Volunteering opportunites abound at Bonneville Lock and Dam

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When Jim Price arrives for his volunteer shift at Bonneville Lock and Dam, he has two main goals.“I want to pass on information and inspire young people to consider careers in the engineering or technical careers.”

Price, 73, a retired electrical engineer, is in his 10th year volunteering at Bonneville.

“If people ask me technical questions, I have the knowledge to answer them,” he said. “It’s my way of helping people.”

Price is one of several core volunteers who return to Bonneville year after year to lend their expertise.

“Jim was telling people about electricity and how it works, and just the amount of knowledge he has is amazing,” said Claudia Round, volunteer coordinator.

Bonneville volunteers come from all walks of life. Last year, 675 people contributed nearly 9,000 hours worth of work for a value of $194,806.

Robin Norris, a park ranger and former volunteer coordinator, describes the job as a “fantastic experience.”

“Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to serve the public as well as we do,” she said. “We have a limited number of staff here, and without volunteers centering the foundation, we wouldn’t be able to offer special programs and outreach.”

Bonneville Lock and Dam is located on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia River. Visitors at the Bradford Island Visitor Center in Oregon will find a five-level facility with observation deck, exhibits, a larger theater, and powerhouse.

The Washington shore visitors complex, located just outside the city of North Bonneville, offers a variety of displays, a close-up view of the generators and fish viewing.

During the spring and summer months, visitation increases from a trickle to several thousand a day at times. The yearly visitation totals are around 500,000 between the Washington and Oregon sites.

“We really need people with a great public service attitude and mindset,” Norris said.

Currently, “commuter” volunteers, who live in nearby cities, are needed eight hours per week, as are students 16 and older to work at the visitors center, bookstore or natural resource areas.

Mileage is reimbursed at the rate of 56 cents per mile. Volunteers must complete an application, pass a background check, provide two references and participate in an interview.

Volunteering at Bonneville is an opportunity to learn more about topics like salmon, how Bonneville makes electricity for nearly 1 million homes, and assist with tasks including helping rangers maintain and protect parks, trails and other facilities, or working in retail services and with the public, according to Round.

She is hoping to recruit more students, especially high schoolers who would be interested in gaining employment experience or incorporating it into their senior project.

“We have an extensive training program and this is a great way for them to learn about many different subject matters,” she said. “If they are considering a career in natural resource management, engineering or research, this is a great fit. Also, if students have a great idea for their senior project, we can talk about it and find a way to present it.”

All volunteers receive the same training, which includes a manual, three days of on-the-job training and a “trivia manual” assembled by Norris, which includes everything someone might want to know about Bonneville Dam.

“We are resources to them as well and always available if they have questions,” Round said.

Price agrees.

“There is a really great culture here,” he said. “Everyone rates it very highly. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t still be here. There are all kinds of different things going on and so many opportunities to participate. A lot of the volunteers here don’t come from a technical background, they are just interested.”

Keith Loeffler, 75, is in his sixth year volunteering at Bonneville. He gives tours of the powerhouse on the Washington shore, which is one of the most accessible in the world. There, visitors can ride an escalator down into the powerhouse to get a close-up view of a generator and rotating turbine shaft through special viewing windows.

“People come here from all over the world,” he said. “It is fun to talk with them.”

Loffler, a retired teacher and Portland General Electric employee, began volunteering after a visit to Bonneville.

“I thought it would be interesting, and is has been,” he said. “It’s really fun out here.”