Stay in Your Fav State Park for Free

By Annie Rosemurgy | Photo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Who wouldn’t want to work where the great outdoors is your office and the daily commute is a hike? Believe it or not this opportunity is real, and it’s available here in Wisconsin and nationwide.

In a nutshell, campground hosting is basic bartering. Volunteer hosts trade some of their time and energy to live at, and enjoy, a campground cost-free. At some of the busier national parks hosts also receive a small stipend. Hosts in Wisconsin parks, who typically have an RV, can expect to work 15-20 hours weekly for a month or two, says Janet Hutchens, volunteer coordinator for the Wisconsin Bureau of Parks and Recreation Management.

Veteran host Anita Johnson says the extended park time is the biggest perk of the hosting life. She and her husband plan their annual hosting adventure at Mirror Lake State Park to scale with autumn’s arrival. “We love to watch how the landscape changes as the season develops. Hosting has allowed us to experience parks so much more intimately and richly than we could possibly during a standard visit,” she says.

Hosts become part of the dynamic life of the park. They know when a moose has been coming to the river in the afternoon at Copper Falls State Park near Mellen, or when the morel mushrooms are ripe for the harvest in the valleys of Wyalusing State Park in Bagley.

Campground hosting is an affordable way to experience an extended stay in an otherwise cost-prohibitive area such as Peninsula State Park in Door County or to escape the summer heat at lakeside, breezy Kohler-Andrae near Sheboygan and Big Bay State Parks in La Pointe.

The first, and most important job of campground hosts, according to David Borsecnik of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, is to serve as “volunteer ambassadors of the park campground.” Hosts greet visitors and help them get settled, answer any questions and provide details on where to get firewood and s’mores supplies.

Good hosts also help visitors optimize their park time, says Hutchins, steering them toward those singular experiences that make each park a treasure. Campground hosts are, as Borsecnik puts it, “the eyes and ears of the campground,” making sure everything runs smoothly. Borsecnik says hosts “ensure the campsites are in good condition, assist in daily campground operations and light maintenance and use outdoor skills to address any minor problems that occur.”

Interested potential volunteers should be “experienced campers with proficiency in the basics—how to put up a tent, how to build a fire, simple first aid training,” says Borsecnik. Most significantly, though, hosts should be “people persons” with excellent interpersonal skills. “The desire to be resourceful and provide excellent customer service is the key to the success of this volunteer position,” Hutchens says.

 

For more information about campground hosting opportunities in the Wisconsin State Parks System visit wiparks.net. Information about host openings in the national parks is available on specific park websites.

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