2018-07-12 / Life in Leelanau

No Pay. High Reward.

Lakeshore volunteers add to retirement benefits
by Kelsey Pease
of the Enterprise staff


FRIENDS OF SLEEPING Bear Dunes volunteers gather at the DH Day Log Cabin before walking in the Glen Arbor Parade. The nonprofit welcomes over 300 volunteers during the summer season. FRIENDS OF SLEEPING Bear Dunes volunteers gather at the DH Day Log Cabin before walking in the Glen Arbor Parade. The nonprofit welcomes over 300 volunteers during the summer season. If you live in Leelanau County during the summer season, making a buck is easy.

Making a difference, though, is another story.

And a story that’s well worth it, according to the many volunteers who donate their time to preserve and improve visitor experience at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“It’s an opportunity to get outside, enjoy nature, really do whatever kind of project you’re interested in,” said Leonard Marszalek, who has been volunteering with the nonprofit group Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes (FSBD) since he retired to Empire a decade ago.

For Marszalek, getting involved was an obvious choice.

“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “The park surrounded me and work was just starting on the Heritage Trail. I decided to use some of my experience in project management and get involved.”


NATIONAL PARK Service volunteers help install a beach deck earlier this summer at the Glen Haven Cannery Beach. NATIONAL PARK Service volunteers help install a beach deck earlier this summer at the Glen Haven Cannery Beach. Now the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail manager, Marszalek took part in transforming the route into the 27-mile, handicap accessible, multi-use, mostly paved path it is today.

FSBD has over 40 trail ambassadors who volunteer to ride or walk the trail on a regular basis, happy to assist visitors.

“The end product is seeing how many people are happy and enjoying it,” Marszalek said of the increasingly-popular trail.

He says that isn’t the best part of volunteering, though.

“It’s the community aspect. I’ve made life-long friends,” Marszalek said.

One such friend is Kerry Kelly, chairman of the FSBD board. A volunteer since 2004, Kelly has devoted countless hours to making the experience better for park visitors.

“People are coming from all over the country, many for the first time,” Kelly said. “It’s important to help them explore and find out what they’re interested in and match that to what the park has to offer.”

Even more important is safety.

“It’s a matter of ensuring that people don’t get hurt or injured by helping them understand the degree of difficulty and then also giving them options that might be easier and safer,” he said.

Although Kelly estimates that volunteers only come out for two to four hours per week, the large workforce of FSBD makes all that they take on possible. Over 300 people lend a hand during the summer, doing clean-up projects such as Adopt- A-Beach, Adopt-A-Trail and Heritage Trail Ambassadors; restoration projects such as barn workshops; preventative search and rescue; and park preservation projects such as BARK Rangers, to name a few.

So where do all these people come from?

“Most of our volunteers are locals, people who live in the area or at least have a place here for the summer time,” Kelly said.

That’s also the case for Historic Sleeping Bear (HSB), a nonprofit organization that helps to preserve and interpret the rich heritage of the Lakeshore. Last year alone, some 6,178 volunteer hours were logged. In the organization’s 20 year history, it’s estimated that volunteer hours have contributed over half a million dollars toward Lakeshore-related projects.

“Volunteers are critical to our mission,” said HSB Director Susan Pocklington. “We certainly could not be as successful without them.”

The National Park Service also enlists a volunteer force whose members come from across the country, most of them staying at DH Day Campground for two to three weeks at a time.

According to Kerry, most work 32 hours per week and are positioned in places such as the Glen Haven Cannery Museum.

For first-year helper Verl Preston, volunteering provides an opportunity to give back to the parks she has visited since she was a young girl.

“My greatest experiences have been through the stories that the rangers and volunteers have told me,” Preston said. “Now that I’m semi-retired, I wanted to get my foot in the door with a national park volunteer organization myself. I wanted to share my knowledge.”

Coming all the way from Buffalo, New York, she’s doing just that. And her knowledge isn’t just for the benefit of park visitors — she also has advice for those considering becoming a volunteer.

“Go around to a few parks, make sure that this is something that you really want to invest yourself in,” Preston said.

Kelly echoed her sentiments.

“You want to do something that is enjoyable, a way to meet people and have a good time,” Kelly said. He also recommends discovering what kind of project you prefer, as the Lakeshore offers something for everybody.

“Most of our volunteers are retired,” Kelly said. “And if you are, you should really be doing things that are fun.

“Volunteering can and should be fun.”

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