From buckthorn busts to quarterback blitzes, the St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department is looking for committed men and women to help around town.
No experience is necessary.
"We provide training, education and background, then we provide the tools," said Andy Rodriguez, newly hired city volunteer coordinator.
Rodriguez, who started the job two weeks ago, wants to create stronger ties between the parks and volunteers so they keep returning, especially as the parks face budget cuts.
The need is critical, for reasons that many may not know.
The parks system uses volunteer labor as matching capital to draw government grants. "We don't have a lot of internal funds to match so we have to mobilize the community," said Adam Robbins, environmental coordinator for the parks.
Standing near the newly renovated Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace at the Como outdoor classroom recently, Robbins talked of the $70,000 in volunteer labor already used at the site. Sometimes volunteers plant. Sometimes volunteers pull weeds at events called buckthorn busts.
"You can get a lot done in a two-hour period when you have 75 people," Robbins said.
Robbins pointed to numerous sites in the wooded area near the fireplace where native species had returned after the removal of invasive pests. With 3,200 acres to manage, the department always needs help. Mass is critical.
"There's only so much our staff can do," Robbins said.
St. Paul's biggest push is for help in regional parks such as Como, Phalen, Cherokee, Indian Mounds and Lilydale. But volunteers are welcome at all parks. No task is too small, especially as the city's parks department cuts paid maintenance and cleanup hours to save money in 2012.
"Weed pulling and trash pickup goes a long way toward beautification," Rodriguez said.
He said a major goal is to develop "consistent relationships with volunteers" and to set up a recognition program.
Whether an individual on a whim wants to help or a group is looking for a Saturday morning project, Rodriguez can set them up. "We can always use volunteers. There's always stuff to do around St. Paul," he said.
In addition to field work, volunteer coaches are constantly in demand because parents aren't always able or willing to fill the slots.
The efforts aren't just about free labor. The goal is to make community members feel ownership in the parks and comfortable at them.
Robbins said he often sees volunteers return to check the area where they weeded or sowed. "These individuals now have a sense of place," Robbins said.
Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749 Twitter: @rochelleolson