Need A Hand?

By Kate Nation

Many Dayton, Ohio, residents have fond memories of visits to Lakeside Lake, which offered fishing opportunities and scenic views and was home to the popular Lakeside Amusement Park for 70 years. After the park closed in the 1960s, the banks of the 10-acre lake became overgrown and covered in debris and litter to the point that some nearby residents didn’t know the lake existed.

Lakeside Lake was restored to its former glory last year and is once again a prime spot for families to recreate, largely thanks to the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s (USA) local volunteers and a $25,000 contribution from its Ohio State Conservation Dinner funds.

CityWide, the city of Dayton’s development partner, made the restoration of the lake part of its community strategy, believing its beautification is essential to community confidence and the ability to attract additional investment to West Dayton. The effort received a huge boost when the USA and the Ohio AFL-CIO—a federation of local labor unions representing approximately 600,000 workers across the state—joined the effort.

Over six months, more than 100 volunteers—primarily local union volunteers representing the USA—participated in four cleanups to remove invasive honeysuckle and trash along the lake’s edge. In September, volunteers from Ironworkers Local 290 constructed two custom park benches, which were painted by members of Painters Local 249. Volunteers from Operative Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 132 and Laborers Local 1410 poured concrete pads for the benches and for a new fishing pier abutment. Union volunteers then assembled and installed a floating fishing pier in October, in time for a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, to celebrate the completion of that phase of the lake’s restoration.

What Is The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance?
In 2007, the USA was launched as a hunting-and-fishing club to connect union sportsmen and women through a shared passion for the outdoors and to activate them to lend their unified voice to conservation issues. Within a few years, it became clear that the USA had a great deal of untapped potential in its membership, representing a wide range of trades with unparalleled skill, training, and craftsmanship.

By 2010, the USA evolved from a club to a non-profit organization. Its mission and the unique skills of its membership gave life to Work Boots on the Ground (WBG), the USA’s flagship initiative, to lend their time and skills to conservation projects and improve public access to the outdoors, conserve wildlife habitats, restore America’s parks, and mentor youth.

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In 2013, the USA completed its first state-park projects at Texas’ Cedar Hill State Park and Tennessee’s Montgomery Bell State Park. It quickly became apparent how valuable the program could be in helping to maintain and restore America’s public lands and parks, especially in the face of budget cuts.

In 2017, the USA took its WBG program a step further by pairing the completion of many of its community-based projects with free community events that brought together the young and old, veterans, minorities, and those with limited mobility to enjoy the outdoors.

A perfect example was the USA’s 100th WBG project at Jones Point Park, which is managed by the National Park Service in Alexandria, Va. Last fall, more than 100 USA volunteers donated 864 hours to rebuild a fishing pier at the park that was originally built in the 1950s and was in critical need of compliance and repair. Prior to a pier dedication on November 3, the USA and local conservation partners hosted 75 fourth-grade students for a morning of educational activities and fishing from the new pier.

Could The USA Be A Resource For You?
Since 2010, the USA volunteers have donated nearly 25,000 hours to complete more than 100 WBG projects in 31 states. These projects originate in several ways, the most common of which is through a USA conservation dinner.

The USA hosts these dinners in markets across the country. The dinners are coordinated by a host committee made up primarily of union leaders within a given market, with support from a USA staff. These dinners unite the union community, raise funds for local conservation projects, and recruit volunteers.

After all expenses, 50 percent of the dinner revenue goes to the USA and 50 percent is designated for a local WBG conservation project, which is identified either by the host committee or the USA staff. Sometimes, members of the dinner committee are fond of or familiar with a nearby park or recreation area, so completing a project there is an easy decision. In other situations, the dinner committee or the USA staff members reach out to parks, wildlife refuges, or recreation areas in the vicinity to find out what type of help they might need.

“You can bet a few park managers have been surprised or thrown off-guard when they got a phone call from someone saying, ‘We have volunteers and money available. Do you have any projects we could help you with’?” says Forrest Parker, the USA director of conservation and community outreach. “There have even been a few managers who turned down the opportunity because they didn’t believe they had the park staff to help manage the project.”

What those managers did not understand (and what you should take to heart) is that the USA volunteers are much different than the average volunteer. Union members are highly trained experts in their trade and need little supervision to complete complicated projects. The USA members are electricians, roofers, sheet metal workers, cement masons, bricklayers, plumbers, and operating engineers, and the list goes on.

Each WBG project has one or more project leaders, who coordinate volunteers and work days and keep in touch with agency staff. Agency staff members are generally involved in site visits and project-planning meetings, provide plans or the vision for the project, and may be involved in securing the materials needed for the project. Once the project scope is laid out and materials are in hand, the USA volunteers roll up their sleeves and get to work.

“We continually strive to maintain all facilities and services on minimal budgets,” says Joshua Choate, Cedar Hill State Park Assistant Superintendent, about the USA’s first WBG project at a state park. “There are multiple projects that fall behind other higher-priority maintenance issues and don’t receive funding. The unions and USA provided the materials, a large number of highly skilled volunteers, and high-quality service. We could not be more thankful for their dedication to conservation and community service.”

There have also been WBG projects initiated by a public-land manager contacting the USA. In those situations, the USA evaluated both the feasibility of the project and its vicinity to a USA market with a strong union presence. Sometimes those projects were a perfect fit for a USA dinner committee with available funds.

Learn More
Members of the USA are connected by shared skills, bound by a common purpose, and united by a passion to leave things better than they found them. Harnessing the power of America’s labor unions and putting that energy to work for conservation has the potential to be the most influential advance to happen for conservation—and America’s public lands and recreation areas—in a very long time. To learn more, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or contact Forrest Parker, the USA director of conservation and community outreach, at forrestp@unionsportsmen.org or (828) 788-1153.

Kate Nation is the Communications Manager for the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. Reach her at katen@unionsportsmen.org.