The Value of Volunteers
There are many reasons why Maryland can be pitched as the ideal place to hold major events. Certainly our quality facilities, central location, easy access, compact size and wealth of natural resources are all significant factors.
But one thing that drives the large, multi-day tournaments so lucrative for host regions is an active, willing, reliable volunteer force. And fortunately, this is really where Maryland shines.
From the Special Olympics (which just celebrated its 40th birthday) to the Polar Bear Plunge that raises funds for it, volunteers from all over the area make the multitude of activities possible.
Volunteers (frequently known as Mom and Dad) are the backbone of most local rec leagues and youth organizations. Maryland has a plethora of these programs, and we are trying to host more of their regional tournaments. When the regional and national organizers look for sites, a volunteer labor force is a major consideration.
Today was the annual Tour Dem Parks, Hon bicycle celebration in Baltimore. Tour Dem Parks began several years ago, prompted by a group of bicycle advocates who wanted an activity to promote the newly opened Gwynns Falls Trail. This small committee — all volunteers — developed the concept, planned the routes, and made all the arrangements themselves. They had a lot of help from the folks in City of Baltimore’s planning and recreation departments (whom they had worked with to build the trail) willing to do this in their spare time.
Since Camden Yards sits on the Gwynns Falls Trail, we’ve come to know a lot of these folks as community partners, so it’s nice to go to this celebration and appreciate just how popular it has become. (The exercise helps, too.) I’m guessing that despite the heat there were more than 1,000 participants who came to ride, train, or just enjoy a day picnicking in the park. From the folks at the registration tables to the mom who flipped the burgers, all of the organizers were volunteers.
The funds raised from the ride go back into trail development and park beautification. One person who rides every year said she particularly enjoys seeing how the trees along the trail continue to mature since it first opened. Responses like that are the motivation that continues to drives these activists.
If we get a Tour de Maryland, it will require a regiment of volunteers at every stop. But one thing you can count on: in this state, those bicycle folks are well connected, and very energetic. There may not seem to be a lot in common between the folks who use their bikes for recreation or commuting and those who wear spandex and race, but a strong bond exists. Any event that focuses attention on bicycles in Maryland is going to have no trouble finding people who are ready to get involved.