Archive for Wednesday, February 9, 2005

Snowbirds pack vacation days with volunteerism

February 9, 2005

Chances are, everyone knows a snowbird.

Snowbirds are people who like to spend their winters in the southern states, soaking up the sunshine and laughing about snow up north.

Jimmie and Juanita Lambert went south for the winter, but their trip wasn't just for rest and relaxation.

"We're volunteering for the National Park Service on their turtle stranding team," Juanita said from Padre Island National Seashore during a telephone interview last week.

It's likely for Jimmie, a part-time Tonganoxie police officer, and Juanita, this volunteering stint is the first of many.

"We've decided we're going to start volunteering for three months and being at home for three months, alternating," Juanita said.

They'll find out this week if they've been accepted for a three-month summer session at Deer Lodge, Mont. That's a 16,000--acre historical working cattle ranch where volunteers at the visitor center dress in 1860's style clothing.

But in the meantime, the couple is living it up in Texas, putting in a total of about 80 hours of volunteer work each week and staying in their camper trailer on the beach where the ocean surf lullabies them to sleep each night.

As part of their volunteer service, the Lamberts walk up and down the beach, looking for live turtles that are stranded, as well as for turtles that have died.

"When the weather turns cold, a turtle will come ashore," Juanita said. "It will kind of go into shock and then they will just stay there and die."

When the Lamberts, or other volunteers, find living turtles, they load them into a vehicle or boat and take them to the turtle rehab center.

"They'll keep it inside in warm water and will feed it until they can release them," Juanita said. "We went out in a boat one day and found four -- there's a shallow stretch of water that they like to feed in."

The largest of the day's find weighed about 200 pounds and took three people to load into the boat.

"They don't put up any fuss because they're kind of in shock," Juanita said.

The dead turtles are brought back as well, so they can be autopsied.

Jim assisted a veterinarian in doing autopsies, or necropsies, on about 40 turtles.

The turtles may have died from the cold, Juanita said. "Some of them have hooks in them, if they don't get to come up and breathe every 30 minutes they will drown," Juanita said. "That can happen if the hooks get caught on something."

And she said the shrimping industry is hard on turtles.

"There's a device on the nets that will allow them to escape," Juanita said, explaining that some shrimp boat operators tie the device shut, because it lets shrimp escape.

The Lamberts weren't the only Tonganoxie residents on Padre Island in January.

Fran and Chip Marquardt decided to drive down and visit their friends. They spent five days, camping with the Lamberts and helping on the turtle project.

"We're planning on going for probably a month and volunteer," Fran said last week. "We started saving as soon as we got back so we can go next year."

The couple doesn't own a camper trailer, but because of this, they're planning to buy one, Fran said.

Fran said they're hoping to be in Padre Island in March of next year, so that they'll be able to help gather turtle eggs buried on the beach.

The eggs are taken elsewhere to be hatched and the young turtles eventually are released on Padre Island, in hopes of reviving the sea turtle population.

The Marquardts' decision to head south in January was spur of the moment.

"We decided we were sick of the cold weather," Fran said. "Jimmy and Nita called Sunday and so we decided to go down and see them."

The couple left the next day.

"The weather was beautiful," Fran said. "In the morning it was 64 degrees, but you can go out in your shirtsleeves and walk the beach -- the ground is warm from the day before."

As can be expected from a Kansan accustomed to harsh winters, much of their time was spent outside.

"We usually walked the beach twice a day," Fran said.

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