Sawtooth Association

The Alpine Examiner

May 25, 2023

Naturalist Blog

Getting to the heart of what matters in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area

Volunteering With The Forest Service: An Interview with Paul Rothstein

This is the season where National Parks, National Forests, and Recreation Areas begin hiring for volunteer positions at visitor centers, in campgrounds, and interpretive field work. Ever thought about being a Forest Service volunteer? Read on for an interview with one of the SNRA volunteers from 2022.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Paul Rothstein about his time volunteering in different federal positions.  Paul has been volunteering with the National Park Service and the Forest Service in four different seasonal positions, working in a number of different locations and has a wide breadth of volunteer experience.  Paul is currently retired and started volunteering in 2018.  While volunteering for the National Park Service, he had the opportunity to spend 3 months in Capital Reef NP, Mt Rainier NP and Canyonlands NP.  He was also able to volunteer at The Wave for a shorter stint doing a safety patrol checking permits.  He is currently volunteering for the Forest Service in the SNRA.  Paul and I sat down for a conversation about volunteering and here is what he has to say about his experience volunteering.

EB: “What made you want to volunteer for these positions?”

Paul: “Well my objective is as a retired person is I’ve got time on my hands to do things that I like. Well you might call it selfish but I want to put myself in a place where I can get immersed. That’s the key word I use, ‘immerse’. I can immerse myself in the surroundings of someplace I adore and want to explore. But at the same time it’s also a good feeling to volunteer and give back. I get the opportunity to share knowledge with other people and help them enjoy the place and foster good stewardship. But just, you know, promote good behaviors to preserve and protect. There’s a lot of facets to what you do. In my positions, two of the park ones were visitor help desk scenarios like I’m doing here with the Forest Service. And then one of them was called a Raven which was visitor assistance by vehicle. So I got to drive a vehicle around a National Park. Who wouldn’t want to do that? It’s like a patrol but if people need roadside assistance I get it to them or get it for them.”

EB “What do you think the purpose or duty of a volunteer is, particularly in your current position with the Forest Service?”

Paul “Do whatever they ask. We’re fulfilling a need that the public has that they provide. The intent would probably be doing it at a lower cost. You know I get housing out of this which is another perk for me. The objective is to help people enjoy their visit as well as maintain and preserve the assets of what’s here. It’s primarily recreation-oriented but with that impact comes use and therefore an objective to make sure people are prepared and to expect certain regulations from our side. We want everybody to have a good time and experience it but not destroy it.”

EB: “ Is this something you’d recommend to others? Retired people in particular?”

Paul: “Not if it would mean I couldn’t get the job that I want! [laughs] Yeah of course, it’s an awesome opportunity. I think that a lot of people could benefit from it if they’re retired. It’s an awesome way to put yourself in another place that you want to be in. Enjoy it in a way you’d never enjoy it. When you’re actually working on a normal day you have ‘vacation time’.” This is in reference to someone who works a job outside of volunteering and is coming to visit an area. “You have to pack everything in a short amount of time. I think working in a place is very enriching and desirable.”

EB: “Any last comments about volunteering for the Forest Service?”

Paul: “Volunteering is a great way to spend time and help other people as well as give back to an extent the government. I mean we pay taxes but these are sacred places and you get to experience them in a way you’d never get to experience them otherwise. That’s why I come back to the key word: immersion. You get to see what it’s like on a daily basis to live somewhere and what the environment is like. Weather changes and transitions and all the environmental aspects you wouldn’t get to see if you just came through on one day of your vacation.”

Eddy Black was a SIHA naturalist during the 2022 season. He is an Environmental Studies Major with a minor in Recreation Resource Management, at Utah State University. Growing up in Idaho Falls he visited the Sawtooths often. He is excited to be living in the mountains this summer! 

Photo courtesy of J. Bucchino.