Last year alone, 28,000 volunteers contributed nearly 1 million hours of service valued at $23 million across all the Bureau of Land Management’s public lands.
As one way to acknowledge this invaluable help, BLM annually bestows the “Making a Difference” National Volunteer Awards to a highly select few; and this year, one of only seven recipients is our own Susan Murphy, who leads the Light Trail Maintenance team.
They all were honored during a recent ceremony that connected the winners across the country via video teleconferences at BLM offices in several states and in Washington, D.C.
“Through the years, volunteers on our public lands have ensured that Teddy Roosevelt’s ideal – the American conservation ethic – would endure,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “The BLM volunteers being celebrated today are champions of this conservation ethic, and it is an honor to recognize them for their extraordinary efforts.”
The hard-working volunteers have helped the BLM monitor trails, manage wild horses, keep campers safe, and provide environmental education, interpretation, and other visitor services, noted Zinke.
The 2018 awardees, selected by a national panel of BLM specialists and partner organizations, were nominated by their local offices. In addition to Susan, who was acknowledged for ‘outstanding achievement,” are:
- Pat & Phyllis Malato, Outstanding Achievement,Upper Snake Field Office (Idaho)
- Miranda & Madison Dickinson, Outstanding Youth, National Historic Trails Interpretive Center (Wyoming)
- Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary, Group Excellence, Little Snake Field Office (Colorado)
- David & Jane Styer, Lifetime Achievement, Fort Ord National Monument (California)
- Sandra & Geoff Freethey, Lifetime Achievement, Moab Field Office (Utah)
- Laura Olais, Employee Winner, Gila District Office (Arizona)
The Rock interviewed Susan to learn more about what motivates her as such an outstanding volunteer.
Please share a bit of your previous professional life as a pharmacist prior to retiring, as well as where you lived before moving to Las Vegas.
Susan: I actually was born in Las Vegas, then lived in Ohio, Arkansas, Florida, Arizona, California, Hawaii and Australia. Intermittently, I kept coming back to Las Vegas where I’ve rooted for the past 32 years.
Before retiring six years ago, I was a pharmacist and worked at Sunrise & Mountain View Hospitals, Talbert Medical Center and Payless retail pharmacy. I also was a consultant for outpatient surgery centers and physicians, and finally landed a dream job with Medco Mail Order, where I stayed for
almost 15 years. In 1990, I received Nevada’s “Distinguished Young Pharmacist” award in recognition of individual excellence and outstanding service to the profession of pharmacy.
When did you first encounter Red Rock Canyon, and how did it influence your life?
Susan: I found Red Rock Canyon as a hiker about 25 years ago. Because of the which meant I could actually use my first degree, a BA in Art from UNLV. I also coordinated hikes with Sierra Club and the Las Vegas Mountaineers Club.
Has volunteerism been a big part of your life?
Susan: My volunteer life with Red Rock has been about 10 years, but I became more active in my six years of retirement. I volunteer because I’m proud of our conservation area, and I want to keep it beautiful. I get a lot of use out of Red Rock; so it’s a win-win for me to give back.
Funny, I always thought volunteering was something to be done after retirement when I had more time. I volunteered here and there while I was a wage slave, but now I have more time. At first, I thought I volunteered because I didn’t have a life. Now, I know that volunteering IS my life, and I LOVE IT!
How did you first get involved with Friends?
Susan: Just by volunteering, first with Natural Resources, then with the Graffiti Removal Team, Red Rock Ambassador Program, Native Plant Team, and finally with Light Trail Maintenance, which I now lead.
What is the mission and goals of the Light Trail Maintenance committee?
Susan: To groom Red Rock’s trailheads and trails to preserve a well-maintained look. Goals? That’s an easy one! I only have three goals for any Light Trail Maintenance event: (1) Make it look BETTER, (2) Be SAFE and (3) Have FUN!
One of the questions a Friends’ board member asked when I submitted the proposal
was: “How many volunteers do you expect?” My answer was: “I’d be happy with 10-12 volunteers.”
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up with sometimes as many as 36 all cream-of-the-crop volunteers!
As for managing the large volunteer numbers, they sign up on Volgistics (or call/text/email me
if Volgistics is too intimidating). That way I know how many tools, snacks, water, etc. to
A week before the event, I send out an email to volunteers who have signed up,vand I give them details on when and where to meet for carpooling and where the work location will be. I give them a heads up on what kind of work to expect by giving annotated photos of potential work – raking trails, lining trails with rocks where needed, garbage pickup, light pruning overgrowth that
obstructs trails, naturalizing social paths and sweeping parking lots near our trailheads.
I let them decide the kind of work they want to do, depending on how they feel that day; and they’re free to switch out tools if they want to try something different.
I suggest they wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, hat, sunglasses, sturdy full coverage shoes and to bring a small backpack or fanny pack to carry personal items (since we may end up working a mile from the trailhead). I let them know that Friends will supply all the tools, snacks, water, sunscreen
and the ever-popular safety briefing.
How do you recruit volunteers?
Susan: In addition to Friends and BLM, I hike with various groups and do low-key recruitment
while hiking. Sometimes I’m just out monitoring trails (my favorite volunteer gig) and people ask how they can help.
What drives the volunteers you work with?
Susan: Our volunteers always go above and beyond my expectations, and when I compare my “Before” and “After” photos, a tearful, proud smile comes across my face. They never fail to amaze me! I’m not sure what drives all our volunteers to do such a great job, but I’d wager a guess that they like seeing their results too.
How have you gone about organizing and managing the committee?
Susan: I submitted a proposal to Friends after several years of noticing that the second
Saturday of every month was just not enough to maintain our trails. I kept thinking
that “THEY” need to do something… “SOMEBODY” needs to do something… and decided that hey, I guess I could do something!
The proposal was accepted and the Light Trail Maintenance committee received an operating budget. Since we work with BLM, they lend us a truck (after an online defensive driving course is passed) to haul supplies and load collected trash.
With a list of volunteer names from Friends and BLM, I spoke with some on the phone, texted some and emailed dynamic promos to others.
What are some of your favorite endeavors along the trails?
Susan: Learning how to maintain our tools. BLM Firefighter Jason Douglas, with help from
three other colleagues, gave us a Power Point presentation and a hands-on workshop on sharpening
Learning the art of naturalizing social paths in Lost Creek with long-time volunteer (teacher)
Teaching how to keep water off a trail. Water is the main source of damage (via erosion) to our
trails. I was delighted when a steep hill of the trail off Moenkopi Road held up following a torrential
downpour because of our work.
Having Peter Sbraccia teach us some graffiti removal techniques as part of our trail maintenance
in Willow Springs.
Teaching some trail-building techniques on what was just a path connecting the Scenic Loop exit to
the Red Rock Overlook.
Can you share a few anecdotes about individual volunteers and their work along the trails?
Susan: Lisa Metzer-Gott stopped work for a moment, spread her arms out wide and expressed
how wonderful it was to be volunteering in such an overwhelmingly beautiful place.
Cory Gozar, a volunteer in her 70’s, is like a cheerleader. She works hard and inspires others
to join her. She even recorded the sound of a Gila monster so we’d know what not to go near if we
heard it (quite scary, actually!).
Sofia Castille, who often gets dropped off and picked up by her husband, always has a beautiful
smile and pleasant demeanor. She works hard, and only asks for a good Facebook photo!
We have several teams that show married couples really can have fun working together – Edie &
Kevin Cardiff, Rebecca & Howard Dukes, Beth & Brian Schuck, Shari & Jeff Young, Karen & Mike
Evans, and Joan Urarro & Glenn Ritt.
Chelsea Conlin (aka “Hercules”) is usually (ok, always) our youngest volunteer, ever eager to pitch
in whenever someone calls out “We need some muscle over here!” She also makes a great batch of
vegan chocolate chip cookies!
What do you envision moving forward for Light Trail Maintenance?
Susan: That we won’t be needed! Well, I can dream! Mother Nature will make sure trail work
will continue. In the future, I plan to do more educcation. The volunteers will have a firmer grip on
seeing proper techniques for themselves and can teach others.
What advice do you give newcomers about volunteering?
Susan: Newcomers are always encouraged to join us. We always have several newbies. I think
it’s a good idea to introduce them by name and make them feel welcome and immediately part of
We have a couple of companies (Timberland Boot Company and Revzilla.com) that pay their
employees to work with us, and they always send new volunteers. It’s fun to see a wide range of
people whose lives are so varied on the outside, all working together toward our common goals.
What do you see volunteers getting out of their experience?
Susan: They not only get the “Before” and “After” photos, but also pictures of themselves
having fun at trail maintenance. They like the camaraderie of helping each other. I make sure
to remember their names and they appreciate the recognition. They like the organization, as well as
the freedom to choose what they’d like to do.
When all is said and done, beyond the fact that they (1) Made it look BETTER, (2) Stayed SAFE
and (3) Had FUN, I make sure they are dearly thanked!