Volunteers build swamp boardwalk
Published 10:21 pm Friday, August 21, 2015
A group of young volunteers recently accomplished a big job — and had a wild encounter or two — at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
Undeterred by flies, heat and muck, the nine volunteers from the Young Brotherhood of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 80 volunteered through the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance Work Boots on the Ground program to construct a boardwalk through a cypress marsh on the refuge.
“They were very professional and hardworking,” refuge manager Chris Lowie said. “I told them what to do. They divided themselves into teams, decided who would do what, and they went to town. It would take us a month to get this much accomplished.”
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In one weekend and approximately 13 hours, the volunteers installed 150 feet of footers, 120 feet of cross beams, 50 feet of strings and laid decking, in addition to cutting and hauling wood.
The entire boardwalk, which is being built a section at a time solely by refuge staff and volunteers, would cost approximately $200,000 if a contractor were hired, according to Lowie.
“Without volunteers, this project would never have even gotten started, and it would not get done,” he added.
“Our Young Workers group actually had a lot of fun working that weekend in the swamp,” said Phil Fisher, IBEW Local 80 membership development coordinator. “We were told this boardwalk will be used to help disabled people gain access to a scenic outlook. Knowing that we were able to have a hand in making that possible was a huge motivator for this group.”
Fisher said the group was surprised to find a piece of wood missing when it returned to work after a night of rest.
“We all got a kick out of a piece of 4×4 that a bear had taken a chunk out of overnight — definitely a reminder that we weren’t working on home turf,” he said.
Launched in 2010, Work Boots on the Ground brings together union members willing to volunteer their time and expertise to projects that conserve wildlife habitat, educate future generations of sportsmen and women, improve public access to the outdoors or restore America’s parks.
A unique ecosystem of forested wetland, the refuge contains the greatest biodiversity in Virginia. The boardwalk will allow refuge visitors to get off the road and into the woods to better experience wildlife and habitat. Once completed, it will include blinds for photography as well as hunting opportunities for those with disabilities.