I’m at summer camp! Well, I’m camp host at a marvelous Army Corps of Engineers campground for a couple of months. I intentionally wanted to have a camp host experience at a government park – mainly because I prefer those campgrounds. It’s very competitive to get into the National Parks and even many state parks. People go back year after year. But ACE parks are less well-known and a little easier to start the journey of experience. I picked opportunities in states where I knew it would be cool temps (at least cooler than Florida and Texas where I spend winter months) and in states where I had a little familiarity. I ended up in Wisconsin!
Wisconsin is a beautiful state as I discovered last summer while visiting Taliesin and then heading west. I’m farther north this summer and in a forested campground that is beyond beautiful. I got very lucky. It’s cool, quiet, nice people, and close enough to big box retail that I can make a trip once a week. I get decent cell service and a full hook-up with internet. I am loving the fact that I don’t have to be driving every day, seeing sights and acclimating to the new place. Quite a change from a year ago when I first started out on the road!
One of the things I like is meeting new people every day. Meeting as in greeting, helping, sorting out reservations, and getting folks what they need to have an enjoyable stay. This is not a gated park with a guard shack. My site is the first one people see when they get inside the forest. So, many people stop to get themselves situated, or pay for a one-night stay, or ask about a future reservation. The sites are electric only but there is water throughout the park and a dump station. Now this is probably TMI for many readers, but it’s the lay of my land as camp host. In exchange for a free site, I meet, greet, prepare, and expedite the comings and goings along with the paid staff – ACE Rangers who manage all the operations from cutting foliage on trails to settling any disputes. I think I have a great gig.
As camp host, I’m expected to be here most of the time. I can come and go during the day or take a day off – after all I am a volunteer, but given the size of the ACE Recreation Area that the Rangers cover, the campground is not their only place to be. So oftentimes, I need to be available for the folks that come into the campground. Contractors handle the garbage and cleaning. I see that as an enormous bonus for me. I have things to do on my own, like write posts for this blog and other writing projects. I’m happy to hang around the campground. I can walk, bike, or take a golf cart to get around. There even is an equestrian loop, outside of the forest with lots of trails for riding. And then there is the beach… Engineers build dams and often a lake or reservoir is the result. Got both here.
Camp host requires being a people person, but not too intrusive. It requires being friendly, but not too inquisitive. Mostly it requires listening to figure out what people are asking, complaining about, or inquiring about. It’s a kid friendly park too, so being ok with kiddos around is a must. The park is popular with regional residents, many of whom are frequent campers here. They know more than I do most of the time about the park and the area and freely share their experiences of why they keep coming back. There is not a lot of visible wildlife. I haven’t seen deer yet, though I’m told they are around. I get hummingbirds every day and that is a wild bonus. There are butterflies too along with wicked flys, gnats, skeeters and daddy longlegs. Comes with the territory.
You can peruse camp host jobs all around the country at volunteer.gov . Apply early as this is a great volunteer position and the most well known parks fill their slots quickly.
I’ll try to do some posts about the area – basically rural Wisconsin. But the region is charming – red barns everywhere, historical – Native American tribes, and diverse – Mennonites with horse buggies and horse plows.
One of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets. Enjoy.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY ROBERT FROSTWhose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.Source: Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays (Library of America, 1995)