Creating a Community of Outdoor Volunteers in New England

Emily Lord

Did you know there’s a place in New England where it’s possible to plant grasses on coastal dunes, build bridges on recreational trails; pull invasive plants in forests and fields, monitor water quality in streams, and count baby oysters while dockside? Sound crazy? Think again!

Outdoor enthusiasts of all ages come to the Stewardship Network: New England (the Network) to find opportunities to get outside and give back to the places they love. One volunteer described the Network as “the perfect mix between caring about nature and empowering people to do something great for their community.”

Since 2014, more than 180 environmental groups have used our main attraction, a shared online calendar, to publicize stewardship and citizen science events and trainings and attract volunteers to sign-up for events over 2,500 times. The calendar is open to any environmental group in New England and can help you get organized for your next volunteer project and connect to new volunteers.

Volunteers using our calendar are from every county in New Hampshire; a few are from neighboring states. Most events take place in New Hampshire, although there have been events in five New England states. Volunteers using the Network calendar often travel between counties to go to workdays or trainings. Of the 2,500 sign-ups to date, 53% were for opportunities outside of the volunteer’s home county.

Local volunteers are an important part of any project, but you might be surprised to see who shows up if you post your event online. We recently created this infographic with 10 easy steps showing you how to submit an event to the calendar and recruit more volunteers.

Maybe you posted an event to the calendar awhile back, but no one signed up and you got discouraged. We have some good news: in the last two years, volunteer sign-ups through the calendar have grown an average of 72%.

For the Harris Center for Conservation Education, a nonprofit conservation organization in Hancock, New Hampshire, continued use of the Network has over time increased their sign-ups and outreach across the state.

“Nearly half the people at our Falls Brook stream restoration workday (October 2016) came via the Stewardship Network, and some traveled an impressive distance to be there,” says Brett Thelen, science director for the Harris Center. “The Stewardship Network has certainly given our work broader exposure.”

In 2014, the Harris Center and its citizen science arm, the Ashuelot Valley Environmental Observatory (AVEO), posted their annual Salamander Crossing Brigades training on the calendar, but didn’t get any sign-ups. Last year, six people signed up to help the salamanders. This year, there were 21 sign-ups!

For many groups, the calendar is also a place to hear about relevant volunteer projects, get ideas, and connect to others doing similar work. When multiple groups collaborate on a project, that means there are more potential audiences and connections you can leverage to promote your project and bring in volunteers.

A whopping 38 volunteers signed-up to participate in the Great Bay Clean Up at the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington, New Hampshire. The Great Bay has been the focus of intense conservation efforts, but the 69 conservation parcels that border the Bay and are owned by 10 different public and private conservation groups (land trusts, towns, state, and federal), make coordinated stewardship complex.

The event benefited from the support of many partners, including a duck hunting group, the Great Bay Gunners, the Gundalow Company, UNH Extension’s Geospatial Technologies Training Center, the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership and the Stewardship Network: New England. Volunteers arrived with friends and family in tow and cleaned up 2,400 lbs of trash in only two hours!

The Great Bay Clean Up is one of many multi-partner events that attracted many volunteers since the Network calendar launched. Next time you’re planning a project, reach out to another group to see if they’d like to get involved, too. It could be another environmental or conservation group, or it could be completely outside of the box.

Whether you’re looking for volunteers to help with a project or want to see environmental events and training happening in your area, simply join the Network to receive our weekly e-bulletin or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. The larger and more diverse our network, the more we can accomplish together!