Vacations usually mean relaxing, shopping, dining and fun, but to a growing number of travelers, it can also mean working for a cause. In my previous article, I talked about the growing trend of “voluntourism” – combining travel with a desire to leave a positive impact on your destination through volunteer work. In this entry, I’d like to discuss voluntourism opportunities here in Texas. After all, this blog is called “Tour Texas”, so while we’re touring this great state, why not see where we can lend a hand, meet some great new people and even learn something new. Here are just a few cool ideas:
Matagorda County Christmas Bird Count – Matagorda County is home to miles of glistening, sandy beaches, pristine waters, world-class fishing, and diverse wildlife. Every year, in the weeks before Christmas, avid bird-watchers from all over Texas and beyond pack up their binoculars and cameras and flock to Matagorda County to volunteer for the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. There they join hundreds of volunteer birders who combine their passion for birding and conservation with a few days away from home.
Audubon Bird Counts occur in various designated spots across North America and are vital in collecting data on bird populations throughout the continent. The organization depends upon its “citizen scientists” to search out and identify the birds and record the sightings, data which help identify those species in need of conservation action. Newbies are welcomed; accuracy is assured by always having at least one experienced bird watcher in every group. The event is often an annual Christmas family tradition, with repeat “voluntourists” who return every year. Contact the Matagorda CVB for more information.
Texas Parks Trail Work – The western part of Texas state is home to two of the nation’s most impressive and beautiful parks. 400 miles west of San Antonio is Big Bend National Park and north of that, straddling the Texas-New Mexico border, is Guadalupe National Park. Both parks cover thousands of acres and are home to more than 1,000 plant species and 400 bird species, as well as antelope, mule deer, white-tailed deer, banded gecko, rattlesnake, coyote, black bear, elk, and mountain lion. Maintenance for such enormous land masses is an ongoing challenge, but budgets are tight and the parks do not have permanent maintenance crews. That’s where the Sierra Club steps in: 70% of the trail maintenance that is done in the parks is by volunteers. Work includes trail improvement, restoring grasslands, planting trees and more. For more information, see Guadalupe project details and the Big Bend project details. Other park volunteer opportunities available on the Texas State Parks website.
Care for Animals at Wildlife Rescue & Rehab — WRR in Kendalia, TX rescues and rehabilitates many kinds of animals, with a goal to release back to nature when possible and to provide permanent sanctuary when release is not an option. The Wildlife Rescue & Rehab facility is home to native wildlife, farm animals, wolves, bears, big cats and primates. They welcome volunteers who will have the opportunity to do hands-on rehab that may include bottle-feeding baby animals one day and assisting an injured animal with physical therapy the next. On your free days, spend some time in nearby San Antonio or Austin, or imbibing in the Texas wine country.
Dig for dinosaur fossils – The Arlington Archosaur site has been the location of many amazing fossil discoveries, including dinosaurs, turtles, fish and crocodiles. Plenty of rare fossils from the Cretaceous period (95-100 Million years old) have been uncovered here and help is needed to continue the dig. Volunteers really do get hands-on experience: you’ll excavate in the soil and map any fossils you find, you’ll clear hillside for continued digging and prepare fossils for identification. Don’t fear if you’re a newbie — orientation and a short training session will demonstrate what you need to know. If you’ve ever wanted to help excavate a dinosaur, while vacationing in the nearby Dallas-Fort Worth area, join the Arlington Archosaur Facebook page or contact Earthwatch Institute.
Beach clean-up – For some people, it’s just not a vacation if you don’t hit the beach. If you love the sand and surf, there’s a volunteer opportunity for you too. The Texas General Land Office “Adopt-A-Beach” Program is an all-volunteer organization committed to keeping trash off of Texas beaches. Clean-ups start at 9 AM and end at noon, leaving plenty of time in your day to relax and enjoy your vacation. The work is not difficult and kids are welcomed to join in the effort too. Oh, and some nearby hotels offer discounts to volunteers. For clean-up sites and dates, visit The Texas General Land Office website.
There are plenty of opportunities in Texas to lend a hand during your vacation. These are only a few examples, but wherever you might wish to travel, there’s a Habitat for Humanity, an animal rescue group, a soup kitchen that needs you and would sure appreciate your time. If you’re lucky enough to take a nice vacation, you just might find it feels pretty great to share your good fortune.