Volunteers enjoy parks while filling budget gaps

Every Thursday, Peter Conover travels from his home in Evans to Mistletoe State Park in Appling, where he works at building porch railings, cleaning bathrooms and maintaining the park.

What does Mr. Conover receive in return for all of his labor?

A bag of ice.

Mr. Conover is a member of the Friends of Mistletoe State Park, a volunteer organization devoted to keeping the state park beautiful and clean. In return, the volunteers get a park pass and ice.

After retiring in Connecticut, Mr. Conover moved to Evans to be closer to his daughter and her family. After about a year of retirement, he said, he was ready to do something again.

"I worked 37 years behind a desk," he said. "I wanted to do something outdoors."

The staff at Mistletoe is deeply appreciative of volunteers such as Mr. Conover.

"We definitely rely on the Friends," said Bill Tinley, the manager of Mistletoe State Park. "They are absolutely outstanding."

When people decide to volunteer, Mr. Tinley asks them what areas they are skilled in or enjoy.

"You get a better job that way," he said.

The state of Georgia's park system has undergone severe budget cuts in recent years; last year saw a 39 percent reduction in appropriations, according to Andy Fleming, the executive director of Friends of Georgia Parks and Historical Sites.

"The volunteers have become even more important because of these recent budget cuts," Mr. Fleming said.

Mr. Tinley believes the state park system is an important way for people to take care of Georgia's natural resources.

"State parks are here to be stewards of our natural resources," he said.

"They become little islands in the middle of urbanization."

Mr. Conover said he plans on being a part of that stewardship for as long as he is physically able.

"Until they throw me off of the property."

Reach Gracie Shepherd at (706) 724-0851 or t.gracie.shepherd@augustachronicle.com.

WANT TO HELP?

To volunteer or to learn more about the Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, call Bill Tinley at (706) 541-0321 or visit www.friendsofgastateparks.org.