We came back to the hatchery because it was convenient to our summer’s travel plans and our last visit was interesting and enjoyable. As often happens, our return visit didn’t live up to our expectations. A new volunteer coordinator and a diverse group that just didn’t mesh resulted in a less than memorable three months. The volunteer coordinator is young and inexperienced in scheduling and managing a group, but has the potential of becoming a competent coordinator in time. The manager’s practice of hiring volunteers who are physically unable to perform many of the required tasks created an unfortunate divisiveness among the two teams of volunteers, and affected the relationships, both working and personal. The atmosphere just wasn’t the same as our last visit; pot-luck dinners ended immediately after eating, there were never any volunteers around the fireplace at night, and the volunteer meetings sometimes became testy as the two teams exchanged their ideas. On the plus side, the hatchery is a beautiful place to volunteer, the volunteer sites are exceptional, the duties are fairly interesting, Spearfish is a wonderful town, and the Black Hills are incredible. Volunteers are given a Chamber of Commerce “VIP” pass, which makes almost every attraction in the area free. You can catch trout in Spearfish Creek from the back of your RV, and the hours (except for the bi-weekly 8 AM volunteer meeting) are reasonable.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Location: On the Northern end of Port Townsend, WA, on the Straits of Juan de Fuca.
Dates: Nov 2012 – Jan 2013
Duties: Brenda and I were responsible for opening, operating, and closing the museum, which included sales in the small gift shop.
Hours: Three on/three off, 5 1/2 hours a day. More on this later.
We were disappointed in our stay here, but not to the point where we considered leaving. The museum Director/Curator is a memorable individual; dedicated to the museum and probably the leading expert in the history of coast defense artillery, not just here, but worldwide. If it wasn’t for him, we probably would have left early due to the many disappointments we experienced.
The number of hours and days required were an issue among the volunteers throughout our stay. We were familiar with Washington State’s requirement of 28 hours/week for an RV site, and agreed before arriving to a five on/two off schedule, knowing that the state didn’t require both of us to work the 28 hours, but on arrival were told by the volunteer coordinator that both of us were required to work, and that the state required a five-day a week schedule. Fortunately, the director allowed the volunteers to work out their own 3 and 3 schedule, with the provision that we kept the 5/2 schedule posted, logged those hours on our monthly worksheet, and told any state employee that we were working the 5/2 schedule. We were continually told that the 5/2, 28 hours/wk was a “state law”, but since we were actually working a 3/3, put up with the nonsense. As an aside, I wrote the state volunteer coordinator with what we had been told. Her reply – “everything you have been told is incorrect”. I guess what bothered us was not knowing whether the director and volunteer coordinator were simply misguided or that they were trying to badger us into more hours.
The working conditions were miserable. The museum, housed in a 1900-era building, had no heat in the area where the hosts worked except for small space heaters. The lack of insulation and the wet, cold weather made for many miserable days, and on most days, no more than two or four visitors would visit the museum.
The RV sites were the crowning blow to our not being able to recommend this location to fellow volunteers. The sites were grass, a bit of gravel, muddy, and were sloped to the point where after an hour and a half of maneuvering, we finally were able to reasonably level, with the front wheels blocked up to where the entry step was over a foot off the ground. Getting into the sites involved backing up and in from a small street, over a number of pot holes, one of which ripped off a rear-wheel mudflap.
Port Townsend would be an interesting place to visit in the summer when there are festivals and other events. There was a lot of emphasis to “buy local”, but it’s largely a tourist town of galleries and gift shops, and the local grocery and hardware stores were very expensive.
We don’t regret our stay here since we used the location to explore the Puget Sound and Hood Canal areas, but would not recommend volunteering here during the winter. On the other hand, the visitor center and campground hosts fall directly under the state, have better RV sites, and a much more reasonable work schedule.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Location: Three miles South of Port Orford, Oregon, on the Southern Oregon Coast
Dates: May-Sep 2012
Duties: Brenda and I conducted the Oregon State Park’s “Junior Ranger” program and gave a program on Seals and Sea Lions of the Oregon Coast each Friday.
Hours: Junior Ranger started at 10:00 and lasted one hour, not including project development and prep time. The Friday program was one hour plus setup.
Humbug Mountain SP is one of Oregon’s best kept secrets. located behind the tallest mountain on the coast, it’s shielded from the marine layer and much of the rain and wind that is common along the coast. The park is relatively small, with two loops and trails, beach access, and amphitheater. Uncommon on the Oregon coast is that each loop has a large, treeless center where kids and adults can enjoy the sun.
The Junior Ranger Program was a joy for both of us. Five days a week (Wed-Sun) we gathered children throughout the campground, taught a subject on nature and the environment, and finished by making a “craft” corresponding with the day’s subject. We made hummingbird feeders, beaded Salamanders, and Harbor Seal visors, and led expeditions into the stream where we thrashed around the water trying to capture invertebrates. It was all great fun, and made possible with the support of a great Interpretive Ranger. He gave us the freedom to be creative and supported us throughout our stay. He and the park staff were one of the best groups we’ve ever worked with!
Port Orford doesn’t offer much, just a few restaurants and a few stores. Brookings and Coos Bay/North Bend are both located 50 miles in either direction and have the usual variety of shopping and restaurants. There’s plenty to see along the coast, and you can pick mussels off of the rocks or fish from the shore.
The host sites are outstanding: full hookups with 50A power, a large paver-brick patio, large table, and fire ring. It was a little tough getting our rig into the spot, but well worth it – what a great stay with great people!
Location: Spearfish, SD
Dates: May-Aug 2011
Duties: This is a big operation, with 10 volunteer couples. Men give tours of the museum and historic railcar, while women give tours of the historic superintendent’s house and work in the visitor center/gift shop.
Hours: 3 days on/3 off, approximately 24 hours/week each.
This is the US Fish & Wildlife’s “Historic Fish Hatchery and Archives”, and is on the grounds of an 1899 hatchery. Although no longer operating as a hatchery, there are ponds with “show” trout, and a large viewing area at the visitor center where visitors can feed the up to 30-pound Brown and Rainbow Trout. The hatchery grounds are beautifully maintained by local volunteers, and the work is relatively easy and enjoyable. Volunteers work either an early or late shift, as the hatchery buildings are open from 9:00 to 7:00 PM.
The Volunteer Village is one of the best we’ve seen; ten paved sites are located in a separate area of Spearfish Park with a trout-filled stream directly behind. The sites are roomy, with grass and trees along the stream. There’s a large community area with a 20-foot trout-shaped fireplace, tables, and outlets for the frequent potlucks. The park is located across from the hatchery, just a short walk to work.
Spearfish is a prime example of small-town America. Friendly people, excellent library and hospital, and adequate shopping, including a Super Wal-Mart and Lowe’s. The town is located the foot of Spearfish Canyon, a stunning area that leads to the heart of the Black Hills. Rapid City, with a Mall and all of the usual box stores, is less than an hour’s drive by interstate. Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Custer State park are an easy drive, and Devil’s Tower is only 60 miles away.
The staff is friendly and easy to work with, and the working conditions are very good except that the historic home is not air conditioned and can be uncomfortable. Overall, this is an excellent place to spend the summer and explore the area.