April 1st had us saying goodbye to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park (Topsail) and the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida. We have been here since the beginning of December and spent our days volunteering at the park, hanging out with good friends, hiking in the beautiful piney woods, and spending afternoons on the white sandy beaches staring at the crystal clear blue water. Not a bad winter, huh?
This is the third year we have volunteered at Topsail and there are plenty of reasons as to why we come back to volunteer. Seems the other volunteers are always fun and the staff welcoming. Our site is great being spacious, private, paved, and with full hookups (including cable). The park's campground used to be privately owned so the campsites have more of an RV resort feel than what you would find at a state park.
In exchange for working 30 hours per week, we get our site for free. (That’s 30 hours total, not per person.) Florida state parks allow you to be “resident volunteers” for a maximum of four months in one park then you have to move on. Which is fine with us because after four months we get the itch to hit the road.
For the past two years our “job” has been to drive the tram through the park taking visitors to and from the beach. Access to the beach is via a half mile paved road that is only accessible by walking, bicycle, or the tram. This is a good thing because the land adjacent to the beach is much more valuable in its natural state than as a parking lot. In between tram runs, we clean sites, clean restrooms, remove sand from the beach boardwalk, empty recycle bins, assist with watercraft rentals, and various other things that come up. There is a myriad of other volunteer positions including maintenance, cleaning cabins, working in the store, and camp host. (If you are interested in volunteering contact Park Service Specialist Hallie Oalde at email@example.com).
This winter we expanded our normal duties and helped with interpretive programs including nature hikes and with sunset/moonlight paddles. The Assistant Park Manager served as a guide during the evening events and the participants seemed to really enjoy learning about the lake ecology.
After one of the moonlight paddles, we proposed that the park create a self-guided “paddle trail” in one of the park's unique coastal dune lakes. And guess what happens when you have an idea that people like? You are asked to do it! So in our last couple of weeks we worked hard to create the text and establish stations for the trail. We are happy to say we completed our part before leaving. So now the project will move to completion through the “Friends Group.” And since the Friends Group rents water craft on the lake we are hoping this will interest more visitors to paddle around the lake where they will stop at a dozen stations and learn about the park and the lakes’ plants, wildlife, geology, and ecological importance.
We plan on returning to Topsail next December where we will once again volunteer and drive the tram until April. Working gives us a sense of purpose and is a great way to meet and interact with other people – whether it be locals visiting the park, other work campers, staff, or traveling RVers. The area is beautiful and we are happy to spend our winters there. Besides, Spirit likes it too.