Taucks World of Giving
For more information on the programs, contact Lora Shapiro at:
Phone: (203) 899-6702
Fax: (203) 899-6612
NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. -- It is so remote out here that its hard to
grasp the fact that youre in the U.S. My cell phone can barely
catch a signal. I havent seen a TV since I got to Yellowstone. My
mind struggles to absorb the magnitude of panoramas that surround
the thermal basin, with snow-covered peaks looming on the horizon,
steaming geysers spurting all around, sapphire blue pools of clear,
boiling water welling up from deep within the earth, brilliant
stripes of yellow, orange and green lining the steaming pools, I
feel as if I strayed onto some distant planet.
President Ulysses S. Grant set this land aside as the first
national park. In every budget battle since, it has had to fight
for its life as its fate is weighed in Congress against innumerable
competing interests with much stronger lobbies.
I have come to
Yellowstone to participate in Tauck World Discoverys volunteer park
You may think
Yellowstone is set aside and protected, but its not, Ashea Mills,
an employee of Yellowstone Institute and a step-on guide for Taucks
Yellowstone visits tells me. As she spoke, she was taking me on a
hike through Biscuit Basin, about three miles from Old
areas are under attack by many forces, both natural and man-made.
My job is to make you love this place as much as I do, Mills
Though were at
7,000 feet altitude, the crust of the earth is thinner here than
almost anywhere in the world, so the churning magma of the earths
core is closer to the surface. Water from the surface trickles down
through the crust, boils and comes gushing out of the earth as
steam and scalding water hundreds of years later.
it is to love it
It doesnt take
long at Yellowstone to be seized with a sense of the importance of
its preservation and to want fervently to do something about it.
Perhaps thats why so many of Taucks tour members respond
enthusiastically to an opportunity to participate in its volunteer
program to help maintain and refurbish the park.
Out of 41
passengers, 29 volunteered, said Linda Anderson, a Tauck tour
manager who directs the Rapid City, S.D.-Salt Lake City itinerary
that includes Yellowstone.
Though this nine-night trip
includes only a couple of days in Yellowstone, most guests chose to
spend two hours in white coveralls, performing manual labor. Tauck
is a high-end operator serving affluent professionals and
businesspeople, most of whom probably have little experience with
manual labor. Yet many testify in the consumer surveys that it is
the best part of the trip.
For people to pay
for the opportunity to perform labor defies elementary business
logic, and for Tauck to be able to break the rule it must be
touching on a need not previously identified by most
describe an increasing sense of urgency about protecting the
environment and giving back, but many have known of no satisfying
outlet for those feelings.
its particular business niche, has touched on a solution that gives
customers a channel through which to make a contribution. And the
National Park Service says the effort really matters.
The work is very
significant, said Suzanne Lewis, the Yellowstone Park
superintendent. In a park this big with this much infrastructure,
every task that gets done has a budget impact.
have seen small, steady increases over the years, Lewis says that
costs have soared. Anytime we can save labor costs, that helps us
get other work done that would have taken longer to get finished.
We cant do it all. We can never get everything 100% done.
At the first
volunteer session, during which the group painted a cabin, I met
Herb Dawson, the historical architect of Yellowstone. It is his
responsibility to oversee the restoration and maintenance of the
historical buildings on the park grounds. Dawson also oversees the
To coordinate the
program, Dawson hired a 34-year veteran of the National Park
Service, Bruce Fladmark, who came out of retirement to run the
program from May through September. Fladmark is a third-generation
park services professional. He knows the business as well as
anyone, and his well-honed organizational and people skills make
him a good match for the job.
Dawson hires Fladmark on a contractual
basis using funds provided by a grant from Tauck World Discovery.
Taucks grant also supplies a truck and virtually all the supplies
needed for the projects. In the last three years, the company has
invested more than $70,000 in the Yellowstone project.
Dawson said there
was some understandable skepticism in the department when he first
approached his superiors about a volunteer program. After all, a
bunch of tourist volunteers could well have been more trouble than
they were worth.
Bruce and I
decided early on that we would do professional work and that the
end result would be professional, said Dawson.The idea is to get
the bulk of the work done, then Bruce and Dave [Holstrum, a
full-time volunteer] come back and touch it up.
The strategy has
We have no
naysayers now, said Dawson. And we have a zero accident
makes a difference
projects are kept within a couple of hours.
Theyre here to
see the park, and we dont want to take too much away from their
time, said Anderson.
But even in an
hour, a significant amount of work is accomplished.
You turn 20 or 30
people loose on a building with paintbrushes, and they can get a
lot done, said Dawson.
Fladmark, more than 4,000 Tauck customers have participated in the
program at Yellowstone since its inception in 2003. And park
services officials attest to the value of the work.
Its hard to walk
around Old Faithful without seeing the results of our work, said
Fladmark. Weve painted 20 buildings, three highway bridges, four
footbridges and countless picnic tables, railings, hydrants and
parking lot logs.
also pulled weeds, repaired erosion caused by a deluge using rakes
and shovels, rehabbed a comfort station, painted four amphitheaters
and picked up 3,000 pounds of asphalt pieces that had crumbled off
walkways and melted into black muck in the wet thermal
fun with it
As the volunteers
work, the mood is jubilant and there is a lot of clowning around,
but they are nevertheless earnest about their efforts.
Right now, as we
speak, Ive hired someone to paint my house, and here I am on
vacation painting this cabin, said one woman, whose
paint-splattered coveralls were strikingly incongruous to her
sparkling diamond earrings.
If asked about
their work, the volunteers typically fend off the question with a
joke but then become serious.
After joking that
the project had been mass confusion, volunteer Bud Schwartz called
the exercise an object lesson -- to get people thinking of what
they could do in their own communities. You think what youve done
is infinitesimal, but if everyone did the same ...
Im so proud of
what we did, said another woman. Just think, well be able to go
back and say, We painted a cabin at Yellowstone. We can tell our
People really do
love it, said Anderson. Last week a group painted the Pelican
Bridge. We drove over the bridge on our way out and they said, Look
what we did! The people who didnt volunteer clapped for those who
did, saying what a good job they did. They were were so proud, like
Don Dunkle, a
tour director, tells his volunteers that its not what you do as an
individual that counts.
Its what 20 of
you working together will do that will make a difference. Its what
85 or 95 tour groups will do this summer, he said.
Tauck does not
know if the volunteer program has actually boosted business.
According to President Robin Tauck, As a company we dont widely
publicize it. We just do it because we believe in it. I truly
believe most of our repeat customers are not aware of this
foundation and the beliefs of our company and our family. It is in
our brochures. I dont know if people would buy based on
But it does rank
high in the surveys customers fill out at the end of every trip. In
an anonymous poll of 600 volunteers, 86% said the volunteer work
enhanced the experience, and 94% said they would do it again. The
numbers indicate that the volunteering probably contributes to
Taucks customer relations and to maintaining its 50%
Ive only seen one
comment that had a negative twist to volunteering in Yellowstone,
said Arthur Tauck.
But how does one
measure a life-changing experience? As an employee morale builder,
Robin Tauck said, the effect of the volunteerism has been
One office worker
who was changed for life is Linda Anderson, who was a 15-year
employee when the volunteer projects began. She changed jobs, left
the office and became a tour director in Yellowstone.
I worked 15 years
in the office, she said, Ive worked as a tour director since
September 2001. My worst day as a tour director [is better than] my
best day in the office. Where I am I can walk out and see the full
moon, the mountains, hear the elk bugling. Its
reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].