Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Volunteers Keep Okefenokee in the Green; Their Active Lifestyles Help Save Money for the Federal Wildlife Refuge

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Volunteers Keep Okefenokee in the Green; Their Active Lifestyles Help Save Money for the Federal Wildlife Refuge

Article excerpt

Byline: GORDON JACKSON

FOLKSTON - Jack Webb doesn't think about the money he could have earned for volunteering an estimated 12,000 hours over the past 22 years at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

Webb, 74, a retired landscape business owner, works mostly as a carpenter, building everything from picnic tables to mobile exhibit cases.

His wife, Sally, also volunteers, engraving wooden signs for the refuge's canoe trails.

They like their jobs so much, the Pennsylvania natives bought a house in Folkston, about 10 miles away. They each work 24 hours a week, eight months a year, before returning to Pennsylvania in the summer to visit grandchildren.

"I don't want to sit in a rocking chair and watch traffic go by," Jack Webb said. "I like the people here."

The couple's dedication is typical among the Okefenokee's active group of volunteers, said George Constantino, refuge manager. As many as 10 stay for months. Others volunteer for special events.

"They have saved us tens of thousands of dollars," he said. "I believe Okefenokee is considered the epitome of volunteer programs in the national wildlife refuge system."

Constantino said volunteers are honored for their work on a regular basis. Jack Webb was one of 20 recipients of the Take Pride in America Award, presented last year by the secretary of interior.

He and six other volunteers will soon receive the Regional Director's Honor Award, presented by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The seven recipients worked an estimated 1,100 hours last year, clearing fallen trees blocking an estimated 40 to 50 miles of canoe trails - the aftermath of the 2007 wildfires that burned much of the 400,000-acre refuge.

They used hand tools to cut limbs, branches and trunks blocking the trails and drag them to high ground.

"The fires left a lot of debris," Constantino said. "Without the volunteers, we would not have been able to open the trails."

One of the perks of the volunteer program is free electricity and water hookup for travel trailers. In exchange, volunteers must work 32 hours a week. Couples are required to each volunteer 24 hours a week. …

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