If you like to spend time in the great outdoors and you care about our environment and protecting our natural resources — then the Wisconsin State Park System needs you! Pictured here are Howie Justman (host) and Kirsten Rice (camper).
Concierges of the campground
Camp hosts make visitors feel right at home.
Frankie Fuller and her husband, Kent Wahlberg, found many reasons why they enjoyed campground hosting, and the Fort Atkinson couple hopes they will be able to do it again.
As campground hosts, they helped staff with park tasks and were able to take pleasure in experiencing the wonders of the park. They camped for free. They met new people. They made memories. And they truly felt that they were enhancing the camping experience for others.
Campground hosting is for those who, like Fuller and Wahlberg, love and want to protect and enjoy Wisconsin's natural resources.
"It would be extremely difficult to operate our state park campgrounds without the campground hosts. We count on the hosts to do any number of tasks from greeting campers and leading hikes, to selling firewood and reporting safety concerns. They graciously give their time and talents to the state park system and to our visitors to ensure a positive and memorable camping experience," explains Dan Schuller, director of the Wisconsin State Park System.
Fuller and Wahlberg say they "stumbled" into campground hosting during a canoe trip on the Kickapoo River at Wildcat Mountain State Park. Fuller says campground hosting was already on her bucket list when she overheard a conversation between the park manager and another camper about the park losing their regular campground host. Together they volunteered as hosts for two summers. Fuller says she was so excited to be officially volunteering that she was willing to do almost anything.
What do campground hosts do?
Hosts volunteer a few hours a day around the park. Each park is different and each campground host brings their own talents to the park. Generally, hosts greet and assist campers with information about the park, its facilities and the surrounding area. Hosts may also assist with nature programs and events.
Fuller and Wahlberg put together a program and hike for National Trails Day. Other hosts have worked with park staff to present programs on astrology, plant and tree identification, bird watching and other environmental topics.
Hosts may also help with the daily campground operations such as cleaning campsites, bathrooms and facilities, and assisting with light maintenance such as painting picnic tables, doing invasive species removal or working on the grounds.
"Each place is different, and each park lists their responsibilities," says Wahlberg. In many cases, the campground host acts much like a hotel concierge helping answer camper questions and making recommendations.
"I redesigned and updated the main kiosk," says Fuller. Adds Wahlberg, "We put up new trail signs along one of the hiking trails, but the most important thing we did was help the staff make sure everyone was safely on their way out of the campground when the rains came in 2008, before the floods arrived and the roads became impassable."
The park manager tries to match the hosts' skills with the park needs. Sometimes hosts have limited technical skills, but that doesn't mean the park can't find a job for them to do.
Park managers try to be flexible with the hosts' schedules. "We took our turn cleaning the restrooms," Fuller says, rather upbeat. "But if you object to an assigned project, you can tell the park manager and they will probably understand and find something else for you to do."
Hosts should be willing to volunteer at least four to five days each week, including weekends and holidays. An average shift is five to six hours per day, but may be longer or shorter depending on how busy the park is. The time period for volunteering as a host varies by park but is typically at least two weeks.
"Best of all, the people we met were kind and were there to enjoy themselves, relax and not cause trouble," says Fuller.
If there is a problem, the park rangers and staff handle all law enforcement issues. Campground hosts are not expected to deal with unruly park patrons.
Who can be a campground host?
Potential hosts must be at least 18 years old and pass the required background check to qualify to become a host. DNR employees are not eligible to be campground hosts.
A campground host could be an individual person or a team, but they must own their own camping gear. Hosts must also provide their own food and any other personal items needed during their stay.
"Most importantly," Wahlberg says, "a campground host must have the time and willingness to do it."
Fuller adds, "You must also be flexible and enjoy working with a lot of different people."
Many hosts are retirees, but there is no defined age group and anyone can do it. "They just need to bring a sense of adventure with them," says Fuller.
Wahlberg recommends that campground hosts be campers themselves. "They need to have experience," he says. "But the bottom line is that a lot of the state parks are in need of campground hosts. Whatever gift you bring to that park is welcomed because they don't have enough money to always staff every area where staff is needed."
"The park staff welcomes you with open arms and your volunteering can help facilitate activities for the park," says Fuller.
Being a campground host comes with many perks. Hosts get to enjoy the beautiful scenery at the park and they also get to camp for free. Host campsites usually include a campsite which may have hookups for electricity and water. The host site is usually located close to restrooms, offices or entrances where campers can see them easily.
Campground hosts do not have to limit their stay to one park. Some parks have schedules that allow hosts to rotate, giving them a more statewide experience.
But best of all, Fuller asserts, is that hosts have ample free time to enjoy the activities in the park and in the surrounding community.
"I had enough time to do what I wanted to do, like go hiking," says Fuller.
Campground hosts also have the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world and of all backgrounds.
"You also get to know the park staff and get an understanding of the park and an inside view that you would never get in any other place," says Wahlberg.
Being a campground host at a state park also provides an excellent experience for those who would like to be a host at a national park.
How to volunteer
If you are interested in becoming a campground host at one of Wisconsin's state parks or forests, the property supervisor can inform you of the available opportunities at the property. Potential hosts should first contact the property where they are interested in volunteering.
Keep in mind that you must complete a volunteer agreement form which park managers will review. After completing the form, you may be called for an interview, and will then be informed if you were selected to be a host.
Wahlberg recommends researching the park at which you would like to volunteer. It may be helpful to visit the park and talk with the people at the park with whom you might be working.
"If you are selected to be a campground host, my advice is to have fun!" says Fuller.
Karely Mendez is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and interned with Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.