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  • Sue Leamy Kies

On the Trail with a Super-Volunteer

Bob Gates began working on the Wednesday morning crew last year and soon signed up for the Monday morning crew as well. What a score!

Last year the PCA work crews scored big when they acquired a new volunteer. His name is Bob Gates. He began working on the Wednesday morning crew and soon signed up for the Monday morning crew as well. “I retired in the spring of 2020 and was looking for ways to get involved in the community,” he says. “The fact that this social activity came during the pandemic was an added bonus.”

Bob was already using the trail, so when Gene Weber asked him to volunteer he thought it good to support a community asset he believed in. On Wednesday mornings Bob and the rest of the crew spend about two hours weeding, mulching and trimming along the trail between the bridge by Novus and the railroad bridge on the way to Walmart. Bob says other tasks include cutting out the invasive honeysuckle and pulling garlic mustard and other invasives, depending on the season and what needs to be done.

The Monday crew’s jobs are more labor intensive. They often use chainsaws to remove dead or fallen trees that obstruct the path or stream. One of Bob’s favorite tasks on the trail is operating the chainsaw because of the physicality. “One can actually see what has been accomplished,” he says. On the other hand, pulling garlic mustard and other invasive species ranked low on his list of job preferences. He says that at first glance “many of these weeds just looked like flowers of the rest of the plants we were trying to protect.” He is optimistic, however, that this year he will improve at distinguishing invasive plants from native plants.

For nineteen years Bob was the school counselor at Cuba City High School, and before that he worked in Madison for 11 years. When his wife Lizzy got a job in the Psychology Department at UW-Platteville in 2001, the family moved to Platteville. “Platteville is a fantastic community,” he says, “and I can’t imagine a better place to raise children.” Initially hesitant to leave Madison, Bob reflects: “It turned out to be the best decision we ever made.”

Daughter Anna is majoring in Special Education and Elementary Education at UW-Eau Claire, and her sister Caroline, who graduated from Platteville High School this year, will follow. She plans to study Music Education. Both will be in the university marching band, so Bob and Lizzy look forward to traveling to some of the Blugold football games this fall.

Besides working on the trail, Bob is an avid bicyclist who enjoys traversing the backroads and trails of Southwest Wisconsin. He also takes time to read mysteries and research audio equipment online. Volunteering on the trail allows him to give back to the community and socialize with established friends and meet new ones. “There are so many different types of tasks that there is a need for everyone,” he says, “regardless of one’s knowledge, skills, or physical ability.”

Bob jokes that it is rumored that meals are catered during the breaks of the Tuesday group, “but I wasn’t able to pass the vetting process.” As ambitious as he is, Bob will probably end up joining that group, too. We’ll see.

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