Life as a campground host! Being a campground host is a rite of passage in the RVer world. Sure there are lots of rites of passages such as driving to Alaska, attending rallies, boondocking, free camping, harvest hosting, work kamping, Habitat for Humanity RV Care-A-Vanners, camping off the grid, etc. We have done many of them so we thought it was time to try out hosting at a campground. And what better campground to start with but our favorite, Farragut State Park, in Athol, Idaho!!
Farragut is an Idaho State Park and sits north of Coeur d’Alene by about 20 miles. We lived near here and have visited here often for over 15 years. It is our favorite park.
The state park used to be a naval training center during World War II, yes, really. At times there were over 40,000 military personnel here being trained. The park sits on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille which is the largest lake in Idaho and the 4th deepest lake in the US. This allowed for submarines (scaled down) to run drills and do some acoustic research which is still going on today by the Navy.
The park has 4 campgrounds, Waldron, Gilmore, Snowberry, and Whitetail all with their own distinct personalities and all lovely! Waldron and Snowberry have water and electric, Whitetail is dry camping, and Gilmore is half water and electric and the other half is full hookups. The park has two dump stations, five 18-hole disc golf courses, lots of hiking/biking trails, an “in the trees” obstacle course called Tree-2-Tree, a swimming beach, a boat launch, boat/water toy rentals, day use picnic areas, rental cabins, plus much more. There are a number of group sites and they even have an equestrian campground with corrals.
During our many travels in our motorhome around North America we have stayed at numerous campgrounds. It is somewhere over 500 campgrounds and RV Parks we have visited in the past 15 years. We have traveled from Key West to Alaska, and to Newfoundland to San Diego. We have gone to or through most states and provinces and territories. In our typical “dilemma state of mind” we started discussing new adventures and what could we do that would be new and different.
In September 2021 we were staying at Farragut State Park in Waldron Campground. As we sat around the campfire on my birthday Norm brought up the possibility of being campground hosts here. We discussed it in depth and what we thought about it. During our stay at Waldron the campground hosts would stop by and chat with us. We started talking to them about their experience as campground hosts at Farragut and we got a positive energy from them about their time there. After this stint they were off to be campground hosts at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada which is one of our favorite state parks too! Obviously, we like similar places. They told us to go talk to the Volunteer Coordinator which we wanted to do but we just never had the opportunity.
After we got home we decided to just go ahead and apply and before we knew it, we had an interview, background checks, and had accepted a position for the following summer. We were set to be campground hosts!!!
We were assigned to Snowberry campground as hosts and we had a lovely site in the middle of the campground with lots of tall trees and lovely views.
Our tasks were to show presence, clean campsites (rake gravel, clean campfire pits, clean picnic tables, sweep tent pad borders, pick up any litter), ensure the campsite post markers reflected their site status (open site or reserved site), and to sell firewood in the evenings. We were also to be a park ambassador with answering questions about the park and the surrounding area. Our job was to inform campers not enforce rules (we let the rangers do that part). We worked 5 days a week and had 2 sequential days off and worked generally around 24 hours a week each (give or take).
We did not have to handle camper reservations and/or check-in as the Visitor Center did that. Nor did we have to clean restrooms. The park has a third party vendor who cleaned the restrooms daily.
We had very little expectations but knew that it didn’t really matter in the long run. What mattered was taking our time to give back to the camping community no matter what the outcome. Plus we got to spend time in one of our favorite places and visit with friends and family.
We loved our experience, met lots of great campers and volunteers, and of course, worked with the wonderful park rangers who helped diligently to keep the park running at the utmost of efficiency and safety. We kept the park clean and the rangers kept the park safe and well run. Thank you park rangers!
The following is a list of pros and cons about the job (in no particular order).
- Meeting lots of great people and having our faith in humanity restored (especially due to all the crazy events over the past couple of years).
- Giving back to fellow campers – we have been camping for many years and have been lucky enough to have been in places with wonderful volunteers. We felt it was time to give back to the RVing community.
- A free campsite in a beautiful location with plenty of free time to visit friends, family, enjoy the great outdoors, etc.
- Staying in the same place – this can be a pro or a con – but with today’s fuel prices maybe it is a good thing?
- Free firewood – well, just the firewood that is left over at sites. If you want any more then you buy it.
- Instant gratification – it doesn’t take long to see the fruits of your labor – within minutes a site is cleaned and looks much better. And you get lots of complements from very happy campers!
- Staying in the same site for a long period of time – we are used to being on the road and are nomads at heart. Now suddenly we are sitting in the same site and not traveling anywhere new.
- Repetitive work – yes, it is repetitive work. If you are not used to doing the same thing day-in and day-out then it may be a bit tough on you. But on the flip side it seemed like every day we encountered different questions or issues with the campers that kept us on our toes.
- Non managerial – if you are used to running your own company or being a manager then this may also be a bit tough on you. You are simply a volunteer and you do what you are told.
- Volunteers with a badge – once in a blue moon – with every group you are involved with there will be one person, that one person, who will take their responsibilities extremely seriously and use it. This is a campground not a D-Day Invasion, put things in life into perspective.
- Difficulty in securing a position – camp hosting is very popular and many of the ideal campgrounds/parks are already booked with volunteers way ahead of time especially “in season”.
- Dealing with unruly campers – no, there are not many of them but every once in a while there might be a few (a very small percentage) who are difficult to handle (or maybe just a bit noisy after quiet hours begin). Luckily the rangers can step in anytime, day or night, to help handle the situation. But, all in all, a good 99.9% of campers are wonderful people.
Yes, we also had just a few surprises.
- We were really surprised by how much interaction there is between the campers and the hosts. In our over 15 years of traveling more than 6 months a year and staying at over 500 campgrounds we have rarely talked or even seen campground hosts. Obviously, we are not the norm. We had lots and lots of campers talking to us on a daily basis. Many just wanted to chat, some wanted to ask questions about the campground, the park, the area, about volunteering, etc. It was great to see so many campers enjoying themselves and engaging with others. We really enjoyed this part and will try and scout out campground hosts on our future travels and have a wee chat with them and thank them for their work. This experience helped us to see the other side.
- The life of a state park ranger. I am sure this differs from park to park and person to person but we had no idea that the rangers can and will DO any and everything. It is amazing to see what they do. Besides patrolling the park, keeping the day-users, boaters, swimmers, campers and volunteers in line, they are known to wear every hat known to man from parking people’s vehicles, fixing electric problems, helping fix slide issues, taking down hornets nests, being a referee, calling the sheriff, dealing with Emergency Vehicles when 911 called, finding lost dogs, finding lost kayaks, cleaning restrooms, dealing with event traffic and crowds, dealing with horses, trying to find lost campers, chasing down vehicles, etc. I am sure I have left out a huge list of other tasks that they take on. It was amazing. Thank you rangers!
Overall, for us hosting at Farragut was a very rewarding experience but it may not be for everyone. It helps if you enjoy meeting and helping others and love spending your days in the outdoors. Farragut State Park is very host friendly but we cannot speak to how other parks interact with their volunteers. One tip if you are interested in hosting – apply early! If you do secure a volunteer host position enjoy the experience and have fun with the campers, fellow hosts, and park staff AND remember to leave the campground a little better than when you arrived!
Note: Quoting Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the world wide Scout movement, in his final letter to the Scouts in 1941 – “Try to leave the world a little better than you found it, and when you turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best”. And how fitting that Farragut State Park would host the 12th World Scout Jamboree in 1967 which attracted over 12,000 scouts from over 100 countries. And in 1969 the park hosted the largest National Boy Scout Jamboree ever held in the US with over 42,000 scouts. The Friendship Poles, below, serve as a reminder of those events and their themes.
More about our park adventures in the next post!