Columbia residents volunteered more than 42,251 hours of service in fiscal year 2017, representing a 20 percent increase over 2016, according to the Office of Volunteer Services’ annual report to the Columbia City Council. The value of the service was estimated at more than $1 million.
Several factors contributed to the increase, volunteer programs specialist Amber Olson said in an email.
Olson said the city added a new Adopt-a-Trail program through the Parks and Recreation Department in 2017, which accounts for some of the increase. The report to the council said 29 individuals, families or groups have adopted 8.25 miles of trail and spent at least 1,000 hours removing invasive bush honeysuckle and restoring habitat.
Olson said there is growing interest in the program and that it is continuing this fiscal year.
Students from the Columbia Public School District science program also contributed to the increase in volunteer hours, Olson said. They shared nearly 8,000 hours of service on projects to remove invasive species. This is the second year the district partnered with the Parks and Recreation Department, according to a previous Missourian report.
Invasive plant removal and habitat restoration received the largest support from the volunteers, with 8,947 service hours. That accounted for 21 percent of all service hours.
Nearly 20 percent of all volunteer hours involved litter pickup. Volunteers contributed 8,381 hours collecting more than 5,800 bags of trash, according to the report. Volunteers also took care of small landscaping sites and rain gardens through the Adopt-A-Spot Beautification Program.
More than 200 people attended workshops to learn the basics of composting, and 83 percent of them are actively composting and diverting their kitchen and yard waste from the landfill, the report said. More than 800 people listened to educational presentations about recycling, assisted by Recycling Ambassadors.
More than half of all volunteer hours were donated to the Parks and Recreation Department, making it the most popular of the city’s 11 departments for volunteers. Volunteers contributed 21,473 hours to the department. The Community Development Department was second with 9,385 hours and the Utilities Department, which includes solid waste and stormwater utilities, was third with 6,268 hours.
Olson said the city put more effort into recruiting residents to volunteer this year and will continue to increase outreach efforts through a variety of sources such as Facebook, its website and monthly newsletter and the City Source Newsletter that is included with utility bills mailed to residents.