Eco projects — and voluntourism — are a great way to meet new people and see new places, and feel like you are making a difference, too. Here are a few to consider.
If the outdoors is where you want to be, look at volunteering holidays in national parks or farms. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms provides the chance to spend time on a working organic farm in return for room and board, letting you see how environmental sustainability really works.
Hiking trails offer access to stunning scenery throughout the United States — however, these need to be kept maintained. The American Hiking Society runs week-long working holidays building and maintaining trails, and staying (or even camping) in the wilderness.
The National Park Service Volunteers-in-Parks program has opportunities throughout the States in education, construction, maintenance and conservation. Many local parks are also looking for volunteers, such as Algonquin Park or Koke'e and Waimea Canyon State Parksand many states have their own conservation organizations, such as the Nevada Conservation Corps.
You could get involved with environmental projects with the Earthwatch Institute, which runs expeditions where volunteers work with environmental researchers. Projects across North and Central America range from Alaska fur seal studies to Wild West wildlife trails.
Is history your area? The USDA Forestry Service Passport in Time (PIT) archaeology and historic preservation program seeks volunteers for projects as varied as archaeological survey and excavation, rock art restoration, archival research, historic structure restoration and oral history gathering. The Archaeological Institute of America has field schools and projects across North America, from Arkansas to Vermont — so there is likely to be one within a bus or train ride.
Volunteering holidays can bring practical help to people — on Global Village holidays across North America with Habitat for Humanity, volunteers build houses for homeless people or people in poor housing. A number of American Indian reservations, including the Navajo Nation and the Hopi people, have volunteer opportunities for people to build and repair homes, or working in schools.
There are opportunities for animal lovers too. A number of horse and burro sanctuaries have working holidays, such as the Wild Horse Sanctuary and the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary. Work ranges from basic construction, gardening and repairs, through animal care and training, to working in the office or shop. And if you prefer your four legged things a bit smaller, what about volunteering at the Wolf Sanctum?
And finally, not really an eco project but still a great volunteer opportunity — summer camps for kids are an American tradition. You can help out at a summer camp for kids with special needs? Hard work but so very rewarding — for you and the kids.
Instead of flying or driving, you can effect a smaller impact on the Earth with alternative modes of transportation. Rail travel is less polluting that traveling by car or plane, and there are railroads crossing the entire United States — there's a good chance that one will be going somewhere near where you want to be. Try the Amtrak website to plan journeys. And if you don't just want to travel by train but you would like to also help preserve the railways, contact the National Railway Historical Society — they would always be delighted to have volunteers! Another, slightly slower, but still an eco-way to tour the country, is by bus — there are more than 13,000 daily departures of Greyhound buses, visiting 2,300 destinations across North America, and traveling nearly 5.8 billion passenger miles each year.
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