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Yosemite Celebrates Outstanding Volunteers

YOSEMITE – Yosemite National Park conducted the third annual Yosemite Volunteer Awards Ceremony to recognize outstanding volunteers who have donated their time, talent, and skills to protect and preserve park resources and provide excellent service to park visitors. The ceremony was held on Saturday, Sept. 29, in Yosemite Valley.Yosemite National Park volunteers repaired trails, removed invasive plants, helped visitors during their visits, curated museum artifacts, educated hikers on backcountry ethics, researched wildlife, performed clerical work, and participated in search and rescue operations.

Each year, Yosemite National Park hosts nearly 9,300 volunteers who donate over 172,000 hours of work to the park. The award ceremony is held on National Public Lands Day each year, as part of the annual Yosemite Facelift, a park-wide cleanup event.

The recipients of the third annual Yosemite Volunteer Awards are:

Individual Volunteer:
Brian Whitehead. Brian is a creative, positive, and enthusiastic volunteer for three different programs this year. He began his summer volunteering with the Yosemite Conservancy as an Information Assistant in Yosemite Valley in May, and then moved to Big Oak Flat, where he developed five new interpretive programs. On his days off, he volunteered by helping with wildlife research, wilderness restoration, and other projects in the Resources Management and Science Division. Brian will continue his volunteer service in Yosemite Valley this winter.

Individual Youth Volunteer:
Grace Lugenbill. Grace, currently a Parks and Recreation Management major in Montana, has volunteered for the past two years as a volunteer program work leader with the Facilities Management Division. She works with hundreds of different groups, from Boy Scouts and church groups to schools and families, as they perform service work in the park. This year she took on an additional role as the coordinator for all the volunteer leaders. She was ready and willing to do whatever was asked of her, leading with a quiet leadership style.

Enduring Service:
Bob McConnell. The Enduring Service Award is presented to a volunteer who has shown continued service to Yosemite over a long period of time, usually several years. For over a decade, Bob has been volunteering with the Yosemite Conservancy’s Information Assistant Program, serving two months each summer in Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley. His kind and generous spirit makes visitor to the park feel like they are the most important person Bob has seen all day. Fifteen of Bob’s volunteer colleague co-signed his nomination, calling him truly the “spirit of Yosemite.”

Group Volunteer:
Yosemite Lovers, led by Amy Ambellan. Many groups of volunteers donate their time to Yosemite throughout the year. Groups typically assist with labor-intensive projects that address park maintenance or resources management issues. The Yosemite Lovers, led by Amy Ambellan, has been coming to Yosemite for over twenty years, and now has had four generations of the extended Ambellan family participate as volunteers. The group brings much needed technical skills in construction to complex repair projects.

Youth Group Volunteer:
Boy Scout Troop 135, led by Tom Hauck. Boy Scout Troop 135 has provided specialized volunteer work each year for two programs in Yosemite. Every August, they clean and repair the Indian Village, located behind the Museum in Yosemite Village, in preparation for the annual Big Time event. Additionally, they work with the Wilderness Program to clear trails and teach Leave No Trace principles to the public on an annual basis. Troop leaders strive to give the scouts leadership opportunities and learn from their stewardship experience.

Supervisor of Volunteers:
Molly Downer. Molly is currently the Acting Resources Management and Science Volunteer Coordinator. Supervisors of volunteers are a critical link in recruiting, hiring, training, and managing volunteers in the park. Molly has facilitated hundreds of group and individual volunteer experiences, keeping the program running smoothly during a time of transition in the program. She also personally led dozens of volunteer groups performing ecological restoration projects.

Volunteer Program:
Bear Management Team. The Volunteer Program Award is given to a specific program in the park where National Park Service staff have shown exemplary leadership in providing meaningful volunteer experiences and strong support for both program operations and individual volunteer needs. The Bear Management Team hire approximately a dozen volunteers each year who work throughout the park helping with bear protection education and bear monitoring. Volunteers are fully integrated into the program, making the Bear Team a great example of partnerships between volunteers and paid staff.

Facelift Volunteer:
Kate DeWaard. The 9th Annual Yosemite Facelift had over 1,000 volunteers that helped clean up the park. This event would not be possible without a dedicated group of volunteers working throughout the year with the Yosemite Climbing Association. Kate is a critical part of this team throughout the year, culminating in her role as the manager of the daily raffles, where thousands of dollars of goods donated by event sponsors are given to Facelift participants.

NatureBridge Service Project Instructor of the Year:
Deepak Dathatri. NatureBridge is a primary partner of Yosemite National Park, bringing approximately 14,000 students to the park each year for educational experi

ences. Stewardship of park resources is a core piece of their mission, and many students perform volunteer activity as a part of their lessons. Deepak has a dedication to a stewardship ethic that inspires his students every day.

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