Janice (left) and John (right) Clark dressed in red golf shirts and khaki pants sitting at a desk.

The Clarks discuss their time at Volunteer Village.

It didn’t take long for Janice and John Clark to decide to leave their home in East Tennessee after they both retired in 2019.

John, a former land surveyor, and Janice, a retired project manager for an engineering firm, were almost itching to get on the road. They had a large home in a subdivision in Knoxville, and both of their adult daughters had their own lives.

“We sold everything, simplified our lives and hit the road,” said John. “We’d always say that once the girls were educated, this is what we’d do. And we did, less than one year later.”

They now live in their RV and travel around the country. But they’re certainly not lounging around.

“Once we retired, we didn’t want to be those people who just walk around their subdivisions and that’s the highlight of their day,” John said.

While they were still living in Knoxville, they gave their time and skills to Knox Area Rescue Missions which works with men, women and children at risk.

“The RV trips also started and we always had a goal of volunteering for various outdoor and non-profit organizations and destinations,” Janice said. “Our first away-from-home commitment took us to Decatur, Ala., where we camped in our RV for about seven months and volunteered for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.”

Their work included maintaining wildlife habitats, mowing, litter removal and visitor center support.

Three years ago, Janice and John spent eight months at Walter F. George Lake before heading to the Georgia coast and the Savannah Wildlife Refuge for another eight months.

“All along, we’ve been doing all kinds of volunteer work, from staffing entry gates to administrative work in project offices – filing, answering phones, pretty much whatever is needed,” John said. “It’s such a different pace than when we both worked full time and the scenery isn’t bad, either.”

In the summer of 2023 the Midwest beckoned and they headed for Estes Park, Colo.

“It’s the base camp for the Rocky Mountain National Park and the summer is a very busy time there with all levels of hikers and campers,” Janice said. “Being in Colorado was such a different experience than our other projects, plus that area wasn’t affected as much as other parts of the country with the 2023 heat dome.”

While in Estes Park, they again worked with wildlife and environmental projects. “We were very fortunate that Estes Park gave us the opportunity to volunteer there just for the Rocky Mountain experience,” John said.

They stayed two months at Estes before heading back east, taking a break to do some leisure travel along the way.

They have since “landed” at Lake Lanier where they live in Volunteer Village on US Army Corps of Engineers property within walking distance of the lake and the dam.

“Volunteer Village is a brand-new concept to us, and we understand that it was the first such initiative in the US at Corps of Engineers,” John said. “In return for free space and hookups in a campground, we give a certain number of volunteer hours each week. It’s great for us because we’re helping with projects that need to be done and we have the flexibility to do what we want when we’re not volunteering.”

Although it’s the off season, there’s still plenty of work, from organizing and filing paperwork to answering the phones. They report to Chief Park Ranger Ernest Noe, who manages the volunteer programs, such as Friends of Lake Lanier, and special event permits and projects.

Volunteer Village is a short drive from Sugar Hill, where the couple does most of their shopping and dining out and that they consider to be their community.

The couple has two adult daughters.

The couple’s first grandchild Olivia was born in August; her parents live in Chamblee, where Mallory is a deaf education teacher and Genya is a landscape architect.

“It made it such an easy decision to come to Lake Lanier last August,” Janice said. “We are close enough to our first grandchild to see her often, but not so close that we have babysitting duty too much. But as new grandparents is there ever too much babysitting?”

Photo: courtesy COE