Bruce and Judy Pertle, currently of the open road, but former residents of Little Rock, Arkansas, dreamed of travel in their retirement. However, Judy stipulated two conditions: sleep in her own bed, and eat her own food. The solution came in a fifth-wheel and a long-range plan to spend two years on the East Coast, two years on the West Coast, and one year in America’s midland.
With Judy’s background as a history teacher at Parkview Magnet School in Little Rock, and Bruce’s twenty-three years of experience working at Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN), they sought a lifestyle that entailed more than a bird’s-eye view or a mere pass through locations. Between the covers of Workamper News, the couple found multiple choices for volunteering their talents and services in national and state parks.
“We both believe in the importance of volunteerism,” Bruce says. “First, we are contributing something to the park systems. Over the years, our family has received a great deal of pleasure from our nation’s protected lands. “Secondly, we believe in supporting our country’s natural resources, many of which are in trouble due to budget cutbacks in the national parks. Without volunteers a number of additional services would have to be scaled back or eliminated.
“And, on a personal level,” Bruce continues, “after three days on assignment, we typically have four days to get out and explore our new neighborhoods, learn about the local environment, and meet new people. What could be greater?”
The Pertles started their Workamping adventure at Texas’ Washington-On-The-Brazos State Park. A perfect match to her history degree, Judy served as costumed interpreter, leading visitors and school groups on tours of the farmhouse owned by Anson Jones, the last President of the Texas Republic. Her duties included demonstrations of cooking indicative of the time period of the farmhouse, and chasing the chickens that roamed freely on the grounds and into her kitchen. With a sheepish smile, Bruce admits that he worked in air-conditioning, selling admissions at the entrance gate. “That was the summer we learned why Southwest houses are built with a breezeway,” he says.
At Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Bruce and Judy served as docents, introducing visitors to the Bodie Island Lighthouse and answering their questions. Their contact with the National Park Service led them to three other assignments at Fort Caroline/Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville, Florida; Fort Pulaski at Savannah, Georgia; and Prince William Forest outside of Washington, DC. At each location, they primarily worked in the Visitors Centers and the bookstores, racking up over 1,000 hours each of volunteer service with the National Park Service.
The Pertles’ first autumn on the road, they hosted a campground at Georgia’s Skidaway Island State Park outside of Savannah. Although they primarily look for volunteer positions, Bruce and Judy are not averse to jobs in private campgrounds, especially if the location is where they want to live for a season. One summer, they worked for their site and hookups at Honey Run Campground in Peru, Maine. At the campground, owned and managed by two college professors, Bruce and Judy enjoyed the company of the two men, as well as the Maine summer.
At Custer State Park in South Dakota, the Pertles fulfilled a portion of their goal to spend time in the middle of America. Bruce alternated his volunteer hours between the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center close to State Game Lodge and the Wildlife Station Visitor Center along Wildlife Loop Road. Both Centers feature exhibits and an information desk. However, Bruce notes that duties at the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center kept him busiest. At the Wildlife Station Visitor Center, he primarily caught two questions: Where are the restrooms? Where are the animals?
On some days, Bruce drove the lead car in a caravan around the Wildlife Loop. At periodic stops, he talked to visitors about the animals, the lay of the land, and the prairie dog village. He pointed out the corral area where the park’s buffalo are rounded up in an annual event each fall, a measure to maintain the herd at a manageable number. Each year, surplus live animals are sold at auction, and a harvest hunt removes a few mature bulls.
Bruce told the charges in his caravan the difference between a prescribed burn and a wildfire—and the affects that a burn has on the natural plant growth. The group stopped alongside a grassy meadow for the wild donkeys to poke their heads into open car windows and beg for food.
In the afternoons, he often took families to a fishing lake on an excursion named, “Hook ‘Em and Cook ‘Em.” He showed youngsters how to net a trout and later, demonstrated cooking the catch.
Judy described her work at a native timber and stone cabin in the heart of Custer State Park, a memorial to South Dakota’s first Poet Laureate, Charles Badger Clark. For 30 years, Clark lived and wrote in the cabin that he built himself and affectionately named Badger Hole. As a docent, Judy greeted visitors, showed them through the cabin, and pointed out the features and provisions that the “Cowboy Poet” built into his home. The poet’s library is also maintained at the cabin. Bruce and Judy each worked 24 hours per week at Custer State Park. In return for their service, they parked their fifth-wheel home with full hookups in an employees’ campground behind Game Lodge. They were furnished uniforms and a laundry was close by the campground. Additionally, the Pertles—and other volunteers and concessioner employees— received admission to all the park’s activities. They had access on their days off to spectacular scenery, wildlife watching, hiking trails, and scenic drives.
Within the park’s boundaries The Black Hills Playhouse opens its curtains to live theater productions throughout the summer months. Only a few miles away, Mount Rushmore rises with the faces of four Presidents. In the opposite direction, Chief Crazy Horse emerges from the granite mountain. Small mountain towns rimming the hills beyond the park offer history, shopping, and gaming. Rapid City serves as the hub for the Black Hills region. Its five museums, 17 movie theaters, and eight area golf courses provide a myriad of diversion and entertainment. Most importantly, the America’s state and national parks take in our nation’s prime real estate. By volunteering a few days a week, RVers have the opportunity to live on scenic and historic property unavailable to the general public for any extended length of time.
Bruce and Judy Pertle best sum up the lifestyle: “Volunteerism—What could be greater?”