By Dan Watson, Volunteer Coordinator, National Park Service – Ice Age National Scenic Trail
The Ice Age Trail Alliance won the National Park Service George and Helen Hartzog award for the Midwest Region – Volunteer Group Award out of 21 outstanding nominations submitted in recognition of 2020 efforts.
The George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service recognize the exemplary contributions volunteers make to their park and to their community.
Dan Watson, Volunteer Coordinator, National Park Service – Ice Age National Scenic Trail submitted the nomination which recognizes the remarkable response of Ice Age Trail Alliance staff and volunteers to COVID-19’s impact on Alliance programs and activities.
Three areas of note include:
Open Trail: Although volunteer activities were suspended in spring, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail never closed, becoming a haven for citizens seeking a safe outdoor escape. As a result, the Alliance enjoyed a significant rise in membership and volunteers who discovered the Trail because of COVID and wanted to “give back”.
Decisive Action: The Alliance’s decisive actions – adjusting work plans immediately and creatively reorganizing for summer and fall success – enabled 1,499 Alliance volunteers to generate 53,297 hours of mission-critical service while adhering to mask-wearing and social distancing safety protocols. Eight trailbuilding projects resulted in 1,277 feet of boardwalk and 1.3 miles of new Trail constructed.
Online Learning: Think Outside, a program designed to engage 10,000 fourth graders in the Ice Age National Scenic Trail’s outdoor classroom, required a pandemic pivot. Zoom presentations for classrooms, a Digital Scavenger Hunt, and a video series were created to support online learning. Ice Age Trail Explorer Backpacks were developed and distributed to 13 community libraries along the Trail. These packs offered families a safe way to “Think Outside,” complete with guidebooks, compass, binoculars, journals, and first aid kits.