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 – ?

Way *way* down upon the Suwannee River…

… we joined a Y2V (A Year To Volunteer) work crew for a 2-week service project at Stephen C Foster State Park.

It was so remote (audience: How remote was it?)… it was so remote that it took almost 25 minutes to drive to the nearest town with a store, and that one and only store was a Dollar General.

Cell service was about as reliable as a stoner delivering pizza, and wifi at the campground trading post was about as strong as rest stop toilet paper, so we did not spend a lot of time online.

But that was bearable. We were busy working, making new friends, spotting wildlife, and enjoying the solitude. Here it is in a nutshell.

How We Got Hooked (blame it on the a a a a a alcohol)

It started with a meet-up at a Harvest Hosts location, the Medina River Winery in Castroville, TX.
We invited two friends (Phil & Stacy of You, Me & The RV)
and they invited two friends (Phil & Shar of A Year to Volunteer),
and the more I heard about the Y2V mission, and the more I drank, the more ambitious I became.
My inner voice slurred, “We haf schkills. We haf thah kine o time. Lesssh do thish!”
And that is how we signed our asses up for not one, not two, but three Y2V projects — and have since added a fourth.
Would anybody else like to drink with me?
Wine clearly makes me believe I have superpowers.
(Photo credit: Medina River Winery)

The Worker Bees of Y2V

There were 30 of us, all RVers, mostly couples. Most stayed the entire duration of the project (Jan. 25 – Feb. 5, 2021), and a few came and went. Some already had Y2V experience under their tool belts, and some were newbies like us.

There were retirees from a wide variety of backgrounds, a sampling of which includes military veterans, nurses, teachers, a business owner, a contractor, and even a pair of NASA engineers.

I won’t even try to calculate the combined years of home improvement, building, and fix-it experience. Tim has about 40, and he was one of the younger men on the job, so there were several lifetimes worth of skills and knowledge in play every single day.

The Honey-Do’s? Honeys Did — And Then Some

We were given 5 projects by the park. Our team completed those + 20 more, and still finished a day early! A sampling of the tasks:

  • Parking lot striping
  • New AC/exhaust system in maintenance shop
  • 3 new camp host sites (timbers, leveling, graveling)
  • Sanding and painting metal cabin doors
  • Sanding and painting porch & walkway rails
  • Installing new flooring in guest cottages
  • Sanding and painting rocking chairs 
  • Cleaning AC drip stains & touch-up painting in guest cottages
  • Replacing fire rings in campground loops
Our first morning meeting included a hilarious recap of the COVID safety rules we’d all previously agreed via e-mail to uphold.
Because all of us were there in RVs, Shar’s summary was simple:
If the person you’re working next to is not someone who wakes up with you,
you should be wearing a mask.
In addition, we observed social distancing rules, agreed to no indoor socializing or RV tours, and we held only one communal dinner, which was served by masked & gloved helpers rather than the usual potluck buffet style.
The new camp host sites at the beginning…

… in the middle …
… and at the end.
Tim & I weren’t on the gravel-spreading team, and I forgot to go back and take a pic of the completed sites.
Earned my stripes on the deck whitewashing crew.
And now I have a pair of painting tights for future projects!
And bonus: they draw the eye downward from this hot mess of an ensemble.
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.
~flips dust-caked curls and clomps away~
Tim and Jeff on the Cabin 10 flooring team
Tim, Scott, Susan, Jeff and Phil holding the last piece, which we all signed on the underside before Scott installed it beneath the sink.
Meet Mike & Ginny.
Ginny had been retired for like 20 minutes, and was probably not expecting her retirement to include rocking chairs so soon.
But “Old Folks at Home” is one of Stephen C. Foster’s most famous songs, and we were at the state park named for him, so it kind of fit the theme.
Tim and I took on fire ring replacement.
The old rusted ones were anchored in cement, so we had to dig, wrestle, and swear all that out before installing the new ones.
By about the fourth one my shoulders were aching, but stepping on a fire ant hill distracted me from that rather quickly. Good times.
Less than a week after we all left, word came down from above: we rocked.

The park itself shouted out some love too.

Oh, And We Had Fun

“Have fun!” is in fact codified in Y2V’s core values, and we were nothing if not obedient. Even while we worked, we joked around and kept each other entertained, and also made lasting friendships.

But there was also ample time for campfires & cocktails, hiking & biking, wildlife spotting, boating, and more (yes, socially distanced or masked or both).

The work schedule was not strict — roughly 9-4 each weekday, with a lunch break — and we were advised to take time off as needed for things like ouchy muscles or injuries, personal errands, and especially for any symptoms of illness.

Having the weekend off allowed us time to explore the park ourselves, and also kept our tools, paint, dust, and noise from creating mayhem for park guests during peak visitation days.

‘Twas a gator-spottin’ bike ride along the Suwannee Sill. We saw some!
The park treated us to ranger guided boat rides along the river.
We saw lots of birds, a few more alligators, and two otters (or it might have been the same otter twice).
At the end of Week 2, we watched one of the park’s resident black bears investigate the yard of one of the park residences.
Girls, when they’re not busy using the tools and fixing the things, just want to have fun.
So we did.
There were also… ummm… dance lessons?
Kind of hard to tell who’s the instructor and who’s the student here.

UPDATE, 02/17/21: Now that the footage is live, I can divulge that yes, those were dance lessons, and here’s why we needed them! That’s me in the yellow safety vest; Tim’s behind me in the back row, wearing a red flannel shirt. If you make it all the way to the 4:30 mark, you’ll see how I live to be an embarrassment to our sons and any future generations.

Tomorrow we head to Tennessee for the next Y2V project, at Fall Creek Falls State Park. The to-do list includes building bridges, clearing and re-routing trails, and painting maintenance buildings.

Can’t wait to see some of our friends again, meet new members of the crew, and knock that list right out of the park. Hahaha! Out of the park. Get it? I crack myself up.

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

Stephen C Foster State Park was our first 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, and we limit our outings.
~ The rrrrOHHHHRRRerrrrs, March 2020 – ?