Sierra volunteers |

Sierra volunteers

Nancy Oliver Hayden
Photos by Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Bob and Charlotte Probst, from Riverside, set fence posts near the arboretum.

Each summer volunteers from all around the United States spend several weeks free of charge at the Tallac Historic Site. These fortunate folks camp under the towering pine trees, swim in Lake Tahoe and hike the many trails. The only catch is — they also work without pay.

The Tallac Historic Site, which is administered by the U.S. Forest Service, consists of three summer retreats built by millionaires in the early part of the 20th century. This year 22 camper-volunteers, which is a record number, are carrying on the work of restoring the 24 buildings on the property to appear as they did in the 1920s – the heyday of the site.

In addition, the volunteers maintain the extensive gardens and lawns of the estates. They also act as interpreters for the thousands of visitors who come to Tallac each year. They do all this because they believe in the vision of the Tallac Historic Site and they love what they do.

The camper-volunteers stay in their own travel trailers or motor homes and have come from not only nearby California and Nevada, but Texas, Alabama, Minnesota and Arizona. They are from diverse backgrounds with past professional experience ranging from electricians to teachers and aerospace engineers. Their backgrounds provide the knowledge, coupled with lots of energy, that allow them to accomplish almost anything and everything that needs to be done on the site.

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One of the favorite programs at the site is Kitchen Kids, where children, 6 to 12 years of age, learn to cook 1920s-style food in the Pope House kitchen. Nancy Buell, a retired nurse from Tempe, Ariz., and her 19-year-old niece, Jessica Edwards of Sanger, Calif., decide what the children will cook. Today it is Mashed Potato Mountains.

“In the past the food was all sweets. Since I’m a nurse, I thought we should try a more healthy approach,” Buell said.

Buell, who has been volunteering at the site for the past three years, read about the opportunity in the Forest Service “Passport in Time,” a book featuring volunteer projects across the country.

Bob and Charlotte Probst, a married couple from Riverside, Calif., have been volunteers for eight years. They have been involved in many projects including cleaning and waxing portions of the Pope House and preparing pickets for a picket fence. Most recently, they have been cutting and drilling posts, digging holes and stringing rope for a fence at the arboretum. They are well prepared for the hard work since they spent six summers building the Tahoe Rim Trail and another five years with the Hardrockers building handicap accessible trails. Both are retired from 35 years as physical education teachers.

“This is a beautiful place to work and the volunteers and bosses are all great,” they both agreed.

A short stroll through the site brings visitors to the Pope Boathouse, where Bill Miller is conducting tours and talking about the Quic-Chakidn, a boat that once plied the waters of Lake Tahoe. Miller, a resident of Pioneer, Calif., is retired from Pacific Bell and has been volunteering at the Tallac Historic Site for 10 years. He learned about the opportunity when his wife answered an advertisement in the Sacramento Bee looking for volunteers at Lake Tahoe.

“In addition to the boathouse tours, I give tours of the site and help with the restoration wherever I’m needed,” Miller said. “My first assignment at the site was painting the breezeway between the main Pope House and the kitchen. I think that is the first job given to all new volunteers to see if they really want to do the work,” Miller said with a laugh.

Another couple, who have volunteered in several areas at the Tallac Historic Site for the past three years, are Charley and Christine Williamson of Minnetonka, Minn. Charley, who is retired from advertising, public relations and sales promotion, designs and distributes brochures and works with the media. He also conducts tours of the Pope House and leads the Lucky Legacy Tour. Christine, who is retired from the Federal Reserve Bank, spends most of her time working in the gardens.

“I also take out the garbage and do windows,” Charley joked.

The Tallac Historic Site is open seven days a week. There is no charge for parking or to stroll the ground of the three estates. There is a $5 per person charge for guided tours of the interior of the Pope House. The tours of this 4,500-square-foot millionaire’s “summer cottage” are daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., except Monday. Tickets for the tours are available at the Baldwin Museum. For more information about the Tallac Historic Site and the various programs offered call the museum at (530) 541-5227.

In addition to the camper-volunteers, numerous local residents of the Tahoe Basin assist as volunteers in the operation of Tallac. More local volunteers are needed during the summer months. Anyone interested in participating should call the museum.

The Tallac Historic Site is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and operates in partnership with the Tahoe Heritage Foundation, which supports the restoration and preservation of the site. The site is located three miles north of the “Y” intersection of Highways 50 and 89, just past Historic Camp Richardson.

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