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Posted 7/6/2017

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By Thomas Mills
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District

For U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District Park Ranger Shawna Polen the benefit of having a volunteer program is obvious, and measurable.  It all comes down to the amount of “bad reviews” during the years when the volunteer program is not strong.

“And the years when we have a massive, really great program we hear nothing but great things,” said Polen. “When the campers come to see us they can’t really stop raving about how great the park is and how beautiful it is out here.”

Polen is the volunteer coordinator at Canton Lake, Oklahoma, and her program is one of many spread across the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The Corps benefits from the program through the upkeep of facilities where there are too few paid maintenance personnel because of budget constraints.

Polen said Canton Lake is no different. “We have a very small, two maintenance guy staff, and there are only two rangers,” Polen said.  “We can’t keep up with everything. Our parks would look horrendous without our volunteers.”

The volunteers also benefits from the arrangement, said Polen.

“The first benefit to most people who want to come out and volunteer is the idea that they get a campsite in exchange for volunteering,” said Polen. At Canton Lake two hours of work gives the volunteer one night of camping.

“But I think it goes deeper than that,” Polen added.  “We’re really a big family out here.”

Polen’s volunteer program has potluck dinners every couple of weeks and a real family atmosphere, she said.

“Because we’re out here all year out in the heat, out in the sun, and the volunteers are just regular people learning to get along with each other, learning to be out here with other campers and enjoying their time,” said Polen.

Bob and Denise Mollohan started volunteering five years ago and now work as gate attendants and volunteers at Canton Lake.  The married couple maintain the flower beds and trees at the gate of Big Bend Campground.

“You can see the end result,” said Bob.  “It’s beautifying the area and it makes the park look nice.”  Bob said the first impression a camper gets when they come in the gate helps to make their stay there pleasant.

Denise said getting outside and moving is one of the greatest benefits to being a volunteer.  “Every day is a challenge, different jobs, different activities,” she said. “I will say, I recommend it highly to people.  We’ve really enjoyed what we do.”

It’s really not working when you’re out doing what you enjoy doing, said Bob. “To sum it up,” he said, “it’s enjoyable to give back.”