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Southwest Louisiana NWR complex

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After reading so much about rving on this site I thought I’d try to contribute a bit… we are just wrapping up our first gig as volunteers. Anybody searching Cameron Prairie, Sabine, LaCassine and Shell Key refuges may find this information useful.

We retired in May of 2012. Shortly afterwards we got a puppy (Golden Retriever named Goose) and decided to stay home instead of traveling that winter. The winter of 2013/14 we spent in various Texas State parks, from Goose Island to Big Bend to Blanco to Eisenhower with a few others in between, staying from one to four weeks at each. It was fun but I found myself getting a bit bored just seeing the sights and hanging out at the campsites.


I had been reading about the volunteer opportunities for quite a few years and decided to apply at a few different places. The folks at Southwest LA wildlife refuges gave us a call and we got the “job”. So…


The Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex consists of four refuges; Lacassine, Cameron Prairie, Sabine and Shell Key refuge. They used to be managed separately, but are now combined (management wise) under one roof, which is stationed at the Cameron Prairie visitor center. Our gig was from 1/5/15 to 4/5/15 (not quite done yet). As a couple, we are asked to do 24 hours (each). They schedule us for the same times so we ended up working Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday each week. Shirley usually works the visitor center Monday then helps me Tuesday and Wednesday. For the most part, I’ve done carpentry type work as I’m a retired carpenter. We are on a nice concrete pad with 50 amp electric, water and sewer. Just a note about the water pressure, it’s very low because they are on the end of the line for city water. It’s fine for washing and toilet, but we fill the freshwater tank ( it takes about 40 minutes) and use our pump for taking showers. Free laundry facilities are in the bunk house. If you don’t have an RV, some volunteers stay at the bunkhouse. That reminds me, they also utilize a lot of student (intern) help for any of you with unguided youngsters out there.


The first month I worked mostly at Lacassine getting kiosks, boat and fishing ramps ready for their fishing opener on March 15. The bass fishing is supposed to be fantastic, unfortunately we haven’t fished there as the maximum horsepower is 40 and ours is 90. The second month again I did mostly boat and fishing ramp repairs at Sabine. This last month I’ve been working at Cameron Prairie, building a kennel for their Federal Officer’s new K9. It is 6’ x 15’ with a roof over all and a storage area about 4’ x 6’ with windows, outlets and light… pretty fancy but when you consider the training the officer and dog will have, well worth it. I also installed new plumbing lines and faucets to the RV pads. They hope to install a pressure tank to the RV pads at a later date.

Lacassine is about a 45 min drive and Sabine is about an hour from Cameron (home base). On the ride to Sabine you take a 15 min ferry ride over the intercostal waterway and porpoises provide entertainment. They provide a work truck and fuel is on site. Our day typically starts at 7 and ends at 3:30 so when working at the other refuges, you’re only working about 6 hours.


A big part of what they do here is prairie burns for habitat restoration. There is a fire crew/building on the premises. It was pretty cool to watch them burn up to 14,000 acres at a time. Sometimes they lit the fire from a helicopter. It was amazing to see the chopper only 75’ or so off the ground, going in and out of the smoke to keep the fire going by “shooting” chemical fire balls at the ground. A couple times afterwards we were treated to an airboat ride to survey the burned area.


The staff has been friendly, helpful and fun. We’ve had the pleasure of joining several of them for dinner at various restaurants and even been invited to their home for dinner. These coonasses are a hoot!

There’s a couple Walmart’s in Lake Charles, about 30 minutes north and a small grocery/fuel store just 2 miles north. The Gulf of Mexico is just 20 minutes south. A boat launch on the intercostal is 3 miles south. We brought our flat bottom boat along behind the fifth wheel and fished the intercoastal quite a bit. Caught some bass, catfish, drum and a few things that I didn’t know what they were.


On our off time we; visited Avery island where Tabasco is made (included a tour), don’t forget to visit the gardens that the Tabasco owner started, toured the Bayou Rum factory, toured Konrico, it's a historical rice mill, and watched a few Mardi Gras parades. We also ran over to Houston (only 2-1/2 hours) a few times to visit Shirley’s sister. We went down to Holly Beach a few times to let Goose run off some energy. He had a blast in the waves.


Lest I forget we also drove around the wildlife drive multiple times (duh, it’s a wildlife refuge). The waterfowl viewing was just fantastic! Pintails, Cinnamon teal, Blue and Green wing teal, Gadwall, Mottled, Northern Shoveler, American Widgeon, Ruddy, Ring neck, and Buffle head ducks were all common. Snow geese and White fronted geese are plentiful. Herons, ibis, egrets, sandhill cranes and hawks. Snakes, so far we’ve only seen a couple cottonmouths (that’s a good thing in my book), but it’s really just starting to warm up and I'd imagine they'll be more plentiful then. AND, alligators, they are here, there and everywhere! Ponds, ditches, swamps, marshes and lakes all have alligators! I have a disappointed dog, LOL. He loves swimming but no way was I letting him in with them. We only let him swim in the Gulf. He was getting mad at the 3’ waves and kept “attacking” them … gotta love that youthful spirit.


I love hunting and fishing and was hoping to go duck hunting but chickened out, not wanting to put my dog at risk with the gators. One of the locals did invite me out to go wild hog hunting with dogs. It was like hunting with five Larry the Cable guys! Funny jokes just one after another while on the trail of hogs. Sorry, can’t repeat them here. J Lots of good natured ribbing. We did get one hog, I helped skin and butcher it. They graciously gave us half! And it’s been gooood!!!


So, we’re going to volunteer again, not sure where or when yet. We were asked to come back next year, but graciously declined only because there is so much more country to see. The summer of 2016 we plan on going to Alaska. I’m starting to look at nwr’s to see if we could get a 10 week or so stay at one and then tour the rest of the summer.


Hope this information helps anyone interested in volunteering at a NWR in Southwest Louisiana,

Shirleyshusband (yep, that’s who I am!)

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Great narrative. I haven't volunteered at as many different places as some. I have found if you are reliable, have a modicum of common sense and are not a problem you will often be asked to come back or even asked if you would like to stay year round. The good thing for them is you are already "trained" and know the area and routine better than a new person. If they have any experience with volunteers they will have had some that are not so good. Some have even been "fired" or not been invited back. They find it is better to keep the known quantity. One time I was at a spot that supposedly had a strict 3 month limit but by the time my months were up they said I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted or even year round. Seems in the past they had some that were far more trouble than they were worth. I am frustrated that my physical limitations are causing me to rule out many positions these days especially since so many are wanting more. I don't mind "some" extra hours but more are asking for 5 day weeks and 40 hours.

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Shirleyshusband, Glad you enjoyed your time at the Southwest Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex . Volunteering with FWS can be additive. We'll be heading to Alaska volunteering at Tetlin NWR, our tenth with FWS and we are booked through summer 2016 with other refuges. Tetlin has 10 week split season positions you may want to watch for their postings on Volunteer.Gov in the fall.

As a retired carpenter myself we have always been offered to return anytime and was once threaten with the tires on the 5er disappearing. Not sure if they like me or just my talents. :unsure:

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