The RoVing Naturalist
By Dennis Prichard
When I strike out with the fifth-wheel, most of the time I am seeking a new adventure in nature. I like the amenities my RV brings, but I LOVE to learn all about the area I’m in and the critters and natural phenomena that are swirling around just off the last step of my front door. You could say that my RV is a vehicle to more worlds than I had ever imagined.
My wife and I have lived in some wonderful places over my career with the federal government. I worked on national wildlife refuges in five different states (and Washington, D.C.) and four different states with the National Park Service, from the Everglades to bush Alaska. So what do we like to do since we are now retired? Volunteer at these same types of places, of course. You can call it a busman’s holiday, but we find it fun, fascinating and very friendly.
Scan www.volunteer.gov and you will find all kinds of positions. Camp host comes to mind, but how about bird guide, bicycle tour leader, clerk or maintenance worker, even fire lookout? You’d be surprised at what jobs are needed, or the places you can go! From the most remote wilderness areas, to urban wildlife centers, from every habitat type imaginable in the U.S. in every state, you could be there.
That is the best part of volunteering in one of the natural areas of our country. You have enough time at one place to really get a feel for the cycles that nature brings. Migrations occur, seasons change, special events happen – and you can be a vital part of all that. If you just camped at one of these places for a few days, you would definitely miss a big part of the “behind-the-scenes” activities that only the locals know. Those seasoned volunteers who have an intimate knowledge of a place will impart that to you so you will have a better understanding of the place and its inhabitants, and can become an ambassador for those same treasures. It’s total immersion!
A lot of places have RV pads, and many only require three days’ work for free hookups. Some parks and refuges have added amenities such as washers/dryers, meeting rooms, Wi-Fi and other perks, many of which are better than the commercial parks. Some are much more primitive and isolated. Take your pick, and even tailor your skills to fit the needs of the agency.
I find the real benefits of volunteering are all the people we meet. We certainly have made lasting friends everywhere we have volunteered. Folks of a like mind who want to give something back to the Earth, who are looking for meaningful rewards for honest work, are doing it usually to broaden their perspective on life. They give us loads of laughs, good camaraderie, and expert tips on the RV lifestyle. I am always learning new things about this planet we live on, and the places we volunteer give us plenty of opportunities to fill our curious minds while helping out in any way we can.
I would suggest checking the website above, then contacting the place or places that intrigue you most. The volunteer coordinator will tell you all about the jobs, the living conditions and any special info you will need to help you make the decision to volunteer. Then get set to have a great time in some of our nation’s best natural/cultural/historical areas.
From the editor: Congratulations to Dennis, who was chosen as a fall 2018 Artist-in-Residence at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where he will be creating his beautiful wood art (intarsia) and giving demonstrations for visitors for the rest of October. So, if you’re in the area, be sure to stop by and say “Hi.” Check out some of his beautiful works of art on his website, Dennis Prichard Works In Wood.
Dennis Prichard is a retired park ranger. He’s worked and studied wildlife at many National Parks and Wildlife Refuges including Carlsbad Caverns, Mammoth Caves, the Everglades, Sequoyah NWR in Oklahoma, Sevilleta NWR in New Mexico, and Isle Royale National Park, to name a few. He travels in a fifth wheel with his wife and dog, a Labrador named Cricket.