Susan Murray, a volunteer trip leader, on her experience as a volunteer and leading volunteers
I like the quotation “people need nature, nature does not need people.” When we are in the natural world, in our backyards, parks, forests, backcountry or high up in the mountains, we feel peace, tranquility and contentment.
ConservationVIP is an organization that facilitates people to go to beautiful places, to meet people locally and to contribute, “to Travel with Purpose.” It is the combination of being in some of the world’s greatest landscapes and cultural heritage sites, with the ability to immerse oneself to contribute to the lands and give back by working with locals and in the community.
Hi, my name is Susan Murray and I have volunteered in the outdoors since my 20s. It started with an ad in the L.A. Times when they asked for volunteers to count Bighorn Sheep in the San Bernardino Mountains. Just sitting in the beautiful mountains, observing, listening, and contributing to an environmental cause, is what got my husband and I hooked. It led from helping to set up water features off the beaten path in the desert, to trail work in Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and many other places in the U.S. Our friends found it unusual and “not what they would do” with their hard-earned vacation time, but we were drawn to the wilderness, to contribute to it and to meet likeminded individuals.
My first trip with ConservationVIP was to the Galapagos. Not only did I love the animals, locals, and islands, but I also met friends I still communicate with. Life brings us on many paths, and it was on this trip that I was asked to lead for ConservationVIP. In June I completed my 7th trip.
All the trips are special. One of the trips is on St. John, a National Park, in the US Virgin Islands. What a treat to be on this island and near Cinnamon Beach, one of the most beautiful and unspoiled beaches in the world!
We sleep in the forest in large tents on platforms with a kitchen platform in the center and the sound of crashing waves, birds, frogs, and insects at night. As leaders, we get to wake up early to make some of the best Puerto Rican coffee (from Mark, our leader) for the early risers, then breakfast, lunches and off we go to our jobs on the island working with the Friends of Virgin Islands organization and indeed, friends they are. They are fun, take good care of us, and make sure we are happy and healthy. It can be hot and humid, and our volunteers work hard, sweat, and persevere to do the needed brushing and cutting to open views around historical structures and to preserve them and their history.
We also plant new trees and bushes as part of the ongoing initiative to prevent erosion and to regrow native flora wiped out by the devastating hurricanes in 2017. The views “from our office for the day” never get old. After a day of work, we come back to camp and get rewarded with lounging on the white sandy beach, blue sea, and sky. We introduce our volunteers to locals who speak about the history, medicinal plants, birds, and the sea. We come back inspired by the beauty, the people we meet and the contributions we make.
We are lucky to be in the locations where we travel and often there is a legacy. Our organization was inspired by individuals with experience at the National Park Service and USDA Forest Service whose hearts were into doing good. Because of their reputation and passion, ConservationVIP is invited to work in these special places. And our volunteers continue to uphold this legacy and trust through their hard work, attitude, and interest. Our head leader, Mark Hardgrove, once said “our volunteers are special.” I did not know what it meant at the time but now I do. Our volunteers ARE special, like-minded individuals, who come together to be safe, have fun, and make a difference.
Nature is not a coincidence and life is not either. We follow our hearts to the places where we feel most happy and content, and where we like to contribute and give back.