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Marine Corps Base Quantico

"Crossroads of the Marine Corps"

Volunteers make Quantico conservation possible

By Mike DiCicco | | March 26, 2014

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Retired Col. Frank Harris works on fixing the feeder tubes on an industrial seed planter belonging to the Natural Resources Section on March 12. Harris has been volunteering to do conservation work at Quantico since 1977, nine years before the official Conservation Volunteer Program got underway.

Retired Col. Frank Harris works on fixing the feeder tubes on an industrial seed planter belonging to the Natural Resources Section on March 12. Harris has been volunteering to do conservation work at Quantico since 1977, nine years before the official Conservation Volunteer Program got underway. (Photo by Mike DiCicco)

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Late in the morning of March 12, two retired senior officers sat over lunch in the kitchen of the game check station on the west side of Marine Corps Base Quantico. At the request of Tim Stamps, the head of the Natural Resources Branch, they had just finished posting a sign at the Secon Pool, letting anglers know only children are permitted to fish in the pond. After lunch, they would work on repairing an industrial seed planter if the weather held.

“When we get a job, [Stamps] can write it off his list as being accomplished,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Ferd Heider of Annandale. This is how he and retired Marine Corps Col. Frank Harris of Manassas have spent Wednesdays for a long time. Heider also volunteers on Mondays. He said people are sometimes surprised to find retired colonels doing manual labor.

“If we didn’t [volunteer], I’d probably be dead,” said Heider, 82. “If you enjoy doing something you do it.”

“I look forward every Wednesday to doing this,” said Harris, 89.

Harris and Heider are two of 80 to 100 men and women who volunteer a total of around 5,000 man-hours a year through the Natural Resources Section’s Conservation Volunteer Program. These are the people who created the wildlife viewing area off Russell Road, built the two docks at Smith Lake and constructed the archery range. They also do less glamorous work like helping to keep backwoods roads and trails cleared, building and repairing split-rail fences, and picking up litter.

“People don’t even realize it’s going on, but it definitely contributes to the overall base environment,” Stamps said.

The volunteers also carry out some less conventional work.

A couple of days earlier, on the afternoon of March 10, Jim Kirkman, also of Annandale, went out with a few of the base’s wildlife specialists to trap turkey with “rocket nets” — literally, rocket-propelled nets — so the naturalists could outfit the birds with transmitters in an effort to track their mortality rates.

“I’m primarily a turkey hunter,” he said, adding that he also hunts pheasants, geese and ducks off base. “So I particularly like projects that have to do with turkeys, like today.” In a few weeks, he said, he would help with the annual turkey survey, in which volunteers travel around the base, listening for turkey calls as a way to gauge the gobbler population.

His volunteer work is not, however, exclusively turkey-oriented. The weekend before, he had repaired a dam at the Secon Pool. Before that, he posted no-hunting signs around an eagle nest. He often clears trails and has helped to build and repair handicapped-accessible hunting facilities for wounded warriors.

“I retired from the government in ’04, and knew I wanted to do something in retirement besides Harry Homeowner projects,” said Kirkman, a former Government Accountability Office employee.

The Conservation Volunteer Program offered him an opportunity to combine his interests in hunting and conservation. Being a volunteer allows him to call in for a hunting pass earlier in the day, upping his chances of getting a pass for the area he wants. He also enjoys meeting and socializing with people with similar interests, he said.

“We think it helps the mission of the base, because we’re helping wounded warriors and active duty people by making it possible for them to hunt and use the trails to hunt,” Kirkman added.

“It was an incentive to get early [hunting pass] checkout, plus I was working with the equipment, which was something I wanted to do,” Harris said of his decision to start volunteering.

Engineering is his specialty, while carpentry is Heider’s area of expertise.

When they started volunteering in the late 1970s, the conservation volunteers were tied to the Rod and Gun Club, where Heider remembers building an outhouse and about 20 picnic tables. Most of the conservation work was carried out by active duty Marines, he said.

The formal Conservation Volunteer Program under Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs started in 1986.

“As the Marines were put in the operating forces, these things still needed to be done, and we just stepped in and did them,” Heider said.

Now, about half the volunteers have never been active duty, while the rest are active duty, reserves or retired military, Stamps said.

Heider said he started hunting at Quantico in 1967 and brought his children to the base to fish even before that. He said he always tried to give something in return when he hunted on private property, so it made sense to help out at the base.

Harris said he first arrived at the base for Officer Candidates School in 1945 and was stationed at Quantico for 13 of his 34 years in the service, so he knew the installation well when he started volunteering in 1977.

As they prepared to get back to work, he donned a hunter’s-orange Marine Corps Base Quantico Conservation Volunteer Program baseball cap. Heider wore a hand-decorated, blue sweatshirt reading, “Pop pop can fix it,” with a variety of tools drawn in puffy paint.

Together, the two have worked to maintain the Natural Resources Section’s heavy machinery, built bridges and posted signs on the mainside trails, assisted with controlled burns, laid fish beds on the bottom of Lunga Reservoir, built and maintained duck blinds and hunting stands, and performed a host of other jobs on the base. They used to maintain food plots, plant fruit trees and stock ponds and rivers with fish, jobs that have now been taken over by base employees.

Heider often mans the game check station, and it was Harris who determined the height at which the Smith Lake docks should be built before the water level was raised.

“It’s a pretty wide range of things—anything that needs to be done, we do it,” Harris said. “There’s quite a variety of people and specialists we have that work together to make the whole thing work.”

Heider reached 10,000 volunteer hours in 2003. That’s twice the total hours all volunteers work in a year these days.

It’s not just selfless work, he said. “I need Quantico more than Quantico needs me.”

Kirkman, whose father-in-law fought in Iwo Jima, said he, too, finds a number of pleasures in volunteering.

“Every now and then, I run into a Marine in the woods and strike up a conversation,” he said. “It’s a charge for me to be able to talk to these guys and express my appreciation for their work.”

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