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Volunteering: One Couple Sets a Stellar Example of Service at Mount Rainier

Volunteers are exemplary people who dedicate themselves to noble causes. Yet how many act this nobly, or serve with such dedication?

Meet Jim and Carol Miltimore, who in 2005 agreed to spend their retirement years serving as volunteers at Mount Rainier National Park, the great big mountain where they shared their first date and later exchanged vows on their wedding day. (Lovebird factoid: The two will celebrate their 20th anniversary on Oct. 10.)

J,C, MRSince then the couple has donated more than 17,500 hours of labor to the park, the rough equivalent of 729 nonstop 24-hour days. And we're serious about the word labor. Door-greeters they're not (though they would happily do it if they were asked). Here is a sampling of the roles the Miltimores have filled at Rainier:

• Backcountry patrollers: Jim and Carol regularly roam Rainier's backcountry (the park consists of 235,625 acres, 97% of it wilderness), usually on the mountain's east side. It's one of their preferred tasks, answering hikers' questions, checking permits, radioing in distress calls or hiker requests to change backcountry campsites. They estimate they log 250 to 350 miles of backcountry travel annually, on-trail and off-trail. That's close to 4 loops around Mount Rainier's famed, 90-mile Wonderland Trail.

• Hazmat handlers: Five years ago the sharp-eyed couple noticed a pipe poking out of the ground near Lodi Spring in Berkeley Park , not far from the park's visitor center at Sunrise. It contained wires that Jim, a chemist and geologist, decided to test on his own. He determined the wires, the underground remnants of a 1920s telephone system, had a lead coating. His discovery triggered a removal effort to prevent soil and water contamination. "Jim's been the impetus behind the whole project," says Geoff Walker, Rainier's acting lead wilderness ranger. "Jim went back into park archives and found the maps of where the wire was laying so it could be removed." Jim and Carol took hazardous material training and participated in the project, wearing white Tyvek suits and booties plus blue Space Oddity gloves while extracting pipes and wires. "People on trails must wonder who we are," Carol says.

Consulting• Pooper troopers: When composting toilets reach capacity, rangers dutifully shovel out their contents. Jim and Carol once carried backpacks containing large sealed buckets of composted human waste to get that material out of the backcountry. "The buckets are heavy, around 30 or 40 pounds, but they're not stinky," Carol says. "It's not as bad as it sounds."

• Photo filers:
Over the last 3 winters the couple joined other volunteers to in an effort to organize an inventory of 50,000 historical park photos that date back to the 1890s. Winter days are usually spent assisting the park's curatorial and library offices. "But if there is a nice snowfall the night before, we'll go up to Paradise and volunteer for snowshoe patrol," Carol says. Nice work, and the Miltimores can get it.

• Trail menders:
The pair spent 85 days working on the reconstruction of the 3.1-mile Glacier Basin Trail on Rainier's east side, a popular route badly damaged in a flood caused by a November 2006 storm. Walk the route with Jim and he's got a trail-engineering story to tell just about every switchback. You also soon admire the pair's much-practiced stick-flick technique, a quick snap of a trekking pole that zings stray twigs or other organic fodder off the trail where it can decay away from the tread. 

J, C, pickupThe list goes on: Carol, a hobby botanist, locates and indentifies plants that are rare in the park. Lewisia pygmaea, also known as alpine lewisia and pygmy bitterroot, was a recent topic of interest. She's also involved in an eradication program for noxious weeds and has helped collect seeds of native plants for cultivation in park greenhouses, where plants are used in revegetation projects, where she loves to pitch in and keep the mountain naturally colorful.

Jim, a lifelong climber who has summited the high point of every state but Alaska, focuses primarily on backcountry patrols and construction projects. He points out that a patch of trail that takes 5 or 10 strides to navigate may have taken more than a week of root or rock extraction, retainer-wall construction, leveling, smoothing and other refinements. The Glacier Basin project involved the participation of several nonprofit groups and volunteers from as far away as Ethiopia and Sherpas from Nepal. "It's a retiree fulfilling his childhood dream," Carol says, "getting to be a patrolman, a logger and a civil engineer."

On the trailHow valuable are volunteers to public recreation spaces? They're invaluable, says Randy King, acting superintendent at Mount Rainier.

"We really can't provide the kinds of services and take care of the park in the way that we need to without volunteers," King told me last Friday, one day before National Public Lands Day (Sept. 24) when an estimated 180,000 people, including the Miltimores, were expected to participate in service projects at more than 2,000 U.S. sites.

"Last year we had more than 2,000 volunteers at Mount Rainier who donated almost 74,000 hours of time to the park, all doing a great variety of things," King says. "Some are here for a day, and some like the Miltimores are here for years and really become part of the park family. They embody the spirit and mission of the National Park Service as well as any permanent employee. They're a wonderful example for all of us."

Jim's office"Each one of them is pretty darn close to being a full-time employee," Walker adds. "They know the park very well. They sometimes supervise me. They tell me what needs to get done, and I help them get it done."

Their official supervisor is Kevin Bacher, Rainier's volunteer and outreach program manager. "Their radar is always going, looking for ways they can help," Bacher says. "They have a keen sense for what needs to be done and who to talk to in order to help make it happen. They often work longer hours than our paid employees, often doing some of the least popular work, and they do so with good spirits and a sense of mission. It's infectious to other volunteers and employees. Working with them makes us prouder of the work we do ourselves."

The Miltimores live about 30 miles from Rainier's northeast entrance in the rural community of Enumclaw, Wash. Both are former employees of forest products producer Weyerhaeuser. Jim, now 70, was a chemist; Carol, 63, served as a statistical data analyst. As retirees, they typically work 3- or 4-day shifts, usually electing to address the greatest apparent need when they arrive. Their summers are spent on the park's east side,  winters in the curatorial facility in Ashford, Wash., west of Rainier's Longmire/westside entrance. The park makes modest residential spaces available to them to minimize their commute. "There are some perks," Jim says, an REI member since the 1960s who enjoys showing off his 5-digit REI membership number, in the low 30,000s.

Trail trioHere are some questions and answers that surfaced during a day of patrolling Rainier's newly restored Glacier Basin Trail with the Miltimores:

REI Blog: Have you both been to the summit of Rainier?

Jim: I've only been to the top once, in 1973. There are just too many other mountains to climb. I've been up on all these peaks [gesturing to Rainier's eastside slopes]: Little Tahoma, K Spire, which isn't worth the effort.

Carol: I did his last 8 state high-point climbs in the West with him. I climbed Rainer in 2005.

Jim: I was her Sherpa.

Carol: He carried the tent and some of my other gear up to the Muir snowfield. When I came down he had hot tea ready.

Carol on footlogREI Blog: What keeps you volunteering here year after year?

Jim: You can't beat it. I mean, I love the Grand Tetons, we climbed those a few years ago. But we just love it here.

Carol: I wouldn't mind going back there. We know other places. Still, this is the best place.

REI Blog: When you retire, if you've planned well, you can do anything you want. Why choose to do be almost full-time volunteers at a national park?

Carol: Before we retired, we were spending our time going hiking and scrambling, and a lot of that time was spent in Mount Rainier. Since we live so close, we felt like this was our backyard.

Jim: A nice part of being a wilderness volunteer is that we can go out anywhere we want. So in a way we're doing what we like to do. This is recreation. We enjoy being out here, and we were going to be out here a lot anyway. Why not help in the process?

Longtime REI memberCarol: We're doing what we like to do, and at the same time we're being useful. That makes us feel a little better about what we're doing because we're not just doing it for ourselves.

Jim: We've helped people get out because they got injured or something. (Twice in the past 2 weeks he has been recruited to drive an ambulance for the park.) When we're on patrol we're there, we're available, we can do something. You don't have to be a volunteer to do that, but it helps to have a radio so you can call in and get help.

REI Blog: What's your goal as a volunteer?

Carol: Hopefully we can be informative, but we like to learn about other people, too. We meet people from all over the place and we learn things we didn't know anything about.

REI Blog: What do you get out of it?

Jim: Working with those 50,000 photos, we got to see what things were like back then [the 1890s] and what they're like now, which is really interesting. We've learned about the park history. We've gotten to deal with park insects. We learn all kinds of things. I learned about a pack train trail that went up from Granite Creek over between second and third Burroughs and used to go into Glacier Basin. That's how miners first started coming into the park. A lot of these things you just don't see anywhere else.

Bear logREI Blog: Does being in a park like Rainier stir the soul?

Jim: That kind of goes without saying. To me, this is where it's at.

Carol: Whenever I'm out here I feel good. Physically, it helps keep me healthy. Then as we keep coming back and working on different projects, we learn a lot more about the park and park history, how the park works, what the park's mission is. It gives a sense of accomplishment. When we finish a project we think that it actually helps somebody else. It's nice to think that volunteers as a whole group, not just us individually, are making a major accomplishment for the park. Like the Glacier Basin Trail. If only park people worked on it, it probably wouldn't be done for 10 years. Knowing I was part of that makes me feel good.

Jim: One night we were camped near Banshee Peak, in a big, broad alpine meadow east of Panhandle Gap, and we woke up with 65 goats napping around our tent. I've never been to Panhandle Gap without seeing goats. The only time I haven't seen them is when it's really been foggy.

pick upREI Blog: What about other wildlife encounters?

Jim: We've come across elk bugling. That's pretty neat. I couldn't venture to count how many (black) bears I've seen. Just a few days ago I have one along the Glacier Basin Trail give me a bluff charge. He came charging down the trail, and I screamed and hollered and charged back at him. He turned tail and ran back up to where he started, then went 10 feet off the trail and looked at me as I walked by. If bears are making a serious charge, they have a different stance. If it's a bluff charge, it's a lollygagging gallop. If they're serious, they're coming in low with their ears back.

REI Blog: You're always picking up trash. What annoys you when you find it in the backcountry?

Jim: Things we call tissue blossoms, when people blow their noses or wipe their faces and it falls from their hands.

Carol: Shells from nuts. Carry shells out. Or eat them.

Jim: "I did a study at home where I peeled the shells off a whole bunch of nuts and weighed them.

Carol: Ha, you must be talking about pistachios.

Jim: You throw away 50% of the weight, so they cost twice as much. Why bother to buy shelled pistachios?

Carol: Then there are apple cores, banana peels, orange peels. People think peels are biodegradable, so they're OK to toss. Not here. In alpine conditions, you don't have enough warmth, moisture or the right conditions to break down peels.

Jim: Or the bacteria. Orange peels will last here for 50 or more years.
 
Carol: Just carry them all out.

Rock wallREI Blog: What's the oddest trash you've found?

Jim: We found a kiddies' swimming pool in the backcountry. Here we are in the middle of nowhere and here's this kiddie swimming pool sitting there. We asked ourselves, what on earth is this doing here?

Carol: It had a long strand of blue and white triangular banners with a shredded balloon on one end. It must have blown away from a a car dealership.

Jim: Once we were on some really formidable terrain a half-mile from any trail, and here are beer cans hanging on twigs. And once I found a red golf ball. My boss says people will stand on roads and hit golf balls into the trees.

Carol: Rangers have a balloon collection. They document where they found each one, and they have a little competition to see who can find the wildest balloon.

REI Blog: Some rangers say, maybe only half-jokingly, that you two could run the park. Could you? Would you want to?

Jim: One summer they were short staffed and they asked if we were interesting in working. I said no. If you've got something you want done, we'll do it. But I'm not interested in working for the government. As volunteers we've got the freedom to do what we want.

Carol: There can be bureaucracy when running a park. I don't have to deal with it. If you're an employee, you can only work for your division. Being volunteers, we can work with all the different divisions in the park.

REI Blog: You can afford to be full-time volunteers?

Carol: I was sort of a saver.

Jim [in mock outrage]: Oh, I'm not?

Carol: We're not big spenders. The only time we spend a lot is when we go to REI. We want to buy everything.

REI Blog: But wouldn't a paycheck for all you're doing here be nice?

Jim: No amount of money can compensate for this.

REI Blog: Selfless people such as you impress me a lot. You should get a round of applause for all you do.

Carol: The ones I applaud are the people who are still working and have just a little bit of time on weekends, and they still come and volunteer. We're retirees. We have all kinds of time, so we can do whatever we want. But those people have busy schedules, and they still come out. Those are people I applaud.

Jim: Volunteers help in a lot of different ways. One guy is an engineer for the state and he's designed almost $500,000 in bridges for the park. That's his contribution. Some people have shot promotional videos or photographs. A flight engineer, Flash, comes out every weekend and helps in the Carbon River area. Most of those people come out on weekends after working during the week. What they do is impressive. They're the ones making the sacrifices.

Interested in volunteering at a park or on public recreation lands? For starters, visit volunteer-inquiry sites offered by the National Park Service or Volunteer.gov.

All photos by T.D. Wood. Second from the top: Jim and Carol Miltimore talk trail with Don (an REI member) and Jeanne Schwartz from the Boston area. Eighth from the  top: Jim shows off his low, 5-digit REI membership number (in the low 30,000s). Ninth from the top: Carol and Jim document visitor notations on bear activity in the Glacier Basin backcountry campground.

Posted on at 8:39 PM

Tagged: Jim and Carol Miltimore, Mount Rainier, national parks and volunteer

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mararom

Great to see Carol and Jim recognized for their great work and the motivational effect they have on other volunteers, both current and future. We fall under the group of volunteers contributing video production to the park, and featured Carol and Jim in a short video about the effect volunteering has had on Mount Rainier and conversely on the volunteers themselves, after storms in 2006 mentioned in this post. You can find the video on the Mount Rainier web site, http://www.nps.gov/mora/supportyourpark/volunteer.htm

Carol's point about the contribution that busy people make to the park - any park - is very well made. All those hours add up, and many hands not only make light work but diverse work, so that there is more variety in what can be and is done, creating a wonderful virtuous circle. Anyone wondering whether those 2 or 3 hours one afternoon really makes any difference, shouldn't wonder. It definitely does.

Our hats are off also to the Mount Rainier NPS management team which had the vision to work outside of the boundaries of more usual park activities for volunteers when they formed alliances with other conservation groups, widening the range of the activities were undertaken, how and why. We think there is a whole generation of people in the Seattle area and indeed much wider, whose life has taken a different direction as a result of that vision being implemented.

Ed Shoemaker, Three Moon Bay L.L.C., & Mariellen Romer

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fossana

I feel fortunate to call these two my parents. Keep up the excellent work, Mom & Jim!

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