Voyageurs Volunteers: Nick, Jake, and Jake

Now that Tom and I are volunteering in the National Parks again, I decided to add a new category to my blog.  So many people have asked me questions about volunteering in the National Parks, but I haven’t really addressed this subject much in the blog.  So I am adding a new category called “Volunteering in the National Parks.”  Each week I will either spotlight a person who is volunteering or write about my experiences volunteering.

The Fort Union Trading Post Rendezvous offered an excellent opportunity to talk to a bunch of different volunteers.  Today I want to spotlight three men who were unintentional Voyageurs volunteers during Rendezvous.  Nick, Jake 1 and Jake 2 had no idea even a week ago that they would be volunteering in the National Parks.  Instead, all three of them had set out on a different adventure:  kayaking and canoeing down the Missouri River.

Although they didn’t know each other before the day they volunteered, they had each set out in May from the Missouri River Headwaters State Park near Bozeman, Montana.  Nick was canoeing and the two Jakes were kayaking.  All three plan on reaching St Louis sometime in August.  Nick and Jake 1 are stopping there and returning to their previous lives.  Jake 2 is planning on going on down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

As they paddled down the Missouri River, they would occasionally stop for a day of rest and refreshment.  In this way, all three of them paddled without meeting each other all the way through Montana.  Then, in a moment of serendipity, all three of them ended up camping at the Confluence Park on the same night.  Confluence Park is where the Yellowstone River joins the Missouri River.  Nick arrived first and had a chance to talk to the volunteers at the Confluence Interpretive Center.  They told him about the Fort Union Rendezvous.  When Jake 1 and then Jake 2 arrived, Nick told them about the Rendezvous and invited them to go with him.  One of the volunteers at the Confluence Center picked them up on Thursday morning and all of them arrived together at Rendezvous.

When they arrived at Rendezvous, Nick and the two Jakes started talking to Jeff Brown, the man who was talking about Voyageurs and their birchbark canoes.  Jeff introduced them to the Volunteer Coordinator, Ranger Lisa.  She invited them to dress as Voyageurs and be volunteers for the day – and they did! Ranger Lisa helped them find clothing to wear, and the three of them spent the day talking to everyone.  They talked to visitors, Rangers, and other living history volunteers.  And, because they had the whole day, they attended every demonstration.  By the time I met them they had learned enough of the history that they had a cover story:  they were Voyageurs from Montreal who had decided to venture further into the Northwest.

Jake 1 and Jake 2 Voyageurs Volunteers

Nick, Jake 1, and Jake 2 attended the volunteer potluck dinner that night and enjoyed a couple of cold beers.  Jeff invited them to share his tent.  They had enjoyed the day so much that they decided to stay for a second day of being Voyageurs Volunteers.  They helped out wherever needed during the day and participated in the camp dinner and dance on Saturday night.  Finally, on Sunday morning, they felt the call of the river and decided to get back to paddling.  Another volunteer took them back to their campsites and they continued on down the river.

It was so much fun to have Nick, Jake 1, and Jake 2 be Voyageurs volunteers for the two days.  Who knows, it may lead to more volunteering in the National Parks down the road (or River).  I loved talking to them and hearing about some of their adventures.  It was a God thing that they all ended up volunteering at Fort Union for the day.  I especially appreciated how enthusiastically they joined in to the spirit of the day.  Jake 2 is a full-time wanderer and he told me that he wanted to live life whole-hearted instead of being distracted by so many things that weren’t important.  A good lesson for all of us to learn.