Can you ask visitors to volunteer in a national park? Why not? Since our Congress and taxes are not doing the job and are not funding the National Parks correctly, parks are using volunteers for more functions. And volunteers love it.
Many of so-called volunteers are not real volunteers. Either they have an internship which looks good on a resume or they’re part of a group that thinks that a day in a park is a fun way of spending time with friends. But no matter. They’re helping a park.
But in the Dry Tortugas, volunteers of any sort are not easy to get. It’s a 2.5 hour ferry ride which costs $165 with Yankee Freedom. Volunteers must live in the fort for a few weeks. I don’t think they get Boy Scout troops for a day that help clean up the place. That’s where visitors can come in.
Our second day in the Dry Tortugas was centered around studying Fort Jefferson. We had walked around the fort the previous day and read up on it but nothing beats a walk and talk with a ranger. But here, there are no interpretive rangers at the moment, another indication of poor funding. A tour guide for Yankee Freedom took us around and she was great.
A Bit of History
Fort Jefferson was built between 1846 and 1875 but it was never finished. It was planned as a (late, in my view) reaction to the War of 1812. After the British burned Washington, DC, Congress authorized several similar forts up and down the east coast, including Fort Sumter, Fort Pulaski and Fort Jefferson.
Lots of activity, lots of casemates (gun rooms), lots of cannons but not one shot was fired in anger. Though it was located at the southern most tip of Florida, the fort stayed in Union hands during the Civil War. It was used as a prison; the most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd. Dr. Mudd was an American physician who was convicted and imprisoned for aiding and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth in the 1865 assassination of President Lincoln. You remember that from schol, right?
After the army abandoned the fort, it deteriorated until it became a National Monument in 1935 and a National Park in 1992. Our tour guide claimed that it was the least visited park in the east.
After lunch, Lenny wanted to veg out and I wanted to go back to snorkeling. Instead, I asked for a large garbage bag from the Yankee Freedom staff and told them that I was going to pick up garbage on Bush Key, the island connected by a land bridge to Garden Key. See the top picture.
The staff was amused and astonished but said “Yeah. Go for it.” Lenny figured that he could veg out on the long boat ride back and we circled Bush Key. We found buoys, plastic bottles and even a propane can. Most of the junk was from boaters. Walkers who saw us probably through that we were wards of the court. They surely didn’t volunteer to help.
We also saw a colony of hermit crabs eating a bird. Hermit crabs move into any shell they can fit in and carry their new house on their backs. Fascinating.
But back to volunteering. If you’re staying on Dry Tortugas for more than a day, you have time to help the park in some way. Ask the rangers. They will be surprised.