The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has presented its prestigious “Making a Difference” National Volunteer Awards to two individuals in the California Desert for outstanding volunteer service or volunteer leadership on BLM-managed lands. The “Making a Difference Award” is an annual award recognizing BLM’s most exceptional volunteers, whose efforts, among others, include trail repair, visitor service, and habitat restoration.
Bill Baker, Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument -- Bill Baker of La Quinta, Calif. began his “career” as a BLM volunteer when he was approached by a BLM park ranger while picking up trash on a trail within the national monument. Bill had already been “volunteering” his time cleaning up trails out of sheer love for the public lands. But after becoming an “official” volunteer, he became the monument’s most active trail steward, putting in hundreds of hours building retaining walls and campfire rings, removing graffiti, and cleaning up illegal dumpsites.
Because of limited staffing and the vastness of the monument, Bill is often the only BLM contact for visitors. In order to enhance his skills, he has attended extensive training in trail building, invasive species eradication, Global Positioning Systems, and trail mapping. He has become a “Tread Trainer” through the Tread Lightly! Motorized-recreation ethics organization, and educates the public during his hours on the trails. Bill also began volunteering in the monument visitor center, working one shift per week. He became a Certified Interpretive Guide through the National Association for Interpretation and leads hikes as part of the monument’s Hikes Program, sharing his knowledge of the area’s history, geology, trails, flora, and fauna.
Bill is a cheerful, enthusiastic and very generous volunteer, always willing to help in whatever capacity is needed. Bill is essential to monument visitors’ enjoyment and safety, as BLM staff is often told by the people who encounter him on the trails. With good reason, other monument volunteers look to Bill as an example of how to truly serve.
Martha “Marty” Dickes, Ridgecrest Field Office -- Marty Dickes, the Wilderness Specialist for BLM-Ridgecrest, has been with BLM since 1994. Since the earliest days of her service, she has been passionately engaging volunteers in her work. Marty and her volunteers, for example, have rappelled down waterfalls in their quest for invasive tamarisk, which they have successfully eradicated over miles of wilderness streams.
She has worked with a variety of volunteer groups, including the Sierra Club, Desert Survivors, California Wilderness Coalition, Washington State University students, and the communities of Ridgecrest, Darwin, and Trona. Marty’s 2011 volunteer projects included construction of a trailhead at a new addition to the Bright Star Wilderness; monitoring and repairing fencing around an illegal hill-climbing area in the Great Falls Basin Wilderness Study Area; monitoring and clean-up of Chris Wicht Camp in Surprise Canyon after a wildfire; assessing the condition of historic sites in the Inyo Mountains Wilderness; removing tamarisk in the Saline Valley, the Surprise Canyon Wilderness Area, and other locations; working with Student Conservation Association crews to block and reclaim off-road-vehicle trespass routes along Wilderness Area boundaries; monitoring and maintaining kiosks, equestrian-pedestrian gates, barriers, and fences; and documenting wilderness characteristics in the Sacatar and Owens Peak Wilderness Areas.
Marty distributes seasonal volunteer project calendar brochures to inform volunteers of up-coming events. She motivates and entices her volunteers by offering spectacular wilderness hikes near work sites and sometimes schedules barbeques and concerts to reward volunteers after a long day’s work. Thanks to Marty’s efforts, BLM-Ridgecrest’s Wilderness Areas have retained their pristine characteristics. Her 106 volunteers contributed a total of 14,440 hours in 2011, which translates into more than $300,000 worth of work. Perhaps more importantly, Marty has built a strong working relationship between BLM and the local community, and has helped the public to understand and appreciate BLM’s mission.