When I graduated from the Master Naturalist training program about five years ago, Riverbend Park was the first place I looked for volunteer opportunities. Although I volunteer with other parks and organizations, Riverbend has long been my favorite place to work. Over the years, I have helped with kayak trips, astronomy programs, Bluebell Festivals, Native American Festivals, summer camps, scout merit badges, educational hikes, and trash cleanups. I even created and led “Moonshine and Mayhem” hikes, with guidance from Park staff, during which I interpreted the history of the park during the Prohibition Era. But my most rewarding time at the park has been as a School Programs Lead Volunteer (E 110).
Riverbend hosts numerous classes of second through fourth graders who come to learn about the park’s natural resources, Native Americans, ecology, and the environment. School Programs Lead Volunteers have a unique opportunity to open students’ eyes and imaginations to the natural world and the cultural history of the area. Grade school students have a sense of wonder and excitement about the world that inspires me every time I lead a class. Their enthusiasm as they learn to shoot a bow and arrow, figure out why sand is deposited along a trail, squeal over frogs and snakes, or learn life cycles of animals and plants always leaves me even more energized after the class than when I begin it. I end each session convinced that I benefited from the class at least as much as the students.
Working at Riverbend is particularly enjoyable because of the park’s welcoming and appreciative staff. Rita Peralta, the Natural Resources Manager; Jordan Libera, the Senior Interpreter Program Manager; Valeria Espinoza, the Volunteer Coordinator; Julie Gurnee, the Visitor Center Manager; and the Interpreters are all committed to their tasks and a pleasure to work with.
Numerous other FMNers have found Riverbend to be a rewarding place to volunteer. To name just a few, Kris Lansing and Robin Duska lead bird walks (C106); Nancy Yinger, Jean Skolnick, Jerry Peters, Doreen Peters, and Janice Meyer conduct citizen science surveys of wildflowers, salamanders and dragonflies (C106); and Marilyn Kupetz provides care for the park’s animals (S182). Other FMNs have helped with eliminating invasives and planting native plants at the park.
It’s easy to begin volunteering at Riverbend. Valeria Espinoza coordinates volunteers and sends periodic messages about volunteer opportunities. If you contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, she will tell you how to get on her list. And the Park is accepting applications for School Programs Lead Volunteers through September, at https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/179279.
Come volunteer at Riverbend–you’ll be glad you did!