Volunteers make all the difference!

Corps volunteers Dave and Sheryl Rambeau, left, and Dee DeBerry help make a visit to the Rogue River Basin Project in southern Oregon a memorable experience. (Corps of Engineers photo)

Corps volunteers Dave and Sheryl Rambeau, left, and Dee DeBerry help make a visit to the Rogue River Basin Project in southern Oregon a memorable experience. (Corps of Engineers photo)

By Melissa Rinehart, Operations Division

You’ll find Dave and Sheryl Rambeau at the McGregor Park Visitor Center this summer, giving presentations, helping to monitor visitor usage and picking up litter around Lost Creek Lake. They are full-time RVers spending the summer volunteering at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Rogue River Basin Project in southern Oregon. They say volunteering keeps them active, gives them a chance to meet new people and see new places.
Its smiling faces like the Rambeaus and those of hundreds of other Corps of Engineers volunteers that help keep the Portland District’s recreation programs robust and a great experience for visitors.

The Rambeaus are considered seasonal volunteers but the Corps also benefits from the work of many others who volunteer for just a day to clean up shorelines, remove invasive plant species, pick up litter or work on other projects while also, occasionally, introducing a curious public to the Corps mission.

In 2012, there were more than 930 seasonal and one-time volunteers who brought their experience and skills to enhance what our campgrounds and recreation areas can offer. A retired engineer can explain details of hydropower generation, or a professional photographer and graphic designer can provide high-quality photos and artwork that will help show off the park’s beauty. Volunteers with customer service backgrounds know just how to welcome our visitors, whether it’s placing flowers in the restrooms, or knowing and suggesting local area excursions.

James Browne, a retired veterinarian and lecturer, has volunteered in the Bonneville Lock and Dam visitor center and bookstore for the past nine years. His public speaking skills help both him and the Corps as he explains the history of Bonneville Dam and its purposes to visitors. Dee Deberry’s first job as a park aide likely helps her as she educates visitors about the Rogue River Basin Project and the area’s recreation opportunities.

As with all federal agencies, the Portland District’s recreation program is operating under a tightened budget. Volunteers are becoming ever more important to accomplishing not just special projects, but day-to-day operations in Corps parks. “Using volunteers for some of our day-to-day work can be a huge boost to our program when operating under reduced budgets,” said Patti Williams, chief of the Natural Resources Section for the Portland District.

A recent example of this type of cost savings happened when 42 employees from Google descended on The Dalles Dam Visitor Center, Seufert Park and Patterson Park. Spending the day on the project, they spent a combined 129 hours painting guardrails and signposts, improving trails, draining and scooping silt from Patterson Pond, removing brush and weeds, and planting 37 native plants. In total, their efforts saved the Corps nearly $3,000.

The entire Intros family volunteered to plant trees at Schwarz Park

The entire Intros family volunteered to plant trees at Schwarz Park during National Public Lands Day last September. (Photo by Christie Johnson, Willamette Valley Project)

When asked, Park Ranger Joe Ross said, “Willamette Valley Volunteers are the best!” It is likely that all of the managers and rangers at Corps projects feel the same way. ®  Volunteers not only help visitors – they help staff. Their help makes it possible for uniformed rangers to focus on visitor assistance, educational programs and enforcing park rules for the safety of all. A bond of mutual respect and gratitude develops over time, especially when volunteers return year after year, like James Browne at Bonneville Lock and Dam.

“I consider it a privilege to be a Corps volunteer,” said Browne. “Early on I also volunteered with other agencies in the Pacific Northwest but eventually chose to serve at Bonneville exclusively because the volunteer program at the dam is so well organized with staff that respect and value their volunteers. I appreciate knowing someone considers me up to the task and useful.”

Portland District’s 930 volunteers have certainly made a difference on its lands, projects and with the public who visits them.