Guest Blog: Adventures of a Vagabond Volunteer

Marilyn Kircus is using her retirement for the betterment of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Here are ruminations from her last two years on the road. 

Marilyn, a retired school teacher, as decided to spend the next chapter of her life as a live-in volunteer at National Wildlife Refuges around the country.

Where else can you wake to the sounds of owl calls, the morning coyote chorus, and hear thousands of ducks and geese returning after a night out grazing in the surrounding rice fields? Watch a red sunrise silhouetted with hundreds of ducks and geese? See roseate spoonbills and egrets nest and raise their babies? Have people return for more of your birding tours? Have a harrier fly directly at you while working on your computer, and then fly up and over your house?  Help put radio tags in carp? Listen to sandhill cranes from your bed? Or visit a hot spring with fellow volunteers and interns?

I’m a retired school teacher who loves to travel, take pictures, garden, camp, and paddle. I also love to help take care of our wonderful natural world and help other people become passionate about wild places and wildlife. I regularly volunteer at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, so it was only natural that I decided my richest life as a retired woman would be a traveling and volunteering one. In November, 2010, I started working as a live-in volunteer for national wildlife refuges with provided housing. I chose to travel down this path because I can’t afford an RV and continue to do all my hobbies, see a variety of landscapes, and make new friends all while working at national wildlife refuges.

While volunteering for approximately 3,500 hours at three refuges, Anahuac NWR (TX), where I logged 1000 hours of work before retiring, Sacramento NWR complex (CA), and currently, Malheur NWR (OR), my duties have included:

Leading experiential environmental education classes are often part of Marilyn’s duties as a live-in refuge volunteer.
  •      Working as a traveling docent, where I meet people, share views of wildlife through a scope, and answer questions about the refuge and animals.
  •      Gardening including invasive removal, starting trees and shrubs from cuttings, planting and watering trees, and planting and maintaining butterfly gardens.
  •      Surveying birds and bees and entering data for refuge biologists.
  •      Writing articles and producing Power Point presentations.
  •      Leading bird watching tours.
  •      Working in visitor centers, answering questions, and selling merchandise.
  •      Preparing and sharing educational programs with children on and off the refuges.
Marilyn has volunteered at three refuges to date. She plans to continue her travels and service until she is no longer physical able.

This life is never boring as I change locations frequently and usually have several different jobs during each stay. I have lots of time to poke into the far reaches of each refuge and hike, camp and canoe in the surrounding areas.  I never stop learning through the exploration of the culture, habitats, and wildlife, and recreational opportunities of each of my host refuges.  My hope is to continue traveling to new refuges and revisiting my favorite places until I’m no longer physically able to do the work. For the day to day details of my life read my blog–Adventures of a Vagabond Volunteer

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