Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Recreation Management

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf

Commitee Members

Kari Gunderson, Andrea Vernon


wilderness volunteering, volunteer vacation, voluntourism, episodic volunteerism, reflexive volunteerism, environmental volunteerism, multi-day volunteering


University of Montana


For well over two decades, land management agencies in the U.S. have experienced trends of flat if not otherwise declining budgets with which to fulfill their respective missions. Consequently, public land management agencies at various levels have sought creative strategies such as using volunteers to extend quality services without incurring added expense. An increasingly popular form of multi-day volunteer engagements, often referred to as a ‘volunteer vacation,’ is nearly absent from the literature when it comes to domestic project settings as opposed to international and often exotic locales.

A qualitative research study was conducted in the summer of 2013 on volunteers participating in weeklong trail maintenance service-trips on National Forest land in Montana and Idaho. Two non-profit organizations (The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation and The Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Wilderness Foundation) allowed researchers to conduct semi-structured interviews with 26 volunteers on their motives, experiences, preferences, and other aspects related to their overall volunteerism.

Results suggest that respondents are motivated to participate for many reasons including: an environmental ethic, a social experience, personal development, immersion in nature, and receiving a facilitated backcountry experience. Understanding these motivations can assist managers and other nonprofits with capacity building objectives such as marketing and retaining volunteers.

Other findings indicate volunteers acknowledge a high degree of self-interest with respect to preferences for project tasks, scheduling, and desired set of experiences before committing to service. This finding supports theories in the volunteerism literature suggesting that contemporary volunteering is trending towards the reflexive and away from the collective. This has recently been denoted by a preference for volunteer engagements that are concentrated and short-term (episodic) as opposed to ongoing (traditional).

This study concludes with a proposal to expand the voluntourism definition to include domestic volunteer vacations in addition to the normative international volunteer vacation models. Also, a recommendation is issued to reconsider the prevailing set of associations for the “new” styles of volunteering. This comes from finding that episodic volunteers may also demonstrate many of the attributes of traditional volunteers such as a desire to form enduring ties to the organization.



© Copyright 2014 John Andrew Stegmaier