Don and Joy Lambert are in their 80s, and they are thinking about maybe retiring someday, again. Only this time from more than 20 years of volunteering for the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Shortly after starting work in 1989 for the Snoqualmie Ranger District, Mary Coughlin couldn’t help but notice piles of neatly stacked garbage bags at the Ranger Creek airstrip during her routine rounds. Ranger Creek was full of trash; old barrels, sheet metal, bottles and other camping remnants. Coughlin, the public services specialist for the district, encountered Don and Joy working at Ranger Creek soon after and signed them up as volunteers.
Since then Don and Joy have served every aspect of the Forest Service recreation program from camp hosts to front desk customer service specialists. “Joy has been a gracious host and information specialist,” said Coughlin. “Don has been indispensable repairing anything mechanical,” she said. Campground hosts live onsite at designated campgrounds and issue permits, resolve disputes, and clean and maintain the facilities throughout the week.
Coughlin estimates that Don and Joy save the Forest Service $7,000 to $8,000 dollars a year. Last month Don repaired two mechanical wheelbarrows when local shops were booked. He keeps the Forest Service chainsaws, weed eaters, generators and anything mechanical in working order. “If a saw needs a new pull cord or has problems with compression we take it to Don,” Coughlin said. She said he has the knowhow and experience to troubleshoot and fix anything.
Don and Joy are instrumental in keeping the field equipment in working order for the Snoqualmie trail crews. “My front country crews wouldn’t be as efficient. Without the tools the projects would be on hold,” Coughlin said. Her trail crews maintain the safety of hikers by removing hazardous trees and brush, fixing or replacing signs and repairing any sections of damaged trail.
Trail crews usually work weekends and leave any projects for Don and Joy each Monday. This keeps Coughlin’s crews out in the field. Don also helps out wherever needed, fixing water pumps for the fire crews, creating new trail signs for recreation crews, or repairing generators for facilities.
While Don is fixing small engines, Joy cleans the facilities at Silver Creek and seed orchard warehouse. She organized and inventoried hundreds of trail, recreational and road signs, making it easier for Coughlin’s crews to replace damaged ones.
Don’s first job was driving a truck for the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) in Wisconsin. “I received a real life education from the tradesmen with the CCC,” Don said. He said he had always been fascinated in machines and joined the Army Air Corps to pursue a career as a flight engineer. “The top two in the school got to fly a B-17 bomber. That was a moment of pure joy in my life,” said Don. Being one of the top in his flight engineering class, Don was selected for specialized engine training. “I made it all the way to Japan fixing airplanes and never had to fire a shot,” he said. Don met Joy when he was 22 and celebrating the end of his Army tour. They will be happily married for 62 years June 13.
After the Army, Don started with Boeing as a machinist and worked there until his health forced an early retirement. Needing something to keep himself occupied, Don’s interest in nature led him towards volunteering on the forest.
“We have been truly blessed by their years of service,” said Jim Franzel, Snoqualmie District Ranger. He recently presented Don and Joy a certificate of appreciation signed by Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell for their volunteer efforts.
Each year when the snow begins to fall in the Cascade Mountains Don and Joy take a break and talk about retiring, and each spring they return for one last season. This year they are not going to schedule work weeks, but will decide day-to-day if they want to work. It is a semi-retirement plan. But they keep coming back and volunteering and said it is because of their experiences. “We roam the mountains, watch elk and always have a new story to tell,” Joy said.