Fueled by a flurry of project completions and strategic partnerships, the value of volunteer labor donated by Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) members to community-based conservation projects through the Work Boots on the Ground (WBG) program has topped the $1,000,000 mark.
The milestone was reached as a crew of union volunteers from the United Auto Workers (UAW) Ford Community Service Ramp Program put the final touches on five informational kiosks for the USA’s conservation partners at Pheasants Forever. The kiosks will be placed on game management areas around Michigan to educate the public on the benefits of habitat, conservation and hunting.
The project exemplifies the WBG program, which unites union workers to complete critical conservation, public access, education, youth outreach and adult mentorship projects in communities across the country.
The USA celebrated its 100th WBG project in late 2017 and to date has coordinated the completion of 156 projects in 30 states and the District of Columbia. USA volunteers have logged 29,937 hours on these efforts, which include 63 outreach campaigns, 85 infrastructure projects and eight support projects.
WBG kicked off in 2010 under the guidance of program manager Jim Klatt. The first project saw union volunteers craft supersize mesh-and-metal live traps for Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) researchers to use in buck mortality and fawn recruitment studies. As has since been the case in many WBG projects, the work would not have been possible without union volunteers. The DNR had secured funding to purchase building materials for the live traps but lacked the skilled labor and workspace to build them.
“We are extremely proud of our volunteers for reaching this milestone,” said USA CEO and Executive Director Scott Vance. “They are without a doubt our greatest asset. Their willingness to freely donate time and talents to benefit their neighbors and protect our outdoor heritage continually propels us to new heights in mission delivery and impact.
“Our volunteers are also what make us so unique as a non-profit conservation organization,” he added. “They are the most well-trained and skilled volunteers in the world because of their unique apprenticeship and trades experience. Providing skilled and trained volunteers who can do things that other volunteer groups cannot is clearly our unique niche among the conservation community.”
The USA already has plenty in the works for 2019, including projects and events in communities coast to coast. In what promises to be the largest project to date, the group rallied a coalition of public, private and union partners to construct a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and fishing pier at the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC) in Apollo Beach, Florida.
Part of the Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network (FYCCN), the marine-focused conservation education center serves more than 11,000 youth and adults annually. Union volunteers are expected to donate in excess of 1,000 hours of skilled labor valued at more than $50,000 to complete the pier and boardwalk, while the USA also contributed $20,000 and Southern States Millwright Council donated $50,000. National union contractor Ben Hur Construction is providing an additional $100,000 of in-kind donation to the project.
A large-scale enhancement project is also planned for the William Powers State Recreation Area in southeast Chicago, which includes construction of an ADA-compliant fishing pier. Additional projects range from the construction of a weigh station-pavilion on the shores of Smith Lake near Jasper, Alabama, to the refurbishment of a public pier at the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge just outside Liberty, Texas. Union volunteers are also gearing up to build a pedestrian walkway in Prineville, Oregon, that will open access to 70 acres of public property, and install a handicap accessible fishing pier in Harrison County, Mississippi.
The USA is also organizing a pair of Get Youth Outdoors Day events in concert with the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s (NSSF) First Shots program, which introduces first-time shooters to firearms respect, safety and the shooting sports. A number of youth fishing events are also on the docket. The USA’s 2019 Take Kids Fishing Day schedule kicked off in Minnesota in January, with additional events set for Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.