Fair Hill's volunteers make a big difference
May 30, 2017 01:32PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
With 80 miles of trails stretching over 5,656 acres, used by cyclists, walkers, fishermen, hunters and equestrians, Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area is one busy place, with more than half a million individual visits per year.
Daily visitors on the trails are on foot, on bikes and on horses. Special events, especially on weekends, bring an influx of people to some areas. Fair Hill has a permanent full-time staff of nine plus an additional 12 seasonal employees to protect all that makes this area of Cecil County special. It also relies on volunteers to make it great.
“We are thankful and value our volunteers,” said Chris Grieco, Fair Hill's assistant park manager. “Without their involvement, our operation would not be what it is.” On average, volunteers at Fair Hill contribute more than 4,000 hours of service to the park each year.
With enough planning and coordination, volunteers are welcome to come out and assist any day of the week, Grieco said. They can work on trail maintenance, help at special events, conduct an interpretive program, or assist with a nature camp, to name just a few of the tasks where volunteers are making a difference. Fair Hill's volunteer coordinator – ranger Diana Marsteller -- maintains an email list and sends notices to those registered when help is needed, or can connect you with Fair Hill staff to work on specific projects.
Volunteer rangers are an essential part of Fair Hill's volunteer corps. These volunteers receive special training and give at least 60 hours as mounted patrol, or 100 hours of service on foot or bikes, each year as they support Fair Hill's permanent staff in a variety of ways. Volunteer bike rangers conduct trail assessments as they ride the trails, reporting issues or conducting maintenance as problems are found. Volunteer mounted rangers help at the many equestrian events held each year, as well as helping visitors while riding throughout Fair Hill’s equestrian-friendly trails. Volunteer rangers on foot are especially useful in helping visitors at the events. They also help with programs at the park and assist visitors on the trails.
Fair Hill has a permanent trail crew of three, who are consistently busy maintaining and improving sections of the park's 80 miles of trails. On the second Saturday of each month, the trail crew hosts a volunteer work day that is usually attended by a small army of volunteers who complete a larger project. For example, one month, an eroded section of trail was effectively rerouted in a single morning. Grieco said they save these larger projects for volunteer days, as it is a more efficient way to work. It would have taken Fair Hill's trail crew a couple days to complete what the volunteers did in one morning.
After-storm events are another time when a large corps of volunteers is important. Many volunteers on bikes can quickly assess the entire trail system and report where trails are blocked by fallen trees.
“By riding the trails and reporting the problems, the volunteers help us quickly focus our resources,” Grieco said. Some volunteers have chain saw safety training and can help to quickly remove trees from trails, too.
Another way volunteers are making a difference is when companies and organizations come to Fair Hill for community service days. In the past, employees at W. L. Gore spent a day building and installing elements, such as the Music Post, at Fair Hill's new Nature Play Space.
“When groups come in, they come with ambition,” Grieco said. “It is a day out of the office; a day socializing with friends and coworkers. It's a high-energy day and a lot of good work gets done.”
Fair Hill is working with the Delaware Astronomical Society to become a certified “Dark Skies” location. The program promotes locations around the world that are dedicated to limiting light pollution and providing opportunities to view the night sky. The process began with a conversation after the Delaware Astronomical Society volunteered to do a night sky program at Fair Hill.
“Our volunteers are part of something bigger,” Grieco said.
Interested in volunteering at Fair Hill? Contact Diana Marsteller, Fair Hill's Volunteer Coordinator, at Diana.Marsteller@maryland.gov, or she can be reached at the Park Office (410-398-1246).