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9 outdoor places to volunteer

Volunteering outside is a great way to give back to the community and make a meaningful difference in the parks and nature areas in the urban environment. Most program projects have flexible schedules, require minimal or no training and have no associated fees. Tasks range from light labor, like litter pickup, to helping to construct a playground or introducing kids to nature.

Here are a number of local volunteer opportunities that will get you outside for a cause.

1. Blue River Watershed Association

Water is a precious resource, and Blue River Watershed Association (BRWA) works to monitor and improve the quality of Kansas City’s water. Throughout the school year, adult volunteers can help small groups of students learn to monitor and test water for pollutants such as phosphates and nitrates with easy-to-use water-monitoring kits. Adults who want to help in their own community can be trained to monitor water at more than 50 sites around Kansas City.

Kansas neighborhood groups concerned about their local water can contact BRWA to make a difference. BRWA will help find a suitable creek area to claim, and then organize the group’s efforts to clean up and maintain water quality there. At least five people must be committed to working in order to qualify.

Other groups can contact BRWA to organize litter pickup workdays along area waterways. The organization will provide all necessary materials.

The BRWA office is located at 6601 Swope Parkway, Kansas City, MO. Contact or 816-309-0980.

2. Cave Spring Historic Site & Nature Center

Help get city youths outside into nature as a volunteer at Cave Spring Historic Site & Nature Center. During summer months, adults can volunteer to teach groups of children about nature on guided hikes through the 36-acre site. Classes and hikes last for 20 minutes each, and schedules are flexible. No prior training or experience is necessary.

The nature center also features an heirloom, native flower garden with exclusively native flora that grew in the 1850s. Volunteer gardeners are needed for its regular care and weeding.

If you like the excitement of outdoor events, volunteers are always needed for garden sales and the annual October Pumpkins on Parade. Those with strong backs can help maintain the 5.1 miles of trail by cutting back encroaching brush and spreading wood chips for trail maintenance. And there’s always a project for skilled carpenters and electricians.

Volunteers must be age 13 or older and participate in the training program.

The center is located on 8701 E. Gregory Blvd., Kansas City, MO. Contact or 816-547-9679.

3. Youth Volunteer Corps of Greater Kansas City

The Youth Volunteer Corps of Greater Kansas City (YVCKC) partners with multiple organizations to get children involved at the Rosedale Community Garden, the Parkville Nature Sanctuary, Cultivate KC’s Gibbs Road Farm, and Grahovac’s Army of Volunteers. The youthful volunteers will learn to work in gardens and with nature, and acquire valuable team-building skills. Students also can fulfill community service hours and make new friends.

Every month YVCKC volunteers at the Sanctuary of Hope, an inter-faith not-for-profit retreat, by helping fix and maintain nature trails and digging trenches to reroute piping for rain water. Volunteers are 11 to 18 years old.

The corps office is located at 1080 Washington St., Kansas City, MO. Contact the YVCKC at or 816-743-7900.

4. Missouri Prairie Foundation

The Missouri Prairie Foundation works to preserve and protect our natural prairie legacy. Volunteers help with restoration projects in 11 prairies covering thousands of acres throughout Missouri. This is an opportunity to learn about native plants while removing invasive trees and brush during scheduled workdays in the fall and winter. Other tasks include staffing booths at plant sales and other events throughout the year. With training, volunteers can help with prescribed prairie burns.

Contact the Missouri Prairie Foundation at or 888-843-6739.

5. Powell Gardens

Take some time to volunteer at Powell Gardens and get the added benefit of learning from an expert horticulturist. Volunteer gardeners help tend six themed gardens and operate tasting stations of garden-grown, seasonal food samples.

Training is provided, and volunteer schedules are flexible.

Powell Gardens is located at 1609 NW U.S. Highway 50, Kingsville, MO. Learn more at or contact Connie Harclerode, volunteer coordinator, at 816-697-2600, ext. 304.

6. Kansas City Zoo

Get to know the animals as a volunteer at the Kansas City Zoo. An assignment with Team Habitat means working with all departments and can include cleaning exhibits, gardening, cleaning up brush or painting. Volunteers do not handle animals, but assist with all support areas of the zoo. Projects vary by group composition and weather, but the majority of the work is outdoors working on the grounds. Volunteers frequently help with special zoo events on weekends and can work with children on Second Saturdays. The program requires 30 hours of service.

Volunteer applications are accepted year-round, but applicants must work 15 hours (five work days) to be considered for next year’s program. Youths aged 14-15 must be accompanied by an adult, but those above 16 are considered adult volunteers. There is a $30 materials fee for adults and a $15 fee for youth volunteers for both programs.

The zoo is located at 6800 Zoo Drive, Kansas City, MO. Information is available at or by calling 816-513-5728.

7. Heartland Tree Alliance

Volunteers with the Heartland Tree Alliance (HTA) do their best to make Kansas City greener – literally. HTA is dedicated to taking care of KC’s community forest and trees on public property by hosting workdays across the metro area.

Volunteers educate the public on how to properly care for the trees in their own yard and how to plant a tree in the right spot. They also mulch, prune, water and remove stakes and wires from trees at various locations across the city.

Group sizes vary for event locations, and workdays are held spring through fall. Groups or businesses interested in volunteering are encouraged to contact Heartland Tree Alliance to help schedule their own workday.

The minimum age is 14 with adult supervision and 18 without.

The HTA office is located at 1427 W. 9th St., Suite 201, Kansas City, MO. Learn more at or 816-561-1061, ext. 115.

8. Kansas City Parks & Recreation Department

With more than 219 parks in Kansas City, MO, there is no shortage of ways to keep your hands busy outdoors with Kansas City Parks & Recreation. Groups can adopt a trail in their community or an entire park through the Partners in Park program. Volunteers clean up litter, cut back encroaching brush, clear invasive vegetation, and tend a garden or prune shrubs. The park maintenance staff provides all supplies.

Individuals can volunteer as recycling ambassadors to teach park-goers how to recycle during their stroll through the park. Find a park near you or contact K.C. Parks & Recreation at or 816-513-7509.

9. Johnson County Parks & Recreation

Volunteers at Johnson County Parks & Recreation have great freedom in choosing what kind of work they want to do. The county has more than 5,100 acres of developed parkland spread over eight parks, plus 87 miles of trail. Volunteers contribute thousands of hours helping care for the parks each year.

Grounds maintenance help is needed in the gardens, for litter pickup and cleaning up park lake shorelines. Schedules are flexible and can include individual work or groups working directly with the park administration to complete a major project. Projects can include designing and building mountain bike trails, building playgrounds and removing invasive plants.

Opportunities exist year round, and the park provides all materials. Age limits for volunteers vary by park.

Find a park near you by contacting Johnson County Parks & Recreation at or by calling 913-894-3321.

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