The pry-bar slipped, creasing my forehead. I saw stars momentarily, then felt the warm trickle of blood flowing down the bridge of my nose. I pulled my handkerchief from my pocket and pressed it against the cut to slow the bleeding.
"Got a problem," I commented to no one in particular and climbed out of Spring Creek, where volunteers were busy installing fish habitat, part of a U.S. Forest Service, Trout Unlimited and Federation of Fly Fishers project.
Ed Sullivan, one of the volunteer stream workers and a registered nurse, grabbed me by the arm and sat me down in a chair. He replaced my handkerchief with a pad of sterile gauze.
"Hold it tight, now."
Dr. Charles Brooks, also a stream worker and doctor of nephrology at the VA hospital in Columbia, climbed out of the stream, rinsed his hands, looked at the cut and smiled at me.
Why do doctors do that?
"You need a couple of stitches, Spence. We've got suture material here. We can take you to the emergency room in Rolla, or I could take a couple stitches here. What's your call?"
Volunteers are like that. They come in all shapes and sizes, genders and occupations. Some are retired; others young and employed. They all have one thing in common: an interest in making our natural world better.
The opportunities to volunteer, to become part of our natural world here in the "Show-Me" state, are almost limitless.
Maybe the largest group of volunteers are the many stream teams scattered throughout Missouri. The Conservation Federation of Missouri, along with the Department of Conservation, laid the ground work for "Stream Teams," an interactive network of individuals and groups across the state interested in streams. The Roubidoux Fly Fishers, Stream Team 1, kicked the program off by adopting Roubidoux Creek, a trout stream running through Waynesville to the Gasconade River. Since then more than 800 teams and 40,000 volunteers have adopted streams and sections of streams all over the state.
According to Mark Van Patten, stream team coordinator for the Conservation Federation of Missouri, stream team activities are limited only by the imagination. "Teams range from single individuals, adopting a stream running through their land, to coalitions of stream teams, banding together whole watersheds, as advocates for healthy stream ecosystems.
"Stream teams empower ordinary citizens to assume responsibility for preserving, conserving and restoring our stream resources by active participation. This has become the largest activist movement here in Missouri. Some teams and team members go through special water quality monitoring training and monitor water quality for the Department of Natural Resources; others clean up trash along streams, lobby for clean water at local, state and national levels, install fish habitat or just function as watch dogs for their favorite streams."
If you're looking for a hands-on experience dealing with our natural world and people, which could lead to future employment, consider volunteering at one of the Missouri Department of Conservation nature centers or wildlife areas, or working with Conservation Department biologists on summer projects.
Michele Baumer, volunteer director for the Runge Conservation Nature in Jefferson City, says they have volunteers as old as 80 and as young as teenagers.
"They really do have a love for the outdoors," says Baumer, "and want to share that love. Volunteering gives them a sense of community, a sense of healing; they learn a lot about the environment, the role the Conservation Department plays and they receive experiences that they wouldn't get elsewhere.
"My teenager volunteers are looking for something different to do, and for the opportunity to learn about the outdoor field for possible future employment. College students volunteer hoping to get their foot in the door in working with the Conservation Department. And, some do. Other volunteers, who have 8-to-5 jobs, just want to do something different. My older volunteers, retirees, just want to give something back to the community."
At the Runge Nature Center, Baumer says, volunteers greet visitors and provide information, lead nature tours, build trails and displays, present programs, organize and staff special event displays, such as Day With Wildlife and Earth Day, and give talks to groups visiting the nature center. "Volunteers help free up professional staff for other duties," Baumer says.
There are a wealth of other opportunities to volunteer within the Department of Conservation. Large public sites, like August A. Busch Conservation Area in St Louis and the James A. Reed Conservation Area near Kansas City, use volunteers to build wildlife and fish habitat and to monitor and survey anglers.
Fisheries management biologists use volunteers to install fish habitat and cedar tree revetments along streams, to help with electrofishing to monitor fish populations and for other fisheries related projects. Wildlife biologists work with volunteers to help with hacking and reintroduction of rare and endangered raptors, such as ospreys, eagles, peregrine falcons and barn owls. Foresters use volunteers to fight fires, plant and manage trees and design and build hiking and nature trails.
Many other conservation organizations, both private and public, use volunteers. The Wild Bird Rehabilitation and World Bird Sanctuary in St Louis uses volunteers to help rehabilitate injured birds, present programs on birds and even help with such mundane tasks as the care and feeding of convalescing birds.
All major zoos in Missouri also use volunteers, which they call "docents." According to the Heritage Dictionary, a docent is a lecturer or tour guide in a museum or cathedral. The Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the world's premier flora displays, has volunteers to help manage their programs. Conservation organizations, like Trout Unlimited, Federation of Fly Fishers, and Audubon, greenway groups and state parks use volunteers to teach fishing, build fish habitat in trout streams, identify and count birds and butterflies and build trails.
The list could go on. Opportunities to volunteer to work in the out doors in Missouri are many and varied.
Back at Spring Creek, I considered my wound. "Lets do it here." I responded, wiping dried blood off my nose.
Dr. Brooks took five stitches, and Sullivan bandaged my head so that I looked like a pirate. Then, I returned to moving rocks to be used for fish habitat.
It doesn't require any special qualifications or training to become a volunteer, only a willingness to become involved and the motivation to seek out opportunities. triangle
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