Visitors from across the country work at fish hatchery
In Mar. 22 issue, Russell County News By Greg Wells Managing Editor
“We couldn’t keep the Visitors’ Education Center open without our work campers,” said Amanda Patrick.
Patrick, who serves as the environmental education director and oversees much of the center’s day to day operations said the addition of what they call “work campers” last year alone the hatchery saved $208,403.31 and allowed the center to be open many more hours than they otherwise would have.
James Gray, the hatchery’s director, said, “We’ve been doing this for a year and a half and we’ve been fortunate to have some real good couples.”
They explained that the couples, or in some cases solo campers, are provided with their uniforms, a place to hook up their recreational vehicle and access to laundry facilities. To earn all of that the campers work either in the hatchery or in the new Visitor Center.
Ralph and Karen Parrish are retired from the Navy, last serving in Texas and have been living full-time in their recreational vehicle for over 6 years.
They said they have worked at Fish & Wildlife and U.S. Forest Service parks as well as various state parks over that time.
“The last work-camper position we had was at a Forest Service park in Virginia,” Ralph said. “We were about 20 miles from town there. We took care of the campground and they gave us a campsite.”
He said that at the hatchery they gave them the option of working outside in the hatchery or inside and they were delighted to work with the fish.
“We’re learning so much working out here,” Karen said. “We’ve watched the fish grow from the egg.”
The two of them have been at the hatchery since mid January. “We’ve been all over the place around here,” Ralph said.
Karen added, “We’re going to Colonel Sanders’ Café in Corbin tomorrow,” speaking of the original location where Kentucky Fried Chicken was created.
The couple said they checked things out with the staff before coming. “We called here before we came down to work and asked if it was really a dry county and Amanda told us it was,” Ralph said. “The last place we were at we had to drive 40 miles to get to a big city.”
So the isolation was something they and most of the other campers had expected and were used to, and one thing they all say they have enjoyed is the people.
“From the very first day they welcomed us here and they’ve taken care of us,” Karen said.
James Gray explained, “We try to take care of them and make them feel like family.”
Karen said it is people they meet in the area and especially the staff they enjoy, “The crew doesn’t bark at you they ask you to help with things and they make sure you are comfortable doing the job. They don’t give us a bunch of make-work jobs. We do real work and they are right beside us.”
There is a reason behind that, James explains, “I told the staff that not to send them off to just get them something to do but actually put them to work.”
The Parrishes said they are enjoying the work and the area.
Stew and Sue Nash are old hands at the work camping programs. “We’ve been across the country three and a half times,” Stew said. “We love it,” said Sue.
Just as for everyone life isn’t all roses. Stew said things were not as fun when he couldn’t go fishing.
“I couldn’t afford to get a license when it would have cost me $60 for two months,” Stew added, but now he enjoys having one.
The couple arrived before the cut-off in February when the Kentucky fishing license cycle renews.
But he added this state’s system is nowhere near the worst when it comes to that license issue. He said he couldn’t afford the $120 Oregon wanted when they were working at a hatchery there.
In all they said it has been a wonderful experience at the local hatchery. “We love it here,” Stew said. “We’re just waiting for the leaves to come out now.”
He explained that their last work camper assignment was in the California desert and they saw very little color at all there, least of all green.
“We enjoy this area,” Stew added. “We’re thinking of purchasing a small piece of land in the area.”
The couple says this is the first time they have stayed in Kentucky. “People are so laid back here,” said Sue.
She said they had been in California for years and the traffic there, as well as the pace of day to day life, was not to their liking.
“It is so stressful in California,” Sue said.
She explained that they love the scenery here very much and they greatly enjoy the number of historical sites there are in this area.
“We like to go to Civil War battlefields and cemeteries,” Sue said. They said there is so much to see in the U.S. they have never needed to wander beyond our borders.
And they aren’t giving up their work camping lifestyle for some time. “We’ve met so many people and added so many new friends doing this,” Sue said.
Stew added, “Our email and phone list has over 60 people in it that we’ve met doing this and we keep in touch with them regularly.” Unlike Ralph and Karen this couple works in the visitors’ center. “We meet and greet the people,” Sue said
Stew added that they also help with the environmental education program and they clean the building, as all the center volunteers do daily.
Another of the work campers who works in the center is Barbara Brown.
She said she is a retired school counselor from Ann Arbor Mich. She had moved to Florida before deciding to go out as a full-time RV’er. This is her first work camping experience.
She said she is truly enjoying her work at the hatchery, but not just because of the scenery. Brown said that being a retired educator she is enjoying helping out with the environmental education curriculum as well.
“We each bring our own assets to this,” Brown explained. She said one of the other volunteers is a retired human resources manager and there are other business and technical skills among the volunteers.
The only thing she said has taken some getting used to has been how isolated the campground is.
“In Tampa you could walk to the grocery store,” she said.
Walking is one of her favorite things to do and she spends her off hours hiking and walking over historical sites.
But she said she has only been traveling with a recreational vehicle for 6 months.
“I have an Airstream trailer and I have no problem pulling it behind my truck,” Barbara said.
She said the people she has met in the area have been wonderful to her. “Everybody here has been so friendly.”
Sherry and her husband Rich Moesch said they came down to work at the hatchery from Vermont, just in time to escape the worst of the snows there.
They also work in the center and she said they are looking forward to getting to work with the school children that will come there for environmental education programs this spring.
She said they will be heading back to Vermont soon, which she said looks a lot like this part of Kentucky.
She added that she has enjoyed their stay.
“Everyone has been very friendly and helpful around here,” Sherry said. “They’ve all been so very nice, respectful and courteous. We’re glad we took Amanda up on it and came down here.”
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