It is quite a phenomenon to be the first of anything and to be recognized for it. It is especially noteworthy when you have a passion for the land, and are willing to work and care for it as a volunteer. That’s what Gloria Owen did as the first official volunteer in the U.S. Forest Service’s history. Owen was recently honored for providing her time and talent in the Northern Region working as a volunteer camp cook, camp tender and crew member on the “Mary Mary” trail on the Moose Creek Ranger District, Nez Perce National Forest in Idaho. She was presented with an embroidered Pendleton blanket and certificate recognizing her role and service by Regional Forester Leslie Weldon.
Not only because of volunteerism did Owen have a kindred spirit to the Forest Service, but she is also kin to the former Northern Region Director of Recreation and Wilderness Bill Worf who is her father.
In 1972, the Forest Service established the Volunteers in National Forests Act. Prior to that legislation, the agency could not legally accept the services of volunteers, reimburse for expenses, nor train, recognize or officially support people willing to give their time.
According to Regional Volunteer and Services Program Coordinator Joni Packard, there have been many “volunteers” since the beginning of the agency, from early ranger’s wives to local individuals and groups who just gave a hand when needed. Some, like Penny Keck, contributed thousands of “unofficial” hours to the agency, staffing fire lookouts and working on trails in the 1960s. It was because of Penny and many others like her that the recognition was sparked that a legal authority was needed.
The 1972 Act has resulted in over 108 million hours of volunteer service and over 2.3 million participants like Owen providing a helping hand on the nation’s forests and grasslands.
The Northern Region’s celebration of Owen as the agency’s first official volunteer marks the first of many events nationwide in leading up to celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Act in 2012 and the importance of volunteers to the Forest Service.