Rod Colvin has volunteered at Lassen National Park and Death Valley National Park since retiring in 2016, but his current and longest volunteer stop “got my heart.”
Colvin was named this year’s volunteer of the year by the National Wildlife Refuge Association for his work at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Amargosa Valley.
“I am humbled by Rod’s selflessness, his knowledge and abilities, his quiet can-do attitude, and the example he sets for all of us,” said Mike Bower, refuge manager at Ash Meadows in a statement. “I don’t believe any of us can really repay our debt of gratitude to Rod for everything he has done for Ash Meadows NWR, but the Volunteer of the Year award seems the only truly fitting recognition.”
Colvin received his award on Wednesday at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
“It’s really gratifying that people recognize your hard work and the amount of hours that you put in and I’m grateful,” Colvin said. “It’s kind of out of my element to go to D.C. to an event. I’m kind of a out in the desert guy. That’s where my comfort zone is, not in the office, not in Washington D.C. but I’m grateful to receive the recognition.”
The 71-year-old worked in the timber industry in Oregon before moving to Redding, California, and starting a career in the building, construction and maintenance of hotels.
After volunteering at Death Valley he wanted to stay in the desert and became a volunteer at Ash Meadows. Colvin said volunteers typically work 90-day increments but he wanted to stick around.
“When my time was up I found that I liked it so much here I asked if I could stay and they said ‘certainly’ and so I’ve been here for four and a half years so far,” Colvin said.
Colvin has a home in Redding but for almost five years has lived in his motor home on the refuge while being a volunteer.
“It’s the greatest thing to live in such a special place,” Colvin said in an email. “A little warm in the summers though.”
Colvin works in the maintenance department. He helps keep the roads open and runs most of the refuge’s heavy equipment. While the refuge looked for a new permanent head of the maintenance department, Colvin filled in and took charge.
“It keeps me busy. It keeps me out of trouble,” Colvin said with a chuckle.
Colvin was married for 39 years until his wife died in 2008. He has one daughter, three grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. An eighth grandchild is expected to arrive in late December, he said.
He said his hours per day vary, but he volunteers seven days a week up to 50 or 60 hours a week. Colvin estimated he’s nearing 10,000 hours of service at Ash Meadows and volunteered more than 1,000 hours at Death Valley National Park.
“I’ve never been afraid of working,” Colvin said. “It’s just gratifying to give something back. It’s just fun.”
Colvin said there are volunteer opportunities for people in every state with the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service or National Wildlife Refuge.
“Get off the couch and come and volunteer. They have every level of volunteering,” Colvin said. “If you just want to do data entry you can do that. If you want to be outside you can be outside. There’s opportunities for everyone of every age.”
Colvin described himself as an amateur photographer and said that volunteering at Ash Meadows allows him to pursue that passion.
“I get to see things that you can only see here, no place else in the world,” Colvin said. “There’s endemic plants and animals and insects, there’s like 26 of them that you can’t see anywhere else but here and it affords me the opportunity to photograph them.”
He said he photographs everything from ash trees in the fall to wild bighorn sheep and lizards.
Colvin is a U.S. Army veteran who served for three years and spent 1968 in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.
“I’ve earned the right to come out here and give away my time,” Colvin said.
Robert Peloquin, of Las Vegas, received the award for employee of the year at the same ceremony for his work at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
Colvin got back from Washington D.C. on Friday morning and called it an experience, “I won’t soon forget.”
“I got to meet a lot of great people who deeply care about conservation and preservation for future generations,” he said in an email.
Contact David Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.