Winston Armani, Deseret News
Joette Langianese, executive director of The Friends of Arches & Canyonlands National Parks, is on a special mission in early February 2012. She is taking photos and recording any kind of vandalism or natural destruction to sites.
There's some really passionate folks in this area that really love their parks, and this is finally giving them an opportunity to take action. —Karen Henker, lead interpreter at Arches National Park

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK — It wouldn't make a very appealing Help Wanted ad. "Needed: Someone to put in long hours for no pay, walking long distances to help government workers do their job."

Nevertheless, some people might jump at the volunteer assignment because it involves hiking in world famous scenery and protecting some of the treasures of southeastern Utah. It's a sort of neighborhood watch program for national parks and monuments.

While her appearance resembles that of any hiker in Arches National Park, Joette Langianese has a special mission. She inspects rock art, takes careful notes and photos, and records what's happening to such special places over time. She is documenting any kind of vandalism or natural destruction to sites.

"In the long run, our goal is to preserve and protect the national parks," she said.

Langianese is executive director of The Friends of Arches & Canyonlands National Parks.

Under the organization's Bates Wilson Legacy Fund, she's seeking volunteers to keep an eye on archaeological sites in four national parks and monuments in southeastern Utah.

Bates Wilson was driving force behind the creation and establishment of Canyonlands National Park. Langianese said the goal of the new program named in his honor is "to preserve these cultural resources for future generations to enjoy." 

The theory is that volunteers can alert the National Park Service if visitation to a remote site is increasing, or if graffiti and other kinds of damage are setting in. Officials can respond with increased patrols and, in some cases, they can even undo the damage.

"We all know graffiti breeds more graffiti," said Karen Henker, lead interpreter at Arches National Park. "So, if there are measures that we can take to clean a site professionally, we can do that in order to discourage future damage."

In essence the volunteers are doing park ranger work, but rangers are spread a bit thin at Arches. There are 26 full-time positions to cover 76,000 acres and to welcome the more than 1 million visitors that come to Arches each year.   

"Even if we had twice the staff, we don't have enough people to get out and visit all of these sites as often as we'd like to," said Paul Henderson, assistant superintendent at Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

"They do the best that they can," Langianese said. "We know that funding's getting tight right now."

Over the next few weeks, Friends of Arches & Canyonlands is launching a major effort to get more volunteers involved. But they expect people to make a major commitment. The site monitoring work requires significant training and a willingness to take regular hikes to those special places.

"There's some really passionate folks in this area that really love their parks, and this is finally giving them an opportunity to take action," Henker said.

The four national parks and monuments that volunteers will watch over are Canyonlands, Arches, Natural Bridges and Hovenweep. A training session is coming up soon, and there's a kickoff event Saturday, March 10, in Arches National Park. For more information go to www.bateswilson.org/.

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com