MONTICELLO — A few years ago, Mindy Brand said, the number of volunteers at the Allerton Park and Retreat Center was "too many to count."
Brand, who took over as volunteer coordinator last month, says she is now in charge of only six. That doesn't count the Allerton Allies (25 volunteers) and hunter volunteers (30 total), who are under the charge of others and still going strong.
The University of Illinois-owned park has not had anyone in Brand's position since 2008, and that may have led to the reduction in hours volunteered at the park, which some years has been as low as 1,300 hours.
For comparison, a typical full-time employee works about 2,080 hours annually.
Allerton Allies provide about 1,000 hours of work a year in the natural areas. In addition, 30 hunters donate 30 hours each in exchange for being allowed to take part in the deer management archery hunting season from October through January.
Brand is still working out her plan to encourage general volunteers, but one thing she has learned is that there are plenty of opportunities.
"If people want to come out and garden, they can be planting. There are maintenance opportunities. If they are more interested in the natural areas, we could use them there. We need people to help with tours and with special occasions," Brand said.
"We're also hoping to get someone into the visitors' center to answer questions and talk to visitors as they come through," she said.
The park also needs trail monitors, who walk the paths and report anything out of place such as fallen trees.
Clark Robinson moved back to central Illinois in 2010 after 11 years in Chicago and Baltimore. He is currently the park's most prolific volunteer, with 1,200 hours donated in the last 17 months — more than half of the total volunteer hours for Brand's small crew.
"It's nice to work outdoors — most of the time," Robinson said, chuckling. "It's nice to work in a beautiful environment like the surroundings here. The employees who work here are an exceptionally congenial group of people" Robinson said he typically spends two to three days a week at Allerton.
Brand would love to see her volunteer list grow, but more importantly wants to "make sure it's a good fit so that they want to come back. We want to avoid people coming out just once and deciding it wasn't what they wanted and not come back," she said.
One effort that may return is the alternative spring break trip program, which takes advantage of the UI break each March to recruit college-aged volunteers. Those taking part volunteer during the day and are put up at the Allerton Mansion or 4-H cabins at night. Brand's goal is to bring it back in time for the 2013 spring break.
Volunteer opportunities, contacts
- General volunteer program
217-333-3287, est. 113
- Allerton Allies
- Deer Mangement Program
217-333-3287, ext. 208