Japanese volunteer program ends after 20 years

Staff reportSeptember 8, 2013 

Park staffers and program volunteers took time Aug. 30 to celebrate the accomplishments of the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association’s 20 years of working at Mount Rainier National Park.

Current and past association members, including founder Hiro Yamaguchi, were on hand for the event that also marked the final season of the program.

Each summer, students, individuals and staff from Japan have come to the park to volunteer. They have completed projects such as the handicap-accessible boardwalk at Kautz Creek; repairing and rehabilitating campsites throughout the park; trail repair on the Westside Road; building the handicap-acessible trail near the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center; and revegetation projects in many areas.

The program began as an international volunteer experience in 1993, coordinated by Yamaguchi with Waseda University in Tokyo. Inquiries had been sent to several national parks about interest in utilizing a volunteer group from Japan, and staffers at Mount Rainier agreed to work with the group.

During the past 20 seasons, more than 380 individuals have contributed 22,656 hours of service to the park — equivalent to more than $501,000.

The Japanese group has worked with the park longer than any other international volunteer group in the National Park Service. It also has sent volunteers to other national park such as Hawaii Volcanoes, Glacier and Manzanar, and done volunteer project in Japan as well.

“We are sincerely grateful to all of the participants of the J-VIPA program for their hard work and dedication in helping us repair and improve the resources of Mount Rainier National Park,” superintendent Randy King said in a park news release. “The work they have done will benefit the park for many years to come, and the friendships that have been formed through this program will last a lifetime.”

The program is coming to an end primarily because Yamaguchi feels that the program’s goals have been accomplished, said Kevin Bacher, the park’s volunteer and outreach coordinator. Yamaguchi also is increasingly busy with other projects, including volunteering at home in response to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He also is helping to coordinate a project next spring for people here in the United States who’ve worked with the program here to travel to Japan to do volunteer work there for a week, staying with host families as they’ve done here, Bacher said.

NEW PARK BOARDWALK

The State Parks and Recreation Commission and the Friends of Lake Sammamish State Park will celebrate the completion and opening of a new boardwalk at Lake Sammamish State Park Thursday.

The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the park, 2000 NW Sammamish Road, Issaquah.

The new boardwalk, built along the beach, is among several improvements identified through an extensive public planning process at the park. Also completed recently was installation of handling piers and floats at the boat launch. State Parks also is in the design phase for a project to renovate Sunset Beach, a project expected to be completed by July 2015. Other improvements, such as a bathhouse, have been identified for possible future phases.

The boardwalk and beach improvements together cost $2.7 million, $500,000 of which is covered by State Parks’ capital budget. The remainder is grant funds from the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account and the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.

Covering 512 acres, the day-use park has nearly 7,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on the lake.

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