Nature is never far when you’re in South Dakota, at the edges of our communities and neatly planted fields are state parks, grasslands, lakes, and rivers that allow us to take a beat and recharge. For those in Sioux Falls, such an oasis exists in the center of town, at The Outdoor Campus. With miles of walking trails, classes for all ages, and an abundance of native flora and fauna, it’s a popular place to spend time. But, operating on revenues from hunting and fishing licenses, and offering all classes for free, success wouldn’t be possible without volunteers.
Volunteer coordinator Monica Boyer has been coming to The Outdoor Campus since she was a “Sprout” (the 3-4 age group). She started volunteering at age 12 and now, as a second-year college intern, works with roughly 150 others, making sure they have everything they need.
“We have volunteers from all age groups – up to their 80s – and all different schools,” explained Boyer. “When you walk through our doors, you can feel the excited energy of our staff and volunteers. We are constantly working on creating new and innovative ways to engage visitors in South Dakota’s outdoor heritage. It’s a great way to meet new people who share a passion.”
Volunteers help The Outdoor Campus by welcoming visitors at the front desk, caring for animals, filling bird feeders, helping with small repairs, and teaching classes in outdoor cooking, archery, BB guns, fishing, and paddling.
“If you have a passion for the outdoors and helping people, we can find a volunteer opportunity that fits you,” said Boyer, who went on to explain that the experience can be especially rewarding for young people or those looking to enhance their leadership skills. “When they’re out here teaching kids how to fish or kayak, there’s that interaction and they’re learning about communication and showing someone else something they know really well and have a passion for. They gain a lot of leadership and they make a lot of new friends.”
Volunteer opportunities extend far beyond the summer months, with snowshoeing, ice fishing, and cross country skiing classes happening in the winter. Boyer says one of the best things about donating time to The Outdoor Campus is the flexibility. Volunteers largely make their own schedules, with the organization asking that youth plan to give 25 hours of service and adults 50 hours. Many choose to go beyond that, with some having served since The Outdoor Campus opened in 1997.
One of Boyer’s favorite parts of the job is getting to know new volunteers and making sure they all feel appreciated. “There is no way we would be able to perform all of our programs without their dedication. We appreciate and value every single volunteer. Our volunteer program is the backbone of The Outdoor Campus.”
Becoming a volunteer is easy. Visit The Outdoor Campus homepage (gfp.sd.gov/outdoor-learning/outdoor-campus/east), click on “volunteering” and then on “apply now” and wait for an e-mail to set up an interview.
For Rapid City Outdoor Campus opportunities, visit gfp.sd.gov/outdoor-learning/outdoor-campus/west.