Great Smoky Mountains National Park Recruits Volunteers to Assist with Elk Program

Would you like to spend some time in the Cataloochee Valley, look after the elk and visitors, be mistaken for a park ranger, and wear a cool uniform?

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park Volunteers-in-Parks program is looking for volunteers to assist with managing people and elk in Cataloochee Valley. As an Elk Bugle Corps volunteer, you’ll be providing visitor information on responsible elk viewing practices and elk behavior and helping with parking and traffic management. It’s a blast!

Last year, there were over 80 volunteers and I was one of them. On Tuesdays, from May to the end of October, I drove down into Cataloochee, walked and rode through the valley and talked to visitors. I had three other shift mates and it was a great deal of fun. We learned about elk from biologists and rangers and passed it on to visitors. I met folks from Eastern Europe, Sweden, Australia, and also Maggie Valley. As a group, volunteers spoke with over 85,000 visitors last summer.

Each volunteer is asked to work at least two scheduled, four hour shifts per month starting the second week in May and continuing through November. This target period is during high visitor use from late spring during the elk calving season through the end of the fall color and elk mating seasons. The program’s greatest need is for volunteers to work the afternoon shifts which will run from approximately 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. throughout the summer. Although elk are not as active at this time of day, Cataloochee Valley is quite busy and the volunteers have the opportunity to spend more time with individual visitors. Visitors have questions about the park, the history, and elk. You don’t have to be an expert; you just have to be willing to learn.

For persons interested, two informational meetings and new volunteer orientation sessions will be held in Cataloochee Valley at the ranger station on April 15 and 17, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. All potential volunteers will be required to attend one of the orientation sessions as well as one full day of training during the last week of April and the first week of May. Anyone who is interested in volunteering and attending one of the orientation sessions is asked to email Ranger Mark LaShell or phone (828) 269-3161 (email is preferred).

Many volunteers are returning, but there’s a need to replace a number of volunteers who are moving on to other opportunities this summer. I am one of those moving on to other volunteer assignments in the Smokies – I now work at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center once a week.

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