Air crew volunteers do some heavy lifting at Northwest Trek
June 20, 2012Some 20 members of the 62nd Airlift Wing, Aerial Port Squadron, from Joint Base Lewis-McChord spend the day as civilian volunteers with pickaxes and shovels and elbow grease.
They hacked away invasive blackberry canes. They wielded pickaxes and shovels. They planted trees. They extended a deck with recycled wood.
Some 20 volunteers from the 62nd Airlift Wing, Aerial Port Squadron, of Joint Base Lewis-McChord whacked and lifted and heaved and dug for several hours Wednesday, June 6, at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.
They were dressed as civilians and did the work as such, not as official representatives of the U.S. Air Force, but there was no doubting that strong military ties to the South Sound area drew them to the volunteer work at Northwest Trek.
“It’s part of being a well-rounded member of the military community,” and the work helps keep air crews fit, said Staff Sgt. James Lee, who organized the work party.
Lee, a 30-year-old native of Bennettsville, S.C., learned about the joys of Northwest Trek not long after he arrived at McChord Field in 2010, he said.
“I like the atmosphere here, and the fact that it’s a free-roaming zoo,” he said. When he climbed into the tram ride with his toddler son, Elijah, who’s soon to be 3, the boy “just grew quiet and stared out the window” looking for animals the whole time, Lee said.
When family comes to visit, Northwest Trek is often a destination, he added. “I’ll bring them here so they can see some things they’ve never seen.”
There’s also a special bond between Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Northwest Trek.
The wildlife park, in partnership with JBLM biologists, Point Defiance Zoo, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other Northwest zoos and agencies, is a leader in the repopulation of the endangered Oregon spotted frog.
The partnership has head-started thousands of frogs, raising them from eggs for release into wetlands habitats at the joint base.
The Oregon spotted frogs once inhabited most of Puget Sound’s lowlands; only a handful of isolated populations exist today.
The McChord volunteers didn’t work on the spotted frog project, but their dedication to Northwest Trek further cements the relationship between park and base and helps advance the park’s conservation goals.
Under the direction of Conservation Coordinator Jessica Moore, the volunteers stripped and hacked out invasive blackberry canes near the Conservation Center, planted mature trees to help screen the bear exhibit area and worked on a deck extension at the Hellyer Natural History Center.
Northwest Trek often gets help with various projects, big and small, from individual and group volunteers, Moore said.
Then she added: “It’s great when we are able to advance our conservation goals with a large work party like this. It’s very valuable for us. These are projects that need to be accomplished, and it would take our limited staff a long time to get them done. And they would have to push other work aside.”
Groups like the Air Force volunteers get a lot done in a relatively short amount of time, she said.
Lee, who returned from a deployment to the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan in February, said it’s fulfilling to serve at home as well as abroad
In his day job, he and his comrades move Fort Lewis troops and their gear where they’re needed around the world.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Prowant said volunteer work in the community is a way for military men and women to thank the community for their support of the troops.
“They can see us as more than someone who’s out there carrying a weapon or turning a wrench,” he said.