It takes a huge effort to oversee the Burnsville Lake project, but Resource Manager Richard Pingley wouldn't have it any other way. He takes great pride in this central West Virginia project so highly regarded for its well-maintained camping facilities, abundant water-based recreation, and its Bulltown Historic Area - the site of a famous Civil War battle listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pingley's work has not gone unnoticed, and after 37 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ( USACE, Huntington District, Pingley was named 2015 Chief of Engineers Recreation Employee of the Year for USACE. Modest and straightforward, Pingley said he appreciates that the award recognizes what he deeply values.
"It was quite an honor because I've worked hard to excel in the recreation program and I have a wonderful team," Pingley said.
Among the many exemplary points of Pingley's award-worthy performance has been the elaborate volunteer program he has developed and managed. Through Pingley's leadership, the Burnsville Lake's volunteer staff, which numbered 108 in 2014, provided 13,179 hours of service at the project. This is equivalent to more than six full-time employees, valued at nearly $300,000.
With 48 consecutive recreation seasons working for the Corps of Engineers, Pingley invests significant effort into recruiting and training quality individuals who share his passion for the outdoors and his commitment to providing superlative visitor experiences. Pingley stresses safety and professionalism when training volunteers, but he's also careful to match the right individual to each job.
"We have several different types of volunteers and the ones who will be working as interpreters in the historic area are totally different from the ones who would be performing maintenance: he said. "You try to match the person to the necessary skills."
In some cases, those individuals go on to pursue careers with USACE. For example, one of his former high school volunteers worked her way into a park ranger position and now she runs her own recreational program at another USACE property.
Ever the humble leader, Pingley said his motivation comes from a simple, yet deeply rooted perspective: "I enjoy the recreational aspect of what we do and I like seeing people have fun. We are a flood-control dam and that is a very important aspect, but the recreational aspect of my job is what's interesting to me - it's what makes me tick."
This is a key point, as volunteers in whom Pingley instills this sentiment account for much of the visitor interaction. Best of all, these folks are often the first and last impressions visitors have of USACE recreation.
"Our volunteers are our best ambassadors," said Coulombe, chief of natural resource management. ·we have people who return year after year to participate in [USACE recreation]. I don't know how we could do it all without our volunteers."