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Volunteering at Yosemite is a natural

Visitors who fall in love with the park may return to help preserve it for all.

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After such an awe-inspiring hike, many people decide to sign up for a half-day volunteer program.

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Habitat Protectors of Yosemite (HaPY) allows those volunteers to take a small role in looking after the park but requires little preparation beforehand. Not only do volunteers learn about natural history and native vegetation from park staff, their efforts also help protect one of the nation's first wilderness parks.

Volunteer duties range from removal of invasive species – nonnative Himalayan blackberries and bull thistles are the biggest foes in the valley – to restoring natural habitat, collecting seeds from native plants, removing ash from campgrounds, and more.

Tom Schneider, who designs displays for museums, chose a more active volunteer role – a summer-long duty as camp host at White Wolf Campground.

At this quiet enclave in the high country, he tends to some light maintenance and keeps camper records. The best part of his day? "Hanging out with people who share their passion for natural history and botany," he says.

For Mr. Schneider, naming the biggest reward of being a Yosemite volunteer is easy: "Some families return year after year. I've made a lot of friends."

He likes to tell stories of Bear Yellow 61 (the National Park Service tags and numbers problem bears), who once swiped a tray of raw hamburger patties in broad daylight, carried them to a slab of granite, and chowed down in full view of campers.

"Bears are so smart they recognize coolers and backpacks as sources of food," he says. "Soon they'll be reading the labels on packages!"

Volunteers also put in time at an information booth in the pedestrian mall near the Valley Visitor Center. Inside, interpretive displays cover park history, including explanations of the early glacial episode when the thickness of ice in the area may have reached 4,000 feet. The downward movement and pressure of these enormous masses scraped and polished the U-shaped valley.

It's no surprise that the sheer walls attract rock climbers from around the world. Meet Roger Brown. At the extreme end of the volunteer spectrum, he spends the entire summer working off 2,800 feet of rope. It's a long-term project to remove gear left on a well-traveled rock face.

While up there, he sets durable bolts, permanent anchors fixed into holes drilled into rock. "So far I've replaced an estimated 1,000 bolts," he says. "And swung the hammer about a million times."

Historians continue to study the lives of the first people of Yosemite; they lived and worked in the area an estimated 4,000 years ago. Arrowheads have been found scattered throughout the park. Bowl-shaped cavities dot otherwise flat rocks where acorns were ground into flour.

The connection between the native Americans who dwelled here and their environment provided much of the inspiration for the original proposal for a national park, introduced nearly 40 years before it became reality.

In 1833, Indian painter and explorer George Catlin wrote in a New York newspaper: "A nation's park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature's beauty ... where the world could see for ages to come, the native Indian in his classic attire, galloping his wild horse ... amid the fleeting herds of elks and buffaloes." Yosemite was finally established in 1872.

Although many changes have taken place since then, the natural beauty of Yosemite endures and continues to attract volunteers who want to help make the park better and to share their love of it with others.

How to become a Yosemite volunteer

•Yosemite Facelift (Sept. 23-27, 2009) is the park's biggest volunteer effort of the year. More than 2,000 people are expected from all over the world, to remove tens of thousands of pounds of debris. It's sponsored by the Yosemite Climbing Association, www.yosemiteclimbing.org.

•HaPY (Habitat Protectors of Yosemite) is a weekly drop-in program. Volunteers of all ages gather at 9 a.m. each Friday at the Tuolumne Visitor Center in Tuolumne Meadows and in front of the Valley Visitor Center in Yosemite Valley. You'll work from 9 a.m. until noon. For details, see www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hapy.htm.

•The Yosemite Association (www.yosemite.org) has provided important services such as publishing park literature and providing outdoor classrooms since 1923. Find out about volunteer opportunities by calling (209) 379-2317 or e-mailing info@yosemite.org.

To learn about other volunteer park events, visit www.nps.gov/gettinginvolved/volunteer/opportunities.htm and follow the links to Yosemite. Contact the Yosemite Volunteer Program by phone: (209) 379-1850, or e-mail: yose_volunteers@nps.gov. Or see Yosemite Partners, www.yosemitepartners.org/getinvolved.html.

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