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Environmental stewardship

Volunteering opportunities in the Puget Sound

Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation volunteers help brush back the trail at Watershed Park. Photo courtesy of Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation

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If you ask servicemembers why they joined the service, no doubt you'll get a mixed bag of responses, ranging from "I wanted to defend our country" to "I wanted to travel the world with a sense of purpose." If you followed up with a few more questions, you'd probably start to hear "I felt a sense of duty to my country."

It should come as no surprise, then, that most servicemembers on Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) extend that sense of selfless duty and stewardship to the environment. Servicemembers are often enthusiastic about volunteering with environmentally-focused organizations near JBLM, even if they're not sure how to go about it.

The Mountaineers (, an outdoor community that teaches people how to explore the great outdoors safely through skill development, is one organization where servicemembers can find their volunteering niche while also enjoying the great outdoors.

"Our philosophy is that people will protect the things they know and love," said Sarah Holt, program manager of The Mountaineers' Tacoma branch. "If we're getting them into the outdoors, experiencing the wild places of our state and region, they'll be more likely to want to protect and conserve those areas. We do that through climbing classes, mountaineering classes, kayaking, youth programs, sailing and hiking."  

The Mountaineers was established in 1906, and has branches in Tacoma, Olympia and Seattle. The Tacoma office is the second-oldest branch within the organization, and it prides itself on having a close-knit community of staff and volunteers.

"Most of our volunteers see us as less of a huge operation than we really are," Holt explained. "To us, The Mountaineers feels more like a club. We put in the time and volunteer our hours because we know we're going to meet new people and go out on new adventures."

For servicemembers interested in maritime volunteer work, the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma ( is an excellent place to devote their energies. The seaport is located at the mouth of the Thea Foss Waterway in downtown Tacoma. It was founded in 1996 to celebrate the culture, crafts and skills of the Puget Sound maritime community. The organization's main facility is a waterfront maritime museum where education programs are carried out on a weekly basis.  

"We have a working heritage boat shop where people volunteer their time to build wooden boats," said Kaddee Lawrence, the director of audience engagement and science education at Foss Waterway Seaport.  "In environmental education, we have opportunities to work with school groups who come to the seaport for environmental programs. What we really hope for is it to foster a connection between people and place, (create) an understanding that what we did in the past has shaped where we are now and (explain that) what we do now is desperately important in shaping the future we're going to leave behind."

Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation ( is another organization with a robust volunteer program open to servicemembers -- especially those hoping to contribute to environmental causes and strengthen nearby communities.

As one of the City of Olympia departments, Parks, Arts & Recreation has park stewardship, trail maintenance and planting and beautification projects available to volunteers.

"The Parks department relies heavily on the involvement of volunteers for restoration work in many of Olympia's parks," said Sylvia Niehuser, a Park Stewardship Program supervisor at Olympia Parks, Arts & Recreation. "Overall, the volunteers in 2016 contributed nearly eight thousand hours to stewarding their parks here in Olympia. We want volunteers to have a great experience that makes them want to come back time and time again!"

For most servicemembers, just giving back to the environment and being a part of the larger JBLM community is enough, but it never hurts to have a good time while doing it.

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