November 25, 2019 – April 13, 2020
John and I have spent a chunk of the winter volunteering in deep south Texas at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge visitor center. We work three days a week and have four days off to explore and play. John is loving this “job” situation so much that we’ve already signed up to work in the North Cascades this summer. What a change THAT will be. After months of flat land with short stubby trees, extreme sunshine, sandy clay, fire ants, chiggers, gnats, scorpions, pack rats and mosquitoes, we’ll roll north to towering trees, drizzly days, majestic mountains, hundreds of glaciers, gorgeous lakes, lush forests, banana slugs, bears… and mosquitoes. I am so ready!
While we totally enjoyed our slow wandering over the years, it seems John needed a little more purpose. I don’t feel the need for a “job” but enjoy volunteering so it works for both of us. So many people have chatted with us about what it’s like to volunteer like this. Retirement, travel, exploration, but a sense of purpose. Toss in the feeling that you’ve helped one of our parks and it can be a win-win situation. Several of these interested people were recent retirees who held onto jobs because they didn’t know what to do if they weren’t working. They were very interested in how all this works.
Well, it’s different every place you go. You look for a “job” that works for you and gives you the amenities that you need. John and I have a free full hook up campsite in a “gated” volunteer village with 14 concrete camping pads with picnic tables (Take that you evil fire ants! You get sand, I get concrete, hah!) We have a free laundry room and use of the visitor center breakroom for our group dinners (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.) other than that, we potluck at each other’s campsites. It’s not a bad way to spend the winter. We work three days a week at Santa Ana and wander, explore and play the other four days (or hike the refuge and chill).
Santa Ana has volunteers working: visitor center, revegetation (native plant nursery), environmental education (school programs), bird guides, IT assistance, gift shop, tram tours, maintenance, and trail work. I saw a posting for a National Park that will give a full hook up site to someone to come out and take pictures… wow, rough job to wander the park and play with your cameras. I wish I had the skill and camera equipment to apply for that one.
So, why am I telling you the story of my life? Because this may be what you are looking for. Winter in a warm place, socializing, touring, working a bit then moving on. Maybe to another volunteer spot, maybe wandering aimlessly, maybe heading back to your stick-and-brick house. What we each want, need, like and do differs from person to person, place to place, time to time and can quickly change. If this lifestyle interests you, places to volunteer can found at volunteer.gov or on state park websites. Your RV is ready to roll and take you wherever you want to go. Get out there and ENJOY!