a reflective sealant on the roof of the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center in Lajitas.
“I believe very strongly in volunteerism, giving something back,” Stafford explained. “I know schools couldn’t exist without volunteers. So in the summer when I’m off, I try to spread the wealth.”
Volunteers like Stafford are as precious as rainfall in the Chihuahuan Desert park during the hot summer months. Volunteer coordinator David Long tries to keep four park host sites staffed best he can. In exchange for their services, which might be for a period as short as a week or as long as a month, park hosts receive a free campsite and utilities at Barton Warnock, as well as access to Big Bend Ranch State Park and Fort Leaton State Historic Site.
“The only requirement for volunteers is that they be in good physical condition,” Long said. “There’s not a lot of indoor work since it’s our slow season. Most work is outdoors, but we never work you harder than you want to work.”
In the face of limited funding for hiring seasonal help, Mustang Island State Park volunteer coordinator Cathy Flores depends on civic-minded and adventurous people to augment a small park staff.
“Volunteers work at the park entry, collecting fees and help out in the office,” she said. “Other volunteers perform maintenance tasks, such as emptying trash drums along the beach and cleaning restrooms.”
Like Mustang Island State Park, Davis Mountains State Park near Fort Davis counts on the same volunteers to return year after year. Jack and Marie Griffin will be serving as camp hosts again at Davis Mountains this July and August. The Whitney retirees will park their recreational vehicle next to one of the park’s wildlife-viewing stations and tend to a number of chores.
“We love it out here and look forward to it every year,” Jack Griffin said as he showed visitors around the park’s Interpretive Center. “It’s quiet, cool and we just love the mountains.”