Outdoor Volunteering

Sharon with the horses
My husband and I have volunteered for years at a northern Minnesota wilderness ministry. This is me with two of their four sleigh ride Belgians, preparing to harness up.

A great way to get outdoors, stay active and help others is to volunteer for outdoor non-profits, government organizations and ministries.

Outdoor volunteering opportunities are almost endless — certainly more than you could ever find time for. Find an organization that does something you love, check out their website for volunteer opportunities, and sign up.

If it’s local, you can offer to put time in weekly or monthly. If it’s a distance away offer to help out for a project once or twice a year.

Some of my own experiences in outdoor volunteering

I volunteered monthly for a local horse rescue a couple years ago, for 1-1/2 years. I lugged hay and grain to the various corrals, scooped out stalls and hauled manure away, cleaned and filled water troughs, and whatever else was on the agenda for that morning.

It got me around horses (I love horses). It got me off my rear and on my feet (when I sit a good part of my day it feels great to work hard for awhile). It got me outside and around new people.

My whole family has volunteered many times for a non-profit ministry in northern Minnesota. We’ve helped plant, weed and harvest in their large gardens. We’ve helped maintain their campground. We’ve helped split and stack their winter firewood supply.

wood chopping party
Each October my family—along with some of their friends—spend a weekend chopping and splitting firewood for the same ministry.

Back in my 20s I volunteered for two summers there when they used to run 2-week youth camps. I was a counselor one summer and co-director the other.

We taught things like wilderness skills, canoeing and team building. Each session culminated in a multi-day canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

How to find gigs

Do you love dogs but don’t have one of your own? Offer to walk a neighbor’s dog, or volunteer to walk dogs at your local humane society or other rescue organization.

Do you love to hike? Find a hiking organization in your state and see what they need help with. In Minnesota we have the Superior Hiking Trail and part of the North Country Trail. They’re always looking for help maintaining the trails.

Are you a camper? Check out local county parks that accept volunteers to help maintain their campsites, plant trees, be a park guide or help get rid of invasive plant species.

Check with your state’s Department of Natural Resources for outdoor volunteer gigs at state parks. Minnesota’s DNR lists opportunities for master naturalist training, campground hosts and safety instructors.

America’s National Parks use many thousands of volunteers each year from Yosemite to Acadia, from Glacier to the Everglades.

If you live near one of them or you’re an empty nester with flexibility, how awesome would it be to give a summer? Or if you don’t have a summer, how about a weekend?

Include your family

If you’ve got kids at home, or grandkids old enough to bring along, an outdoor volunteer stint with them accomplishes several things.

It gives you a chance to spend time together. It gets them outside and away from their electronic gadgets. It exposes them to giving to a cause outside themselves.

Both an outdoor lifestyle and volunteerism are more likely to continue in people who’ve grown up with it. It feels normal. They’ll learn it can be a lot of fun besides being helpful to others.

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