This past summer my family and I had a rare and special opportunity to visit Dick Proenneke’s cabin on Twin Lakes in Lake Clark National Park, a very remote corner of the National Park Service. The cabin and surrounding area are under the care of volunteers K. and Monroe during the summer. K. gave us a wonderful and interpretive tour of the cabin and outbuildings; Monroe has done significant historically accurate restoration of the buildings. They do it out of love.
Upon returning from Big Bend, a coworker asked if I had run into Black George. Ha. No, but turns out I met Black George a few years ago in the Tetons and reported that, alas, George, age 89, is in an assisted living facility outside Dallas these days. George was a park volunteer after a long career as a geologist with the US Geological Survey. George used to split his time between summers in the Tetons and winters in Big Bend and some times of the year in Moab. He’s a character and gave richly of his time and unique spirit. At the Tetons he was known for his root beer floats and his attraction to women’s ankles. My coworker knew George as the volunteer “victim” in some climbing rescue training that he put on in Moab.
And today on a snowy day off, I’m enjoying a new book written by a long-time Manzanar volunteer, Tom Clayton, about a ghost town not too far from Manzanar—photos and stories of a past time and place. Tom has contributed significantly to the photo collection of Manzanar, and he and his wife Mary Lou could always be counted on to help out at the Manzanar Pilgrimage.
Volunteering at a national park is not without benefits; in fact, it is the retirement that I aspire to. Good work, good people, free housing for long-term volunteers, swag such as water bottles and t-shirts. But it does require a passion for the job and a commitment to the mission. I applaud those who give so much for such intangible rewards. It is my utmost honor and pleasure to be part of the same team as these very important people.
Me and George, 2007. Yes, I'm showing off my ankles.