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Local

Newton couple receives volunteer award for work at Lake Red Rock

Phyllis Briggs shakes hands with Greg Miller, Chairperson of the Board of Directors for The Corps 
Foundation as her husband Chester holds the award they received for their 19 years of volunteer service at 
Lake Red Rock in Pella.
Phyllis Briggs shakes hands with Greg Miller, Chairperson of the Board of Directors for The Corps Foundation as her husband Chester holds the award they received for their 19 years of volunteer service at Lake Red Rock in Pella.

ALTOONA — Humble. It’s the best word Beth Brown can find to describe to Chester and Phyllis Briggs, who were honored at a ceremony Thursday morning at Bass Pro Shop in Altoona for their volunteer service. The Newton couple has been volunteering for more than 19 years at Lake Red Rock, building nesting boxes and monitoring the native bird population at the lake.

“It’s the only way that I can explain them, they get embarrassed when they get praised,” Brown said. “They’re just doing what they think they should, beyond what most people would do.”

The Briggs have been regular volunteers at Lake Red Rock, located just south of Pella for nearly two decades. Logging more than 9,300 hours, the seasonal volunteers are the driving force behind a bird habitat restoration program which first began in 1979 to address a significant decline in the local bird population. Under the Briggs’ guidance, the Lake Red Rock nest box program has grown to include a trail of 113 bluebird boxes and four purple martin colonies which contributed to the fledging of 3,412 bluebirds, 2,172 tree swallows, 825 purple martins and 304 chickadees.

The Enduring Service Volunteer Award was established in January 2016 by the Corps Foundation. It honors long term service and outstanding accomplishments by individuals and families of volunteers at Corps lakes and waterways. Perry Thostenson, the assistant operations manager at Lake Red Rock has worked with the Briggs’ for years, and their dedication has always stood out.

“They’re out there every week rain or shine, I don’t know of anyone that gives as much particular care to a program,” Thostenson said. “We couldn’t have paid anyone to do a better job.”

Those who’ve worked with the couple say it’s their dedication that really makes them stand out. While neither of the Briggs’ are avid birders, Phyllis Briggs said they’ve learned a lot about birds over the last 19 summers. Several years ago she started applying an insect repellent on nestlings that were struggling with insect issues. Figuring that they’d lose the birds anyway, she thought it was worth a shot. After carefully applying it on each the baby birds the Briggs’ were amazed on their next visit to see how much the birds had improved.

“We’re still learning things,” Phyllis Briggs said.

Once a week during the summer the Briggs’ make the trip down to Lake Red Rock from their home in Newton, where they’ll check the nesting boxes that line the 10 mile trail. They’ll inspect each of the 113 boxes, with Phyllis meticulously recording their findings. Without the Briggs’ Thostenson said the nesting box program wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is today.

“They’ve really helped our nesting box program take off,” Thostenson said. “To have them put so much heart and soul into this is incredible.”

To check every box along the route the Briggs’ drive more than 50 miles, usually splitting the task into two days, working about four hours each day. After Chester retired from Maytag and Phyllis retired from the Vernon Company they both were looking for something to do, and Phyllis said they have a love for the outdoors, so volunteering at the lake seemed like a natural fit. Phyllis works on keeping their records, and during the winter, which the couple spends in Arizona, Chester works on building new nestings boxes and making repairs to existing boxes.

“It’s something to do, after you retire need something to occupy your time,” Chester Briggs said.

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or ddolmage@newtondailynews.com

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