Two people use a hand saw to cut a fallen timber.

2023 Volunteer Awards

Each year, Parks is the welcome recipient of over 190,000 volunteer hours and over 5,000 volunteers. Volunteers from all over the state participate in a variety of volunteer opportunities from trail work and interpretation to habitat restoration and hosting.

We would like to thank all our volunteers for their dedication and support. They are a valuable part of our team and help make our parks treasured places.

In recognition of Volunteer Appreciation Week,  we would like to recognize the following volunteers for their outstanding efforts and commitment to Parks. Volunteers are nominated by park staff and voted on by a selection committee.

Thank you to each one of our volunteers!

Volunteer of the Year

Man standing in front of a step and repeat background
Tom Eisenberg, Volunteer of the Year

Tom Eisenberg, Camano Island/Cama Beach

Tom has been an active volunteer in the Camano Island community since the 1970s. Throughout his service with Parks, Tom has volunteered as both an individual and as a member and leader of the Friends of Camano Island Parks (FOCIP) – a volunteer group that serves Cama Beach and Camano Island. As president for FOCIP for over 25 years, he has organized groups to work on a variety of projects including, trail maintenance, restoration projects, community events and acts as an encyclopedia of knowledge on the local floral and fauna – frequently providing interpretive tours and talks at the park.

Tom inspires everyone around him. Camano Island Senior Park Aide Troy Twibell has the pleasure of working closely with Tom and said, “I consider him a mentor. His depth of knowledge about the local area surpasses anyone else I know.”

Host of the Year

Claudia Foster, Deception Pass

Claudia hosted at Deception Pass during the peak season of 2023. Claudia was deeply appreciated by the public, who often thanked her by name as they left. She was regularly seen raking unique sand patterns in each campsite to provide incoming campers with a welcoming experience. She also helped with the Junior Ranger Program, provided interpretation about the Civilian Conservation Corps and handed out Bark Ranger bandanas to leashed pets.

Claudia was also responsible for supporting a very heavily used day-use area, which was used by school children five days a week, hosted marathons and was the location of a 400-person Fourth of July event. When finished with her regular duties, she took it upon herself to go to other high-traffic areas, like the Deception Pass bridge and Rosario day-use area, to pick up litter. 

One notable event reported by park staff was Claudia assisting a motorist who had a car fire. She helped get them to a safe area while waiting for our ranger and fire personnel to arrive.

Claudia received numerous compliments from park visitors and went out of her way to make sure she left a positive lasting impression of Deception Pass with every guest.

Rookie Host of the Year

Bill Gast, Cama Beach

Bill Gast served as park host for Cama Beach Historical State Park in October 2023. This was Bill’s very first hosting experience. Cama Beach is a unique park where hosts get to trade in the traditional host roles of cleaning campsites for driving shuttle vans and transporting guests and their belongings to and from their rustic cabins. Bill quickly learned the history and culture of the park so he could share this with incoming guests, enhancing their Cama Beach experience. 

When the Welcome Center would close for the evening and the park was still expecting the arrival of guests, Bill would go out of his way to listen for latecomers and help them with any needs or questions they may have had. It didn’t matter how late — if Bill was contacted for any shuttle or firewood needs, he was more than happy to help.

When Bill wasn’t driving the shuttle, he still found time to beautify the park grounds by planting flowers and trimming the host site and kept the roads and sidewalks clear by blowing leaves and splitting firewood for guests.

Bill received rave reviews from park visitors and went above and beyond his expectations and duties.

Significant Volunteer Achievement

Bob Stoddard & Kathy Kyllonen, Seaquest

This year was Bob and Kathy’s first year hosting. Over the summer, Seaquest kept periodically losing power and water. This caused a lot of frustration for visitors. Bob and Kathy handled it with grace and professionalism. 

By the time they returned in November, the park was closed and the grounds were torn up due to the replacement of the power and water. Bob and Kathy chose to stay, host and help knowing they would have no power or water for a few weeks. They never complained. Bob spent uas many as five hours a day working on leaves, either blowing, raking or driving the sweeper truck. He also kept staff updated on issues, such as downed trees. This was a significant help for staff during a difficult time, and their efforts were much appreciated.

Stewardship Hero

Wild Sky Community Trail Association, Wallace Falls

The Wild Sky Community Trail Association provided excellent assistance this year to the Wallace Falls State Park area.  On April 8, volunteers from Wild Sky assisted in recovering over 120 tires that had been previously dumped onto Forks of the Sky State Park property. Tires were found in steep terrain areas of the park, and it took tremendous effort to get them into an area where they could be hauled out. The tires were eventually recycled with DTG Recycle.

Wild Sky also completed a number of other projects, including planting over 100 Douglas fir seedlings at the Big Eddy Scenic River Access and Forks of the Sky areas, assisted staff with a trail reroute around an uprooted tree and brushed out two miles of trail leading to Shaw Lake. The parks would not have been able to complete these projects without their help.

Interpretation Volunteer of the Year

Richard Cassidy, Ginkgo Petrified Forest

Richard Cassidy showed great commitment and love for the park by providing enjoyable, meaningful and educational experiences for visitors at the Ginkgo Interpretive Center. Every morning, he started by helping staff get the museum ready and set up his educational table. He always greeted the visitors with a great smile and kind words. He invited people to see his materials and rocks on his table and let them hold the rocks while explaining the lava floods. He then pointed out the basalt layers from across the museum and gave visitors a complete explanation of the geology of the area.

Group of the Year

Spokane Mountaineers

The Spokane Mountaineers are this year’s Group of the Year. The Mountaineers adopted the almost 2,000-acre Little Spokane Natural Area  (LSNA), which is part of Riverside State Park. They took their responsibility for this area seriously. They possess a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in land stewardship. The group has infectious enthusiasm, is willing to work in all kinds of weather conditions and are never afraid to get their hands dirty. They have cleared dozens of trees along the trail and have educated members and staff on the use of  cross-cut saws.

They are up for any challenge and keep the park informed of downed trees and other issues along the trail and have usually already made plans for their removal.

Many members of the Mountaineers are also active with the Washington Trails Association and volunteer even more of their time oustide of these organizations. They are truly great examples of civic engagement.

Two people use a hand saw to cut a fallen timber.
Spokane Mountaineers volunteers work at Riverside State Park.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Ron Schmolka, Blake Island

Ron Schmolka volunteered as a Marine Park Host at Blake Island for 16 years, totaling 2,157 hours of service. Ron took great pride in his responsibilities as a marine host. Taking care of his “flock” as he would call them, was very important to Ron. He often filled the busiest times of the season which was critically important to the smooth operation of the park. He did his best to welcome each boater as they came in, sharing his wealth of knowledge about the island, boating and the surrounding area.

Ron was friendly, professional, engaging and worked hard to manage the space in the marina in the most efficient way possible. He tried to accommodate as many visitors to the park as possible — and safely — while also increasing park revenue by selling moorage permits and encouraging folks to visit the park store for the best ice cream on the island. If there was an issue on the dock, Ron wouldn’t hesitate to give rangers a call so they could take care of it.

Ron cares deeply about the protection of the park, its resources and sharing his love of the island and it showed over his many years of dedicated service.

Sandy Evans, Patos Island

Sandy Evans has volunteered for more than 10 years. She planned, organized and supervised the monthly maintenance work parties for Patos Island with the Keepers of the Patos Light from April through September. Sandy recruited and registered people for the work parties, provided safety briefings and assigned work for volunteers. She also worked tirelessly to clear trails, clean campsites and grounds and take on whatever maintenance project staff requested of her. Sandy lives in Tulalip and traveling to and organizing transportation to the island for other volunteers was no simple task. Sandy’s help and hard work will be sorely missed.

Originally published April 19, 2024

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