Historic sites come in all different sizes, from huge attractions like George Washington’s Mount Vernon to smaller museums like the Harriet Beecher Stowe house in Cincinnati, Ohio. They share a common thread–volunteers are the core of each operation, from large to small.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas is no exception. The park tells the story of Mission San Jose, consisting of four Spanish colonial missions and their associated features, which were established more than 300 years ago. The park interprets the story of Spanish colonization in that area and its impact on the indigenous communities living on the land.
Volunteers at San Antonio Missions support all park functions, both nuanced and complex. There are 23 regular and recurring volunteers who, in 2022, dedicated 2,850 hours to administration, 1,477 hours to resource management, 45 hours to education projects, and 3,107 hours to visitor services. In addition, there were 1,100 volunteers who helped out on special events, such as litter clean up, trail work, or large park functions.
“Volunteers mean that we can tackle work above and beyond the call of duty,” said PT Lathrop, Chief of Interpretation & Education at the park. “When we host especially large field trip groups, when we have special events, and when we need to clean up an acequia (irrigation system), volunteers can help us fill those gaps. They are symbols of what still brings Americans together: public land, shared history, and public service.”
Volunteer Bill Simons is in his eighth year of volunteering at the park. He has worked with the public at the Visitors Center, helped remove a highly invasive plant from the 300-year-old acequia, built a chest and a set of stanchions for displays inside the compound, and loaned a large magnetic display he built to help visitors learn about the door at Mission Espada.
“My favorite part of volunteering is working with the bright, young cadre of rangers and getting to know them,” Simons said. “All you have to do is see the look in people’s eyes as you weave the story of our missions to know why volunteering at historic sites is important.”
Lathrop agreed on the importance of volunteers, who add to the visitor experience. He said the National Park Service embraces all its visitors and users and wants every American to simply love their parks.
“As a National Historical Park, we are in the business of sharing stories and histories,” Lathrop said. “In a perfect world, visitors would leave with not only a deeper understanding of the park’s history but a stronger sense of empathy for the peoples and cultures who built this park and culture through sacrifice, change, conflict, and resolution. In 2023, it might be more important than ever to help the next generations connect with history on a personal and deep level.”
People also may visit www.volunteer.gov to see volunteer opportunities at other national parks and agencies.