In 1970, the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program started with a few hundred volunteers. Today, more than 246,000 VIPs donate their time, skills, and talents to the National Park Service every year.

The George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service recognize the exemplary contributions of these very important people. After his retirement, George Hartzog and his wife Helen remembered the VIP program with a generous donation to the National Park Foundation. This fund has been used to support awards that honor the efforts of exceptional volunteers, groups, and park VIP programs. (Interested in volunteering? Find out how to get involved!)

Meet the 2016 Award Winners:

Headshot of male volunteer
John L. Goar

Individual Volunteer Award: John L. Goar

Olympic National Park, Washington

John L. Goar from Olympic National Park in Washington is the recipient of the Hartzog Award for Outstanding Individual Volunteer Service. Through his astronomy programs, Goar has done a stellar job of introducing more than 9,000 visitors to the park after dark. Since 2010, he has presented 230 night sky programs, even supplying the telescopes and tripod-mounted binoculars for participants to use to view stars, dark sky objects and planets. He explains the stories behind constellations and the importance of protecting increasingly rare dark skies. He has also recruited and trained other volunteers to assist with the programs. In addition to the 1,500 hours he has devoted to astronomy programs and full moon walks, Goar has served 3,000 hours as a campground host. He goes above and beyond the normal duties of welcoming guests and overseeing the campground by also sorting and recycling thousands of pounds of glass, plastics, paper, and cardboard. He also single-handedly tries to control the population of Scot’s broom, an invasive shrub, in a section of the park.

Editor’s note: John Goar is the son of Grass Valley resident Bob Goar.

Group of volunteers building a trail
Mobile Skills Crew

Volunteer Group Award: Mobile Skills Crew

Ice Age National Scenic Trail, Wisconsin

The Mobile Skills Crew from the Ice Age National Scenic Trail in Wisconsin is the recipient of the Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Group Service. About 15 years ago, the Ice Age Trail Alliance developed a specialized Mobile Skills Crew to educate and empower volunteers to build, maintain, and steward the 1,000 mile-long trail. Specially trained work leaders from across the state travel to selected segments of the trail to manage local trail volunteers as they tackle large-scale projects. Last year, 841 volunteers from the Mobile Skills Crew spent 20,837 hours on the trail and helped open four new camping areas, build six bridges spanning 114 feet, craft 11 elevated boardwalks and puncheons totaling 1,323 feet, fashion 20 rock walls stretching 289 feet, shape more than two miles of treadway, create an additional five miles of trail for public use, and significantly improve an additional 21 miles of the trail by clearing trees, repairing structures, building erosion control features, and upgrading signage.

Young male volunteer next to train
Aiden Schafer

Youth Volunteer Award: Aiden Schafer

Steamtown National Historic Site, Pennsylvania

Aiden Schafer from Steamtown National Historic Site in Pennsylvania is the recipient of the Hartzog Award for Outstanding Youth Volunteer Service. Schafer helps bring railroading to life to park visitors. He develops and leads tours and provides hands-on experiences during special events, including a “Railroad Worker” program where people can operate a hand pump car which is used to check sections of track and make repairs as needed. Schafer has also designed park publications and videos. His willingness to tackle any project and do it well makes him a leader in the park’s VIP program, even at his young age. He serves as the assistant coordinator for the park’s robust volunteer program, producing training materials and tracking hours for nearly 240 volunteers.

Group shot of teen-aged volunteers posing outside building

Volunteer Youth Group Award: Research-in-the-Park

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Research-in-the-Park from Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is the recipient of the Hartzog Award for Outstanding Youth Volunteer Service Group. In 2016, the Research-in-the-Park volunteers from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts contributed 1,133 hours of service. The incredibly dedicated and intelligent students work hard and long hours to complete various research projects. They monitor water quality, evaluate geologic resources, identify algae specimens, photograph insects for the museum collection, serve as trail ambassadors, and complete analysis of thermophilic bacteria unique to the hot springs. They amassed thousands of water quality data points through the weekly collection of temperature, pH, specific conductance, and dissolved oxygen readings at thirty five thermal water springs. The collection of this data allowed the park to create a baseline for these water quality parameters that had not previously existed. A study of the mineralogy and texture of the Hot Springs Sandstone was recognized at the Arkansas Science Fair and will compete at the International Science Fair in Los Angeles in May. Another project that mapped invasive plant species in the old growth forest area of the park has already been implemented by the park.

Group of kids looking excitedly into water
Everglades Every Kid in a Park

Park Volunteer Program Award: Everglades Every Kid in a Park

Everglades National Park, Florida

The Every Kid in a Park Volunteer Corps from Everglades National Park in Florida is the recipient of the Hartzog Award for Outstanding Park Volunteer Program. In 2016, Everglades National Park doubled the number of fourth-grade students visiting the park as part of an educational program by establishing a volunteer corp. The park recruited and trained 25 new volunteers who devoted a day each week for four months to the Every Kid in a Park program. The volunteers worked with the park’s education team to engage students through interactive stations focused on key Everglades topics. In previous years, the park could accommodate 150 classes for education programs with another 150 wait-listed. In 2016, with the addition of the volunteer corps, the park offered 132 programs to 325 classes of 6,807 students and 802 teachers and chaperones. This was a 110% increase over the previous year’s total of 3,241 students. The volunteer corps was a creative approach to help the park reach more students to increase their awareness of the Everglades and encourage outdoor exploration.

Park volunteer demonstrating beach apparatus to father and daughter
Mike Trotta, left, with visitors

Enduring Service Award: Mike Trotta

Fire Island National Seashore, New York

Mike Trotta from Fire Island National Seashore in New York is the recipient of the Hartzog Award for Outstanding Enduring Volunteer Service. Since becoming a park volunteer in 2003, Trotta has provided time, expertise, and skill to enhance almost every facet of park operations. As a carpenter, he built information desks, exhibit cases, aquarium supports, lifeguard stands, donation boxes, and shelves for park facilities. As a work leader, he guided crews of college and high school students, scouts, and other volunteers on projects including the restoration of a historic boathouse, replacement of split-rail fencing, and clean-up after Hurricane Sandy. As an electrician, he repaired park phone lines, electric fixtures, appliances, security systems, and vehicle equipment. As a maintenance worker, he cleared hiking trails, installed window blinds, changed flat tires, and installed fencing to protect endangered nesting birds. As an educator, he explained the significance of the state’s only designated federal wilderness, and created a working model of the historic Beach Apparatus Drill that interprets the park’s maritime history.

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