Undeterred by flies, heat and muck, nine volunteers from the Young Brotherhood of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 80 volunteered their time and skills through the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) Work Boots on the Ground program to help construct a boardwalk through a cypress marsh at Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
A unique ecosystem of forested wetland, Great Dismal Swamp contains the greatest biodiversity in the state. The boardwalk will allow refuge visitors to get off the road and into the woods to better experience wildlife and habitat. Once completed, it will be ADA and ABA compliant and include blinds for photography as well as hunting opportunities for those with disabilities.
In fulfillment of its partnership with the Department of the Interior, the USA connected Refuge Manager Chris Lowie with the Young Brotherhood of IBEW Local 80, which was formed to educate the public about unions by engaging in community volunteer projects. In one weekend and approximately 13 hours, the volunteers installed 150’ of footers, 120’ of cross beams, 50’ of strings and laid decking, in addition to cutting and hauling wood.
“They were very professional and hardworking. I told them what to do. They divided themselves into teams, decided who would do what, and they went to town,” said Lowie. “It would take us a month to get this much accomplished.”
The entire boardwalk, which is being built a section at a time solely by refuge staff and volunteers, would cost approximately $200,000 if a contractor was hired, according to Lowie. “Without volunteers, this project would never have even gotten started, and it would not get done,” he added.
“Our Young Workers group actually had a lot of fun working that weekend in the swamp,” said Phil Fisher, IBEW Local 80 Membership Development Coordinator. “We were told this boardwalk will be used to help disabled people gain access to a scenic outlook. Knowing that we were able to have a hand in making that possible was a huge motivator for this group. Also, we all got a kick out of a piece of 4×4 that a bear had taken a chunk out of overnight—definitely a reminder that we weren’t working on home turf.”
Launched in 2010, Work Boots on the Ground brings together union members willing to volunteer their time and expertise to projects that conserve wildlife habitat, educate future generations of sportsmen and women, improve public access to the outdoors or restore America’s parks.