Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Farragut State Park, Athol ID

May – Sep 2018

Lake View PanoramaWe were amazed at what this park had to offer – 4000 acres of forest and meadow, 45 miles of trails, 4 campgrounds with 230 sites, a museum, a beach, a marina, 5 disk golf courses, and a “tree to tree” obstacle course.  On arrival we were welcomed by our volunteer ranger, an incredible lady – energized, funny, helpful….and willing to let experiment!  We were in charge of evening programs on weekends, a Junior Ranger class on Saturday, and the development/posting of the activities schedule. 

Getting ready for the season, we helped clean and organize the museum (the park was a WWII Naval training facility), became familiar with the facilities/trails, and worked on our evening programs.  We also helped prepare a new room in the museum, the “Junior Ranger Station”; a place where children could learn and have fun under the direction of our fellow interpretive host, a retired teacher.  She did an incredible job of turning a bare room into a wonderland of challenging puzzles, games, nature displays, and projects.  At the end of the year, her effort resulted in over 4000 visits from children!

We were very, very happy with our site.  We were on one of six sites RV Site2hidden in the trees away from the campgrounds.  The sites were huge, landscaped, and had a table and fire ring.  We quickly became a little community that came together frequently.

Orientation2The volunteer coordinator had the difficult job of managing over 40 volunteers – camp hosts, interpretive hosts, kiosk hosts, project hosts, cabin hosts….quite a group.  But it all worked and people all got along well.  We enjoyed pot lucks with both volunteers and staff, evening fireside get togethers, and informal restaurant meet-ups. 

We settled into a routine of evening programs that started with the audience participation followed by a video or movie.  Friday became “Bill Nye the Science Guy” night, and Saturday was our family movie night; nature films like “My Life as a Turkey”, “Leave it to Beavers”, and others.  We averaged well over 1000  attendees a month!

The only negative during our stay was the smoke from wildfires in Oregon and Washington.  While we had no fires nearby, the air quality became poor by mid-August, but was not in the unhealthy range.

Another positive aspect of the position was that Coeur d’Alene, with great shopping and dining, was only 30 miles away via 4-lane highway.

Overall, our stay at Farragut SP ranks as one of the best we had, and we plan on returning for the 2019 season.  

Bandon Marsh NWR–US Fish & Wildlife Service

Nov 2017 – Mar 2018

Since we were already in Bandon after being evacuated from Harris Beach SP, we were offered a winter volunteer position at the Bandon Marsh NWR.  The marsh doesn’t have any visitor services, but we were asked to provide interpretation at the Simpson Reef overlook nearBandon Marsh RV Site Charleston.  We were given a full hookup site in the woods at a former cranberry farm.  US Fish & Wildlife has three sites there, two for summer volunteers and one for a permanent maintenance volunteer.  The site is ideal; the tall trees shield the wind, there’s plenty of grass and open area for sunshine, and it’s gated and very private. 

Shell Island Dec 2017Simpson Reef is our all time favorite place on the coast.  The deck overlooks the reef and Shell Island, where anywhere from 1000-5000 seals and sea lions can be seen.  It’s the only place on the coast of North America where you can generally see all four of the “pinnipeds”, the Harbor Seal, California Sea Lion, Steller Sea Lion, and the magnificent Elephant Seal.  Sea Lions abd OystercatchersThe barking of the California Sea Lions, screaming gulls, and roaring waves are magical – and there are Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and even a Grey Whale or two.  We watched as elephant seal pups were born and quickly grew fat.  They’re around 70 pounds at birth and will grow to 300 pounds by the end of the first month.  Unfortunately, they cannot swim!  Sadly, a winter storm and high tides washed the first pups away.  A few more were born later and appeared to survive.  But at the end of the 30 days, the mothers abandon the pups to figure out how to swim and catch fish!  Very few survive here since the conditions are so harsh.

Wildlife vanWe met so many great people, and enjoyed explaining what they were seeing.  USF&W issued us Swarvoski spotting scopes and the incredible optics gave everyone a close up look at the seals and sea lions.  We also had use of the USF&W van which was always an attention getter.

We worked when the weather permitted, and averaged 24 hours a week between the two of us.  Weather kept us away most of the time, as winter on the coast is often wet and cold.  It wasn’t us that we worried about – it was those high-cost Swarvoski scopes!

We can certainly recommend volunteering for USF&W on the Oregon Coast.  The volunteer coordinator is an amazing lady who goes out of her way to make your stay memorable. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Harris Beach State Park–US Fish & Wildlife Hosts

May – Aug 2017

This was a US Fish & Wildlife Interpretive Host position that was a partnership with Oregon State Parks.  We were given a host site, with full hookups, at Harris Beach State Park.  Our commitment was 22 hours a week each; four five-hour shifts (Thurs-Sun) on the deck overlooking the water, where we set up scopes and helped visitors see and understand the Harbor Seals, Black Oystercatchers, Brown Pelicans, and other marine mammals and birds.  To “pay” our park rent, we taught one Junior Ranger class a week (on Friday) and did a program or nature walk each Friday night.  The park and US F&W had canned programs, but I used our Seals and Sea Lion Powerpoint program that I’ve been giving for the last few years.  Brenda and I also led a “walk the park” tour on alternate Fridays – we walked the nature trails, pointed out the different plants and trees, and ended up at a viewpoint where on a good day we could see St Georges lighthouse in the distance.

Harris Beach RV ViewThe park manager and interpretive host were great to work with.  We were treated like park staff although we were known as the “bird hosts”.  They were especially kind when Brenda had her unexpected heart surgery.  We were under no pressure to get back and resume activities, and they all stopped by to see how Brenda was doing.  The other volunteers were like a family; we met for breakfast once a week and made lasting friendships.

Our host site as very nice – paved, landscaped, and with a number of coveted Huckleberry bushes.  The only problem was that the site was tree covered, and I had to use nearly 100 feet of cable to set up the satellite dish in small clearing. 

Day Use Deck ViewWe met so may great people on our “deck”.  We handed out stickers and posters to kids, watched people smile when seeing the seals, and talked to folks from all over the world. 

Brookings is a town of about 6000, with some good restaurants, but Brenda on the Decklimited shopping.  The only true grocery store is the Fred Meyer, with inflated prices.  There’s a large hardware store and a Wal-Mart in Crescent City, 35 miles south in California.

Fire View1Our stay was cut a bit short by the huge wildfire that came close enough to rain ash on the park, fill the air with smoke, and have View through treeseveryone alerted to a possible evacuation.  Our US F&W volunteer coordinator, always taking care of us, told us to evacuate to a commercial park in Bandon where they’d arranged a free site for us.

We enjoyed our time here.  We made new friends, learned new subjects, and experienced the joy of teaching children  What could be better?

Brookings Jul 2017

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

July – Sept 2015

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (YHONA) is a Bureau of Land Management facility located just north of Newport, Oregon.  The 100+ acres are on a promontory extending into the Pacific Ocean and is home to Oregon’s tallest lighthouse, ocean beaches with tide pools, hiking trails, and an extensive Interpretive Center.  YHONA has three RV pads on-site for resident volunteers.

Volunteering here was a very positive and interesting experience for us.  We answered the ad on volunteer.gov and were contacted by the interpretive ranger for a telephone interview.  After being accepted, we received a CD with information and training material – a nice touch that helped us get off to a fast start.

Volunteer Site1The three RV pads are assigned by taking the space of the volunteers that have just left.  We were happy with our site, which had a large cement pad and picnic table.  Our door opened into the side with trees, so we had a bit of privacy.  Volunteer Site2Of the other sites, one was in the open and had an ocean view, and the one in the middle was small and had little outdoor area.  The volunteer area isVolunteer Site3 adjacent to the entrance station, but only visible through a break in the bushes, and has a gate that could be closed at night.  The TV satellites are not visible from the sites, but there are both DirecTV and Dish network dishes set up with cable leading to the RV area.  No WiFi but Verizon cell and 4G were strong.  The only drawback was that when returning from town we had to wait in line to get through the entrance station, which always had a line of cars.

YHONA is a busy, bustling operation.  The staff consisted of full-time BLM rangers, seasonal hires, interns, and both resident and local volunteers.  The main attraction was the lighthouse, where the BLM staff gave guided tours dressed in period costume.  Visitors were required to visit the Interpretive Center to obtain passes, one of Brenda’s main duties (and headaches).

Fog over Agate BeachThe weather was typical Oregon Coast – temperatures in the 60s, often windy, and cool at night.  Very little rain, but periods of heavy fog and mist.  On the lighthouse deck, the cold North wind could exceed 30 mph and wind chills could fall into the mid-40s.  It was hard to believe that just fifty miles away the temperature could be 100 degrees.

Volunteers here normally split their time between working the desk at the interpretive center and an outside activity, either as a tide pool guide or roving ranger.  Everything was well organized; a detailed schedule was posted every two weeks, changes posted daily, and everyone carried a radio.  We decided that because the tide pool duties required at least two trips a day up the 130 steps, that I’d take the outside duties and Brenda would work in the interpretive center.  The Interpretive Ranger was very accommodating and was only concerned that we’d become bored – which was never a problem.

Our schedule was five four-hour shifts, either 9:30–1:30 or 1:30-5:30, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off.  On the surface, the 20 hrs/wk doesn’t seem like much, but it was a busy, intense time since the visitor count at YHONA is well over 350,000/yr.  We found that the two days off a week were just not enough to enjoy the area as we had hoped. 

Beatrice and BrendaBrenda enjoyed the interpretive center, and although busy, it gave her the chance to meet many interesting people.  I had to do a lot of self study to understand the tide pools and their inhabitants, but it was interesting and worthwhile.  Tidepool ViewWhen the tide pools were covered, I’d roam the area providing information on whales, seals, and birds.  like Brenda, I enjoyed meeting people from all over the country and the world.

Newport itself was a disappointment.  A mix of depressed looking shops and restaurants with a smattering of upscale tourist resorts.  Most restaurants catered to tourists with overpriced seafood, and shopping was limited to Wal-Mart, Safeway, and Fred Myers.  Corvalis, a university town with plenty of shopping and dining choices, was a 60 mile drive.  We much prefer the Southern Oregon coast; much quieter and more to see and do.

We enjoyed our time at YHONA and are grateful to Kath, the interpretive ranger, for giving us the opportunity.   It was truly a memorable experience!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve

Jan – Mar 2015

Patagonia RV SiteThis is the Nature Conservancy’s oldest Arizona preserve, located 1/4 miles on a gravel road from Patagonia, a small town 20 miles Northeast of Nogales, AZ.  As the host volunteers, we were the only residents on the near-400 acre preserve, with the manager’s house across the street and outside the fence and gate.  The site was level gravel, surrounded by Mesquite trees, with full hookups and free Wi-Fi that could be picked up from the office. 

Morning VIew of PreserveThe Preserve is open Wed-Sunday, and our days on were Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.  We opened the gate and visitor center at 0730 and closed at 4:00.  Our main duties were to provide visitor services – check in, collect fees, operated the small store, and provide information to visitors.  We also did light housekeeping and kept the two restrooms clean.

The Manager was very easy to work with and is willing to adjust hours/days if necessary.  He’s very busy as the only employee of this and other Nature Conservancy properties, so be prepared to operate on your own. 

Cardinal in BushHaving a working knowledge of birding is a plus.  The Preserve is a birder’s hotspot, particularly if a rare bird like the Rufus-backed Robin is in the area.  We learned a great deal about birds in the area, saw many new to us birds as we walked the trails, and met many interesting people from around the country.  There’s also ample wildlife; Javelina and White tail (Coues) deer are common, and Bobcat, Coatimundi, and Coyote are frequently seen.

BobcatAfter closing, the preserve was ours and we watched as the deer came out of the trees to feed, with an occasional Javelina family.  It was quiet, peaceful, and very dark at night.  There’s virtually no danger from immigrants or smuggles as the area is well patrolled by the Border Patrol.

The little town of Patagonia is an interesting mix of aging hippies, Patagonia Main Streetcowboys, and retired folks.  There are a few good restaurants, small market, and post office, and Sierra Vista is only 38 miles away.

The only cons, and they’re minor, is that the well water is very hard and you’ll have to be mindful of wood rats getting into your rig and damaging wiring.  We used a combination of Fresh Cab and lights to deter them and had no problem.

Stream ViewTo sum up, this is a magical place – walking along the creek under the cottonwoods is like being in another part of the country.  The birding is world-class, the setting is perfect, and the management is wonderful.  It’s one of the best opportunities we can imagine.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bullards Beach State Park

October 2014

Volunteering at Bullards Beach gave us the opportunity to stay rent-free for an additional month before heading south for the winter.  We had  checked the Oregon State Park volunteer website and saw that they had a vacancy for lighthouse hosts.  After contacting the park, we learned that the lighthouse would only be open the first two weeks of October, and that after that we would do site maintenance.  It sounded different and new, so we signed up.

Bullards Beach1Arriving on the 1st of the month, we set up in one of the host sites near the entrance.  The site was long and expanded in the back to become quite large, and was separated from other sites by trees and bushes.  We had full hookups with 50A, a fire ring, and table.  The only drawback was that we were across from the dumpster which didn’t exactly provide a scenic view.

Bullards Beach2Our Interpretive Ranger was a lovely young lady named Julie who was friendly and easy to work with.  We started with two three-hour shifts in the lighthouse, from 8-5 PM.  Our duties were for Brenda to welcome visitors and sell items from the gift shop, while I was stationed in the small light room where I’d tell people about the lighthouse and what they were viewing.  As it turned out, we only pulled two shifts before a coastal storm with huge waves covered the parking lot with debris and closed the lighthouse for the year.

Bullards Beach3And so we began our new careers in “site maintenance” which was really campsite cleanup.  Monday thru Friday we would pick up our list of sites to be cleaned, usually between 10 and 20, check out a cart, and head for the sites.  I’d clean the pad with the leaf blower while Brenda raked if needed and picked up any trash, usually less than ten minutes per site.  We usually had to wait for a few people to vacate by the 1:00 checkout time, but generally were done by 1:30 at the latest.  Easy to do, and once we were done, we had the rest of the day free.  No campers to deal with, no firewood to sell, nothing but enjoy the area.  Unlike Humbug Mountain, Bullards has volunteers who are “greeters” and sell firewood, so site maintenance hosts don’t get involved.  We felt sorry for the Yurt hosts, they spent hours cleaning – not our kind of volunteer work.

The great little town of Bandon is three miles away with shops, restaurants, waterfront area for crabbing, and a great farmer’s market on Friday and Saturday.  Coos Bay and North Bend, with lots of shopping and restaurants (and casino) is just 20 miles north.  We highly recommend this park and may return some day.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Humbug Mountain State Park

May – September 2014

Interp Host (small)We missed the Oregon coast and decided to return to Humbug Mountain for another summer.  This time we spent 4 1/2  months, arriving in mid-May and leaving at the end of September.  Coming back here was like visiting our family; Greg, our Interpretive Ranger and the rest of the staff have become good friends and we enjoyed seeing them again.  Our job, like last time, was to host the “Junior Ranger” program, sell firewood on the two nights that the camp host was off duty, and at our choosing, we gave our “Seals and Sea Lions” program on Saturday nights.  After a flurry of activity preparing the program and assembling craft supplies, we settled into a routine of teaching the Junior Rangers at 10 AM Wed- Sun.  After the class, we’d restock our supplies and work on projects for a total of two hours a day.  The wood sales were from 5-9 PM on the two nights, and our Saturday program took two hours including setup, so our normal workweek was around 18 hours or less. 

Teaching the Junior Rangers is enjoyable and rewarding.  The kids, 6-12 or younger if with a parent, were eager to learn and share their stories.  Our classes included "Secrets of the Salamanders” with a live Rough-skinned Newt, “Prepare for the Bear” (learning about hiking in bear country), “Birds of the Park” (with a bird walk), “Prepare for the Bear”, “Tracks and Fursclip_image002[4]”, “Marine Mammals”, and others.  We finished each lesson with a thematic craft – beaded salamander, Hummingbird feeder, Harbor Seal visor and others, but the favorite was Brenda’s “bear bag”, a craft she researched and found on the internet. 

Host Site1We were in the same host site as our last visit, a large, nicely landscaped site with a large brick patio.  We had Huckleberry and Escalonia bushes surrounding us, with a large open area in back which provided plenty of sunshine.  Our only complaint is that there was a problem with the park septic system and on some days the stench from the sewer system made being outside impossible.

The park has just 100 sites, and because of its location off the main access roads from the East, caters to families, some of who have been coming for 20 or more years.  The upper loop, where our site was, is the smaller of the two, is quieter, and less windy.  The lower loop is larger, more open to the wind, but is a short walk to the beach.  Located five miles south of Port Orford, a small town with a few good restaurants, one mediocre grocery, two hardware stores, and a very good library (you can a temporary card with a refundable $20 deposit).  We were able to get fairly good Verizon internet on our Jetpack by using an antennae on the roof of the motorhome, but cell service was poor and generally unusable.  The park furnishes host sites with a landine phone, and we bought a phone card to make long-distance calls.  Satellite TV requires a tripod setup since the roof mount is shielded by trees.

Low TideThere’s so much to see and do in the area – whale watching, agate hunting, berry picking, fishing, mussel gathering….and miles of forest roads to explore.  Coos Bay/North Bend, the biggest town on the coast, is 50 miles north and has plenty of shopping, including a large Wal-Mart….and a casino! 

This is a great park, a memorable volunteer opportunity, and a staff that goes out of it’s way to make your stay enjoyable.  Who knows – maybe we’ll return again some day!