Monday, October 12, 2020

Farragut State Park, Athol ID

This was our third and final year at Farragut SP.  Not because of any reason other than that three years was as much a we care to stay in one place for the summer.  This year was a bit different; due to the COVID pandemic, we were limited to evening programs, which we increased to four nights a week. 

The programs were well attended, and this year due to the absence of Canadian visitors, we entertained more families (which we truly enjoyed).  As always, the park was filled to capacity almost every night.  Because of the pandemic, we didn't have any potlucks, which were greatly missed, but those of us on volunteer row still managed to share our specialities.  We left after having made many life-long friends and with a ton of great memories.  Thanks Ranger Bair!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Farragut State Park, Athol ID

We did something we've never done before - return to the same park two years in a row.  But why not?  The park is perfect, the job is interesting and fun, and the people, especially the volunteer coordinator, are amazing!  Our job didn't change much (see last post), except to get busier with more people attending our programs.  We reunited with lots of friends from last time, and made new ones this year.  And if anything, the pot lucks were even larger!  Can you imagine four banquet tables for the main courses and two more for desserts?  And you even ask why we'd return?

Not much else to say that we didn't say in the last post, except that we'll be going back for a THIRD year!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Desert National Wildlife Refuge - Dec 2018 - Feb 2019

The Desert National Wildlife Refuge (DNWR) is an amazing place.  Located only 15 miles from the first suburbs of Northwest Las Vegas, it covers 1.5 million acres of desert, Yucca forest, and forested mountains up to almost 10,000’.  Managed as a wilderness area, the refuge is an almost unknown area of beauty and solitude just miles from over 2 million people. 

DNWR is one of four refuges in a complex that includes Ash Meadows, Pahranagat, and Moapa refuges. We applied in response to a listing in, were interviewed by the Visitor Services Coordinator in Las Vegas, and started in late November.  Our job was to staff the visitor center and develop and conduct outreach programs.  

Our site was very nice; a concrete pad with full hookups (50A), picnic table, and fire ring.  There are only two pads and the other was occupied by a maintenance volunteer.  The pads are convenient to the visitor center and next to a small areas of trees to provide some shade and a windbreak.

Our “contract” required that we each work 24 hours for the site, which is pretty much the standard for US F&W.  We were schedule for most of those in the visitor center from Friday thru Monday, with Tues, Wed, and Thurs our days off.  

The visitor center was only four years old and part of the office complex.  It was amazing; great displays, interactive exhibits, and a theater room.  Outside was a network of trails through a spring-fed riparian area with interpretive signs, a historic cabin, and a “refugium” that housed endangered Pahrump Pool fish.  

We were tasked with taking the “Junior Duck Stamp” program to two Las Vegas locations, the Clark County Wetlands and the Springs Preserve.  We set up a table and easel, explained the program, and furnished the parents with an entry package while Brenda showed the kids how to draw a duck. 

Our time here was impacted by the government shutdown, which closed the visitor center.  We kept busy by roving the trails, getting the mail, and other housekeeping tasks.  Once the shutdown was over, Brenda and I had the opportunity to check out one of the 4-wheel trucks to take a trip into the back country.  It was a memorable trip; the beauty of the canyons, mountains, and Yucca covered desert is hard  describe. 

DNWR is a wonderful place to volunteer; the staff is friendly and welcoming, the RV site is comfortable, and the beauty of the area coupled with the close proximity of Las Vegas is very attractive.  We were treated with a nice goodbye luncheon complete with farewell gifts and a hug – a great end to our stay.  Our view from the pad after an unusual snow:

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 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!