Leaf Litter

Making Local Connections

Learn how a Boulder, Colorado non-profit volunteer organization inspires place-based groups in the local community to become engaged in it’s restoration and future.

By Claudia Browne

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Reprint courtesy of the Central Rockies Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration.

Most people agree that community participation in restoration projects is a great idea, but the reality is that making it work can sometimes be challenging. Particularly if the goal is not only to successfully complete a project and reconnect people with each other, but also to inspire local and lasting stewardship. Often, volunteers may not live in the immediate area, so they may have limited or no opportunity to revisit a site. It also seems that the short-term, fast-paced nature of restoration projects may limit volunteers from creating a lasting connection to a particular place.

Perhaps restoration projects do not necessarily need to reach local people, and it is enough to inspire a sense of stewardship in the broader community for the planet or region. It is easy to imagine, however, that including more local residents in a project would provide opportunities to reintegrate key people with the land and improve a project. Local people may make frequent trips past a place and could offer an opportunity to monitor and respond to changes. Locals also frequently have useful knowledge that might benefit a project (e.g., about where materials are).

How then could we better inspire a place-based core group of people, or even an individual, to participate in a restoration effort and continue the relationship with a site into the future? Ed Self at Wildlands Restoration Volunteers has a lot of experience in organizing volunteers and reaching out to local people.

With nearly 100 volunteer projects, and over 75,000 volunteer hours contributed by hundreds and hundreds of enthusiastic participants, Ed knows that people volunteer for a lot of different reasons: fun, social needs, exercise, and most often “giving something back” to the places they care about. In an urban setting, he notes that local residents may be more motivated to take care of a local stream or park.

In rural locations neighbors are more spread out and harder to contact, but may care passionately about a special place. WRV project planning efforts involve reaching out to local people through a variety of ways.

Here are some suggestions that Ed offered based on WRV’s experience.

  • Take time to research local place-based groups working in the area like a local watershed organization, hiking group, or a chapter of Trout Unlimited, Sierra Club, or Audubon Society. Often these groups can include a notice in their newsletter or send out an email to their members.
  • Visit the local gathering places (like natural food stores, restaurants, and sporting good stores) and put up a notice with contact information for interested persons.
  • Contact local schools, boy scouts and other youth groups.
  • Ask the land manager client to send out letters to neighbors around the site.
  • Ask a newspaper or public radio reporter to come to a project or advertise it in their community calendar


Organizing and efficiently working with volunteers is another story. WRV has built an entire infrastructure (communication, tools, and volunteer leader training) to help make a volunteer project flow smoothly. In the upcoming year they will be looking at how to best support other groups interested in working with volunteers. Readers from along the Front Range who would like to learn more about getting involved with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers can visit their web site at www.wlrv.org.

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