Volunteer State, Part I: tear it down, build it up, paint, paint, paint

What doesn’t kill you might make you stronger, but what doesn’t freeze you solid makes you wonder why you weren’t smart enough to choose a February service project in The Bahamas.

Wow, was it brrrrrrrrcold that first week with A Year to Volunteer (Y2V for short) at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Spencer, TN, with temps in the teens, ice and snow, even the eponymous falls looked like they were inside a snow globe.

But other than a single snow day off for safety (which we made up the following Saturday), our Y2V team showed up, manned up, warmed up, and put it up. All of it. Like we knew we could.

And we knew we could because this was our second Y2V service project, so we’ve seen the whirlwind in action. The recap of our first (a state park in GA), and how we got involved with Y2V (wine) is all right here.

The list of objectives for Y2V at Fall Creek Falls included building two new bridges and demolishing an old one, rerouting trails, renovating a set of public restrooms, and painting guest lodge interiors. But by the time our stay was up?

That’s what I mean by “the whirlwind.”
Keep reading to find out how it all translated into dollars the park got to keep in its pockets.

All the COVID precautions Y2V participants adhered to on our first gig were also in place for this one, with the addition of TN’s state mandated daily temperature checks and symptom questionnaires.

Tim and I started off the 2-week adventure (Feb. 15-26, 2021) on the Pretty Potties Crew, a.k.a. Potty Posse, Loo Crew, or “Stall”ions.

We helped tear out the old stall partitions, toilets, sinks, etc.; then painted; then installed new partitions and most of the toilets. The park maintenance department wanted to build new sink stands, so our part of the job ended at that point.

After the partitions and potties came out, it was an uuuuuugly scene.
And since those old partitions were dumpster-bound anyway, I pretended to be a bad girl, and added a little graffiti.
Then we prepped surfaces…
… and painted —
… and painted …
… and painted …
… until finally, it looked like this.
This too.
We took those walls from 3-4 random colors to 2 complementary ones, and oh, what a difference that made!
The following week, it was time to install the stalls.
It was still cold, inside and out.
This is my “I really don’t want to be photographed when I’m stuffed into 4 layers of clothing” face.
We did it!
And working with Y2V friends, Dale & Missy, Dan, and JJ (who’s in the video above, but not pictured here) made it fun.

The two of us also helped with the construction of one of two bridges designed to reroute trails.

When we started that first morning, only the concrete pedestals were in place.
With assistance from park maintenance staff and a couple of rangers, a big flat-bed truck, a 4-wheeler, and some heavy-duty chains, those support beams were pulled down the hill and across the creek, and bolted into place.
By the end of the day, it looked like a bridge.
And by the end of the second day, it was all done, with stairs at one end, and a platform extension at the other, allowing hikers a safe and smooth transition across the creek on the new trail.
And then this old rickety bridge?
Our team hauled that baby out in pieces, and the trails leading to it were blocked and/or covered.

And speaking of trails, Tim & I threw our backs (and legs, and shoulders) into some of that work too. We’ve done a lot of hiking, but creating new trails was a first for both of us.

One does not simply blaze a trail.
There were angles and slopes and drainage to take into account.
And every time we dug up a root or a rock (like every few inches) those three things had to be reconsidered and recalculated, and soil pushed around accordingly.
It’s a science, people study it, and we’re glad all we had to do was follow the ranger’s instructions. The labor alone was hard enough!
Also? The top layer of loose soil is called duff.
Which is exactly what we worked off.
Gratifying moments: Tim got to help build the split rail fences that will help guide hikers away from the more dangerous old pathways and toward the safer new ones …
… and I got to hang brand new trail markers on a brand new section of trail.

In addition to the usual Y2V combination of hard work, fellowship, and fun, we enjoyed some unexpected and most appreciated perks. The park comped our sites, treated us to a pizza night, provided quarters for us to use in their laundry facility, and even hosted a farewell banquet for us.

According to Ranger Robert, who presented each of us with a certificate of appreciation, Y2V’s labors saved the park upwards of 220 thousand dollars. Woo hoooo!
I’d do it all again for another BBQ plate like this.
The Friends of Fall Creek Falls and local fire department, who did the cooking and serving at our farewell banquet, fed this team well.
And y’all? When we showed up for this gig on Valentine’s Day?
Y2V founders, Shar & Phil, made sure everyone felt loved from the moment we pulled into the park.
Chocolate made that whole day’s drive disappear, and alleviated the pain of the 2-hour adventure in RV yoga it took to get us positioned and level in our narrow hillside site.

Where are we now, and what’s next?

We’re still in Tennessee, working our third Y2V project, at Paris Landing State Park. Our mission here involves renovating several structures at an old Girl Scout camp, so that it can be used as a revenue-generating group camping area and outdoor education center for the park.

Next stop: our 4th Y2V project, at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park. We’re gonna build an amphitheater!

My mess-up: Using “we” and “our” is tricky here. Sometimes it means the whole Y2V crew, sometimes it means a small Y2V team, and sometimes it means only we two Rohrers. I hope nobody thinks that Tim & I are taking credit for having our hands in every single project or doing any one of them on our own, because we just don’t have that many hands. In this post, I’ve described only the tasks the two of us worked on. To appreciate the full scope, visit Y2V’s YouTube channel, and check out Fall Creek Falls Part I and Part II.

Different falls, warmer day, somewhere over the rainbow

 To learn more about A Year to Volunteer and their upcoming projects, visit them on

Fall Creek Falls State Park was our second service project with Y2V. Others were/will be

Our Pandemic Caveat
We are traveling a lot less than we normally would, and as often as possible we choose destinations that offer ample outdoor opportunities, and are unlikely to be crowded. 
When we gather with friends or family, we keep our numbers small, and we request honest communication beforehand about their comfort level. 
We continue to wear masks in public and wash/sanitize hands frequently, we limit our outings, and we’ll get vaccinated when our age group is eligible.
 ~ The rrrrOHHHHRRRerrrrs, March 2020 – ?

9 thoughts on “Volunteer State, Part I: tear it down, build it up, paint, paint, paint

  1. My niece, Terry Parker, told us of your travels a few years ago. We were full-timers for a couple of years, worked the beet harvest in Sidney, Mt.

    1. I remember you, Susan! Yeah, we decided pretty early on that beet harvest was not going to be a go for us. Too cold!

  2. I’ve got to say that I’m a bit envious of the work you got to do. When Tim told me about it I recounted the countless days I used to give to building and maintaining mountain bike/hiking trails in the Cascade foothills. Duff, slope, Pulaski, wheelbarrows, blisters, check…but I never got to build a bridge. It’s definitely hard work.

    Last year we heard some statistics identifying the impact volunteers make in the US. It’s massive, and it’s unique to this country.🇺🇲


    1. Thanks, M! We definitely had your blog’s tag line in mind. “Tripping over roots and rocks?” Not on *our* trail, baby!

  3. Fabulous work, once again! Those falls are gorgeous even when so, so cold. I love to paint as it’s such satisfying work, then I saw you got to put up trail markers. Oh! How I would adore that task!!

    1. I nearly squealed when the ranger asked me if I would be willing to do it.


      I was leaping over logs and clicking my heels the whole way! That was a *kick*.

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