Land Between the Lakes is a large area that takes coordination and enthusiasm from workers to operate successfully. LBL has a large group of volunteers who contribute greatly to the nationally known recreation area.
Jonathon Rhodes, Volunteer Coordinator at LBL said, "People don't realize how much we rely on volunteers." LBL has a significant list of volunteers that vary in age and background. There are volunteers from local scouting troops all the way up to groups of retired people that find the work satisfying. Some volunteers find time to help out several times a year while others participate several times a month or even weekly.
There are no requirements to being an LBL volunteer. "We welcome anything and everything, " said Rhodes, "Anyone can be a volunteer. There is a load for every size. We can find something for everyone to do."
Many Scouts volunteer at LBL. The Scouts fill in with whatever they are needed for. Sometimes they build bridges, benches and birdhouses. They complete small wood projects. They have planted grass seed and worked in the forests. " They like to get down and dirty with the dirt," said Rhodes. The Scouts are large participants in the annual Shore Clean up, where volunteers remove garbage and debris from the shoreline.
Rhodes said that a pretty substantial program that reports the majority of volunteer hours is the Bugle Corps. The Bugle Corps is a group of volunteers who help monitor the Elk and Bison Prairie. There are approximately thirty volunteers who are in the Bugle Corps. These volunteers are available to guests of the Elk and Bison Prairie. They usually have artifacts such as bones, antlers and cast footprints. They are on hand to answer questions and tell information on the elk and bison. "They are in charge of the prairie. Whenever they come into work they try to give people a hands-on experience, " said Rhodes.
People who have a love of history and "the old days" can volunteer at The Homeplace. This is a working farm from the era of the mid-nineteenth century. It is complete with farm animals and a log cabin. Volunteers for both the Bugle Corp and the Elk and Bison Prairie are required to go through a special training program. That way they are knowledgeable when helping the public.
Many groups will help clean up LBL's trails in the Adopt a Trail Program. "It's pretty laid back and pretty open to what a volunteer can fit in his schedule," said Rhodes. These volunteers can clean up the trails when time permits. The Land Between the Lakes Association asks that groups that sign up for this project complete at least 40 hours of service a year.
Another volunteer group at LBL invites students from the nation's colleges to visit and volunteer. Land Between the Lakes is a member of a national organization known as Breakaway. They participate in the section of environmental education. Groups of college kids come into LBL, often as an alternative spring break. They stay for a week and volunteer eight hours every day. They receive free housing and breakfast and Breakaway provides the rest of the meals.
During their stay at LBL, the college students are involved in a variety of learning activities. They help clean up trails including learning the tools and safety as well as how to blaze trails and prevent erosion. The Homeplace is usually preparing to open for the season and the students help mend fences and build animal shelters. Students can also help with cemetery clean up. They learn a lot of the area's history. Rhodes said that the environment around the area is usually unlike what many of the students are used to. It is a good learning experience. This year volunteer groups from University of Florida, Texas A and M and Boston University will be visiting LBL.
Rhodes likes for volunteers to learn about the history of the area. He thinks it is important for people to know that some of the area, including the lakes used to be family homes. LBL is an important recreation site, but it is also full of history.
The Long-Range Management Plan for the future of LBL should open up more opportunity for volunteers. They plan to take some of the land back to the way it used to be. This will include planting grass seed and monitoring the growth.
Rhodes said that in March the need for volunteers will really pick up. He said, "Right now we are in our yearly wrap-up. In March it will take off again. We really need people for the Adopt a Trail Program."
Rhodes said sometimes people will clean up the trails at LBL and not be registered volunteers. Although the help is greatly appreciated, Rhodes asks that all people who are helping at LBL please report their volunteer hours. The state decides the amount of money a recreation area is given based on volunteer hours. The more volunteer hours, the more money that will be put back into LBL's program. This will be used to better serve the visitors who use the Land Between the Lakes.
Any person or group interested in volunteering at LBL can contact Jonathon Rhodes at jrhodes@LBLAssoc.org or can call his office at (270) 924-2007. Land Between the Lakes is always in need of dedicated volunteers to help the program remain the extensive recreation site that it currently is. "Volunteers are essential. Without volunteers we couldn't provide the quality of service at LBL. Without them LBL wouldn't be the same," said Rhodes.