Volunteers travel to help hatchery in South Dakota
By KAIJA SWISHER
SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) — Every spring, nearly a dozen couples arrive at the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives in Spearfish to volunteer for the summer, assisting visitors in the Pond Shop, rail car, museum, and more.
"Each summer, several campers in RVs pull into the Volunteer Village at the Spearfish City (Campground) . In 2018, license plates are visible from South Carolina, North Dakota, Connecticut, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oklahoma," said Karen Holzer, executive director of the Booth Society, the nonprofit friends group that supports the hatchery. "Upon their arrival, they learn about and explore the historic venues on the hatchery grounds. They don name tags and FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) volunteer vests and are ready to meet the hatchery's 160,000 visitors."
Volunteers this summer include Randy and Sandy Reed, retired eighth-grade science teachers who are originally from Michigan and spent the last 10 years in South Carolina; and Jerry Gilbert and Jan Green, who spent most of their married life in West Virginia, the Black Hills Pioneer reported.
The Reeds are full-time RVers who describe themselves as the adventurous type. They spent five years living on a sailboat when they were first married and have sought out volunteer placements as they travel. Volunteer.gov, a website that lists federal, state, and local volunteer placements, includes the summer placement at the hatchery, and since the Reeds hadn't been to the Great Plains area, they applied for the placement, got it, and came sight unseen to the Black Hills. This is their eighth volunteer placement since they retired two years ago.
Sandy Reed explained that they are very interested in history, like working with people, and look for unique opportunities when they search for placements.
"It's fun. This has been unique because there's 10 RVs here," she said.
"So it's like a little community," Randy Reed added.
They enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the hiking opportunities in the area, as well.
"Spearfish has a lot to offer, once you get here and really start looking in the area," Randy Reed said.
The couple also voiced their appreciation to the community; they have found people to be friendly and willing to offer advice, and they said that visitors are equally impressed by the hatchery and grounds.
"It's been very rewarding, so far," Randy Reed said, describing that they've met visitors who come back year after year.
"It's an ideal placement," Sandy Reed added.
The Reeds said that the biggest challenge of their current lifestyle was getting rid of all of their stuff, as whatever they own now travels with them in their RV. Sandy Reed said that at first she thought it would be difficult, but the more they downsized, the better it felt — and they joked that it saves money, since their shopping is limited to what they can fit in their 34-foot home on wheels.
They added that they get to see family as they travel, and with technology today, it is easier than ever to stay in touch through video calls, etc.
Their advice to others considering the lifestyle is to try life on the road before selling everything.
"I would recommend it for anyone that's adventurous," Randy Reed said.
Placements vary in length, and the Reeds try to have their next year planned out. Following their time at the hatchery, they will spend time working on a Habitat for Humanity build in New Mexico, then head to Arizona to visit family, and then head to Texas for birding. They hope to spend next summer in New England, another part of the country they have yet to see.
"Learning is one of the things we like to do," Randy Reed said, describing that there is more and more research available about the importance of keeping one's mind active as we age. "Traveling does the same thing."
"This is more fun," Sandy Reed added.
Jerry Gilbert and Jan Green agree.
"For active seniors, this is the way to stay active," Gilbert said.
The couple chose the placement after Gilbert traveled through the area a couple of years ago. They returned to see Spearfish Canyon in the winter and then applied for the volunteer placement at the hatchery.
"We really enjoy it. It's really neat," Green said, describing that they've learned many new things and enjoy the community.
The couple has spent time volunteering as campground hosts in California and as guides at a lighthouse in Oregon, and from the hatchery, they are headed to an island in Puget Sound, and they enjoy doing something with purpose, having a mechanism to meet people, and connecting with the local community through volunteering.
Once their 34-foot RV is parked, Gilbert and Green get around town on their tandem bicycle, as they do not tow a car. They rent if they need and have found people to be very generous in offering to lend them a vehicle if needed, but for the most part, the bicycle does the trick, and they appreciate the wide streets and rec path system that allows them to get around the community with ease.
"We really like Spearfish," Gilbert said, adding that with the location of Volunteer Village adjacent to the rec path and Spearfish Creek, people often stop to chat with the volunteers while they are out and about. They have enjoyed learning about the history of the hatchery and Booth family and seeing how locals and visitors share that enthusiasm.
"It's a great family venue," Gilbert said.
"And the town uses it," Green said.
They offered similar advice for those thinking about a similar retirement — try it before jumping in. Gilbert encouraged people to talk to people who are doing it to find out about equipment, finding appropriate volunteer placement matches, etc. He added that it is important to be mechanically-inclined, as there is a lot to do to successfully operate and live out of an RV.
But if it fits one's lifestyle, there are many advantages. Green explained that they get to sleep in their own bed every night and don't have to live out of a suitcase, since their home and possessions are always with them.
They feel grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at the hatchery, appreciate the camaraderie with the other volunteers, and hope to come back in the future.
"It's amazing what the staff is doing here. . It's great to see the community support for the facility; it's great to see the community provide these sites for us to be able to stay at," Gilbert said, adding, "We're seeing all across the country that volunteers are becoming more and more essential in the operation of parks, whether it's national parks, state parks, county parks — the government is getting smaller, and volunteers are doing more and more."
And the community and hatchery staff appreciate the efforts of the volunteers
"From the front steps of the Booth house, the sliding doors of the Rail Car, and entrance of the Von Bayer Museum, the volunteers greet the visitors to share stories and the history of our America's fisheries conservation work, as well as the history of the D.C. Booth facility," Holzer said. "The temporary residents become recognized by local visitors both on the hatchery grounds and in the area businesses they frequent during their stay in Spearfish."
Information from: Black Hills Pioneer, http://www.bhpioneer.com