I'm Bill Plyler, the Holliday Lake State Park for 2011 and this is the story of my great adventure.
I began this journey with the James River State Park.
In early 2011, I saw an article in the newspaper that AmeriCorps was teaming with Virginia State Parks to provide a stipend for volunteers who would provide interpretive programming for the summer. I knew AmeriCorps was similar to the Peace Corps but whose members work in the United States.
After initially interviewing for the spot at Smith Mountain Lake State Park, I was selected for Holliday Lake State Park. This proved to be an excellent choice! I teamed up with a great staff there. Dr. Jim Jordan, Park Naturalist and Sharon Grove, Conservation Intern provided me with guidance and motivation. Really the entire staff helped me greatly and they do an outstanding job for the park guests. Robert Chapman, Park Manager; Alison Weddle, Chief Ranger; Sarah Lankford, Office Manager; Bobby Hudgins, Grounds Worker; and all the wonderful seasonal staff are amazing!
My responsibility was to provide 675 hours of work and training between April 1 and September 30, 2011. As I write this, it looks as if my reported hours will exceed 700. In addition to developing, planning, and implementing educational programs for park guests, I was tasked with completing paperwork on each program and recruiting other volunteers. Along with the interpreter training (five days at Bear Creek Lake State Park), I was also trained (with other HLSP staff) in cash management, customer service, and how to handle emergency situations. These specific training sessions proved handy on more than one occasion.
Interaction with the park guests was what I really enjoyed. I presented programs on history, animals, and watersheds, lead hikes, taught fishing and canoeing. Holliday Lake is a small park and everyone seems like family. Everyone helps each other out, so I found myself cleaning, running the cash register, renting boats, communicating via radios, and just pitching-in anywhere I could.
One of the most rewarding experiences was just recently when Sharon and I did a series of programs across the lake at the Holiday Lake 4-H Educational Center for mentally challenged adults. Their special treat was to spend a week at camp and enjoy outdoor programs such as gold panning, fishing, canoeing, dip netting, and nature crafts. Tears come to my eyes as I recall the woman who realized she could paddle a canoe. She couldn’t wait to tell everyone she knew about it!
Other special memories for me include Friday night campfires with stories and marshmallows; school groups as they visited and explored the outdoors with our guidance; and the opportunity to call owls from a canoe (with surprising success). Yes, the weather was very hot, often 100 degrees and higher, and sometimes I got dirty and tired from the work, but this was truly the best work I have ever done.
My advice for anyone considering AmeriCorps is “JUST DO IT!” It will change your life if you give it your all. If you can’t make such a big commitment, volunteer at any Virginia State Park for the best time of your life.
Location of the park: Holliday Lake State Park is accessed via State Route 24 between Appomattox and U. S. 60 and from Routes 626, 640, and 692 (State Park Road).