COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Socially distant parades have become the new normal for celebrations during the coronavirus pandemic, but a surprise retirement parade Thursday for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Southeast Region Volunteer Coordinator may just set a new record.

Thursday afternoon, more than 100 cars lined up to wish “happy trails” to Jena Sanchez, who is retiring after 23 years of dedicated service.

“Working with volunteers and Park Rangers and District Wildlife Managers and biologists, it’s been pure joy,” she said.

Sanchez’s tireless efforts cultivated a tenacious group of people who enjoy giving back.

“I claim that I’ve built the program on hot dogs and doughnuts,” said Sanchez.

Longtime Colorado Parks and Wildlife volunteer Jim Thomas said it’s a lot more than just that, and over the years they’ve done way more than pick up trash.

“We get to do so many things and she’s so creative,” said Thomas. “I’ve been involved in a sheep counts and traps of bighorn sheep and traps of antelope. You just never know what’s going to be next.”

Under Sanchez’s guidance, volunteers have helped spawn hundreds of walleye, educated communities about living with black bears, and saved the state a whole lot of money.

“It is my job as Volunteer Coordinator to track contributions, and it blows me away. It’s a lot more zeroes than I can even wrap my head around,” said Sanchez. “I was thinking about the 23 years and about 50,000 to 55,000 volunteers a year, and it’s about 1.15 million hours, and that equates out to almost $28 or $29 million contributed to Colorado Parks and Wildlife through volunteers. It’s phenomenal, it’s mind-blowing and it’s inspirational.”

But Jena’s biggest contributions are priceless: inspiring others to work in natural resources.

“I give full credit to being a volunteer to my career and to where I am with Colorado Parks and Wildlife now and directly to Jena. Just a great representation to the agency, just awesome,” said Cody Wigner, Assistant Area Wildlife Manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Sanchez said after a fulfilling career, she is looking forward to a slower pace of life.

“It does make me feel a little tired sometimes, and a day off will be good,” she said.

But her coworkers and volunteers weren’t willing to let her go without giving her the sendoff she deserves.

“I wanted to make sure I got to see her and say congrats and at least wave at her,” said Thompson.

>> Tap here to learn how to volunteer with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.