ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — Visitors pour into the Sieur de Monts Spring nature center, looking for maps and tips on trails and sights at this scenic spot in the national park. One of the people there to help them is Frank Richardson, who is volunteering at the park with his wife, Sharon, for three months.

At the park’s main visitor center in Hulls Cove, volunteers Andrea and Ernie Pelletier join the staff behind the help counter to provide similar help. Both couples are part of a subset of the many volunteers who help paid staff run the national park system.

They are retirees who generally travel in motor homes and choose to dedicate regular hours for weeks at a time, in exchange for which they get free hook-ups at the park’s campgrounds. Many use the opportunity to spend much of the year traveling from one park to the next. The work they do includes visitor center duty and maintenance. For this subset, volunteering at the parks, including Acadia, generally takes 24 hours per week. The rest of the time, they see the sights like everyone else.

Approximately 3,000 volunteers—as individuals and groups, all ages and many backgrounds—will be in Acadia this year.

The Richardsons are from Piave, Miss., a small town bordering DeSoto National Forest. The couple arrived in Acadia on June 1 and volunteers four, six-hour days a week. Their stay will be 90 days.

“We did 90 days last summer here, and we didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do, so we said, “Let’s come back,'” Richardson recalls.

Richardson retired a couple of times in his life. A military man for 30 years, he served in Korea and Vietnam, was stationed in the southeast as a helicopter pilot and instructor, and spent close to seven years at the Pentagon as a staff officer.

“I’ve had an interesting career,” he said.

His wife was a surgical nurse for 44 years. Her skills were in demand, so when they moved for the military, she easily found work at nearby hospitals.

Richardson retired the first time in 1990, but his wife continued to work. So he helped her dad on the large farm her family owns, then opened a gourmet coffee shop.

After 12 years, he wanted to retire again. She was ready, too.

Throughout their careers, the couple visited parks and monuments quite a bit. They knew retirement would give them time to volunteer in the parks. In addition to Acadia, so far, they worked at Yellowstone. The service fits into their goal of traveling 16 weeks a year.

“We always loved the national parks, so we made a point of trying to go to as many as we can,” Richardson said. “We’re up to 40-something now.”

The Pelletiers arrived in Acadia mid-April, having traveled from their home in Florida. Andrea’s last job was working for a county clerk; Ernie is a former business manager. They enjoy volunteering at home, and they thought the retiree-volunteer opportunity would be a great way to see the parks.

They first spent a couple of seasons at the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming, working at the visitor center to provide information on the refuge and nearby Yellowstone National Park.

Last spring, the Pelletiers thought sequestration might derail their arrival date in Acadia.

“You have to make arrangements months in advance to get the job,” Andrea said. “We called because the sequestration happened, and said, ‘If you’re going to postpone opening a month, we’ll come later.’ They said, ‘No, we can use you now.'”

The couple is now happily ensconced for the entire season, the RV hooked up at a park campsite.


For both couples, the joy of volunteering is in the people they meet.

“They come up and ask you all these questions, and you can tell they’re happy to be where they’re at,” Richardson said. “You never see anybody in a national park having a bad day. Last summer in this park, I went out one day to rove—just walk around and talk to people and pass out information. It rained like crazy, and there were people out and I was thinking, you know, if they had to go to work in this, they’d be complaining. But they were out here having a good time.”

Said Pelletier, “The people who work with you are always so nice. You have something in common—you like to volunteer, or you like national parks. And it’s nice to keep up with the public, when you’re retired—to get out there. And how can you not like being up in Acadia? You have time off, so you get to be really familiar with the place. It really feels like your own.”