Volunteers from the travel industry lend a hand during Tourism Cares for America’s restoration project on Angel Island, Calif. // (c) Monroe Davids
Earlier this month, I joined hundreds of my colleagues from across the country doing something that was far from our glamorous, jet-setting day jobs in the travel industry: We moved and stacked firewood — A LOT of firewood. Or at least, I was part of a team that moved and stacked 48 cords of firewood over a five-hour period. The wood will be used to heat 14 homes on Angel Island, a state park in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, to reduce the park’s total power bill annually by $20,000. The cost savings on the power will help fund interpretive programs for schools and the general public.
Oh, and did I mention it was drizzling for most of the day?
So why would a sane person put himself or herself through such hard labor (and pay for the privilege, mind you)? It was part of the eighth annual Tourism Cares for America restoration project. Each year, Tourism Cares for America volunteers, representing all facets of the travel industry, recognize the importance of protecting and preserving travel destinations for the benefit of future generations of travelers and volunteer to do hands-on work at tourism-related sites in need of care and rejuvenation.
The Tourism Cares for America event has been held in seven different locations across the U.S., but the Angel Island project was the first held on the West Coast, which is why I was especially eager to participate. Tourism is San Francisco’s largest industry and the third-largest source of employment in California. So, a project of this scope — to help one of the more historically significant state parks in the state — was of major importance not only to California natives like myself, but to the tourism industry, too.
Angel Island is listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s 10 most-threatened historic sites. The island’s immigration station and military facilities, some of which date back to the Civil War, have suffered from the elements. Volunteer projects ranged from painting restroom facilities and replacing walkways to stacking the firewood that heats the buildings on the island, saving thousands of dollars in fossil fuels. Most of the tasks helped to improve the aesthetic appearance of the park for the thousands of visitors who come each year.
My neighbors on the wood-stacking bucket brigade, while not always happy about their blisters and sore backs, were enthusiastic about supporting the important work of Tourism Cares. Plus, the camaraderie of the afternoon — seeing representatives from tour companies, hotels, airlines, motorcoach companies and more working and laughing together — was truly inspiring. And, let’s face it, even with a bit of rain and fog, there are worse places to spend a weekday afternoon than on an island in San Francisco Bay.
The sun did come out right on cue, however, just as we stopped working and sat down for a barbecue on the island before heading back on the ferry for that evening’s closing party at the Hard Rock Cafe. Just as it always does after a morning spent helping others, the food tasted that much better and the sunshine felt a little warmer.
Later, as we made our way back to the city, we were all tired, dirty and wet — and it felt great.
Tourism Cares for America will be holding its next Volunteer Day event in Washington, DC, on Sept. 10.
Tourism Cares for America