Most of the time people create their own "luck" or "good
fortune." It doesn't just fall into their laps by happenstance, as some
who call themselves "less fortunate" want to believe.
You have to work for what you want out of life. That's the work ethic
Jim and I grew up with and we still believe it.
The only reason we are able to stay at
Brazos Bend -- a veritable paradise in the winter -- for two or three months is our position as campground hosts.
Even if we wanted to pay $20 a night for one of the RV sites there is a
two-week limit, and all the sites are reserved on weekends for the rest
of the year. (Host sites with sewers rent for $25/night if they are
We were invited back as campground hosts this year because we did a good job last
year. We'll do a good job this year so we can return again in the future
(but probably not every year).
We volunteer a minimum of 25 hours per week (per couple) to assist park
staff with various jobs . . . and in return we get a "free" RV
campsite with full hook-ups:
That's a great deal for the park and us.
The hourly "wage" we "earn" isn't all that great if you look at it
solely from a financial sense ($175 worth of camping fees per week divided
by 25 hours of work = not much above minimum wage), but most of the work is easy and we try to have as
much fun with it as we can. We are able to camp in a terrific location
while most of the rest of the country is still in the grips of winter
and we don't have to pay for it out of our bank account.
big on volunteerism; in our opinion, state (and other) parks are worthy
recipients of our volunteer time and energy.
Meanwhile, Brazos Bend gets an appreciable amount of labor from two
responsible retirees and doesn't have to put us on the payroll. The
money they'd earn by renting out our campsite to someone else is peanuts
A cute little baby 'gator (about
18" long) is well camouflaged on the lake shore. (2-20-11)
Note: Since I don't have photos to illustrate everything I'm
discussing in this entry, I'll also include some more alligator pics I
took this week. Enjoy!
WHAT ARE TYPICAL CAMPGROUND HOST JOBS?
Each local, state, and national park handles campground host duties a
little bit differently. Sometimes the jobs are clearly stated at the
outset, and volunteers are recruited to perform those specific
At Brazos Bend, we've found more flexibility than that. The jobs seem
to be tailored to the individual more than vice versa.
Tina, the office staff person at Brazos Bend who has been in charge
of the campground hosts since we first became involved last spring,
considers each person's strengths, weaknesses, and desires when
assigning jobs. Retirees who are unable to perform some of the more
physical jobs like litter control or cleaning the ashes out of fire
pits, for example, are assigned more sedentary tasks like office
inventory or weekday campground patrol.
Some of the hosts help with inventory of
merchandise at the headquarters once a month.
There are hundreds of different items for sale to
help the park sustain itself financially.
Tina noted last year that Jim was skilled in some construction tasks.
When we called her during the winter to confirm our date of arrival she
asked Jim if he was still interested in helping build an addition to the
park headquarters. He said yes.
He thought he'd be doing this job last year but the materials weren't
purchased until after we left. When Bob, one of the campground hosts,
returned earlier this winter he was put in charge of the project. Two additions
for a staff break area and three offices total about 600 square feet of
additional space, I'd guess.
Here's what the addition looks like on the exterior before
The cone is placed at the sliding glass door where park visitors
drive up to check in.
By the time we arrived two weeks ago the framing on the addition was done and it was
all dried in, as above. The smaller of two spaces was already insulated
and the electrical work was done. It was time to put in the drywall.
Bob, Jim, and Leo, another host, have been working on that space:
The smaller of the two additions
is about 5 x 12 feet. (2-7-11)
This carpentry job will be Jim's main assignment while we're here.
After finishing the drywall the guys will work on the ceiling, floor,
molding, and painting. Two of the park staff will have temporary offices
in this room while the men work on the second addition.
Jim works on the drywall. (2-9-11)
The second addition is larger and will take longer to complete. When
it's done, three staff members can move into their new permanent
offices. They've been looking forward to that for a long time.
Before our arrival Tina asked me if I'd be interested in training on the park's computer
system to handle incoming visitors. She pretty much begged me, actually.
After she described what I'd be doing, I tentatively said yes because it
was obvious that most of the other female hosts weren't interested in
the job -- or able to do it -- and the staff was
overwhelmed on busy weekends.
Tina thanked me profusely for even
considering to learn the job. What she failed to tell me was how
stressful it can be!
I've spent quite a few hours the last two weeks reading manuals about
TPWD (Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept.) and Brazos Bend-specific procedures
re: the computer system, handling payments, etc., being tested
regarding the same, and training with Rilla, the only other host willing to
tackle this job right now, as she greets visitors and determines how
much they must pay to enter the park.
OTJ training with Rilla at
The busiest time at the entrance station (headquarters) for incoming
campers is Friday from 4 to 8 PM. There are also an amazing number of
people just coming in for a few hours at that time, since it's staying
light longer in the evening. This is the time period when Rilla and I
are needed most to assist the staff.
Our work station is at a computer next to sliding doors where
vehicles pull up at the gate to enter the park. There is a steady stream
of incoming visitors, with rarely a chance to sit down (or eat supper!).
Beginning next Friday, I'll be on my own during this time period,
with the assistance of (the very busy) staff, if needed. I'm a little
nervous about that because there is so much to learn about who pays what
and how to handle the cash and credit payments.
The park office on a quiet
weekday; it's a "beehive" of activity on Friday evenings.
(Several jars of locally-made
honey are on the counter in the foreground.)
This is not the first time I've handled cash but it's the first time
I've ever used a cash register or swiped credit cards. I've often taken in
large sums of cash at race check-ins where there was no real oversight
or accountability; I can be trusted like that. TWPD doesn't take any
chances with anyone, however. The procedures for handling cash, especially, are very tight
to prevent staff or volunteers from filching any of the dough. I'm glad
for the oversight, since I'd hate to be accused of theft.
My favorite part of the HQ job is greeting all the visitors. That's
fun because they're invariably in a good mood and looking forward to the
The easiest part of this job is telling people where to go and what
Ha! I tell overnight guests where to park temporarily and
come inside to complete their registration. I remind them to bring in
their park pass, if they have one, and know their vehicle tag number.
Fortunately, park staff handles the campground check-in process. It's
more complicated than what I do at the door.
Visitors enter the park ahead of us. (2-6-11)
The entrance job is more time consuming when visitors are coming in
just for day
If they have a current campground pass (receipt) taped to their windshield,
wave them through the gate. If they haven't already been registered, I have to enter a bunch of information into the computer,
including how many adults and children are in the vehicle, whether they
have a valid park pass (in which case everyone in the car gets in at no additional
cost), type of payment (cash or credit card), change they receive, etc.
At the end of all the computing, a receipt is spit out for the driver to
adhere to the windshield.
This process isn't as simple or intuitive as Tina made it out to be
but I should get faster as I process more and more of the different
types of information required. The system has been in place at all the
Texas state parks since last May so most of the bugs have been worked
out by now. It seems to be a good system; I just have to get more
proficient at it. Having all this information in the computer
really helps the individual parks and the state office to keep track of
details and crank out statistics.
I hope I won't have to do this job on Saturday or Sunday, when hundreds to
thousands of visitors come in for the day and may be lined up for a
quarter of a mile at the entrance. Paid park staff currently handle the door and a
second check-in station on those days and most of the time during the
busy Spring Break week.
Otherwise, they may scare off volunteers like me!
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
The headquarters job is new to me this year but once I'm trained on
all of its nuances, it's not the job I'll spend most of my time doing
Since I have been retired for almost twelve years now, I actually
prefer some of the more mindless host jobs like litter control. I'm
are much less stressful and usually get me outdoors.
I also like having
a variety of things to do.
It makes life more interesting. The more jobs a host is trained to do, the more flexibility Tina has
in assigning tasks -- and the more invaluable the host becomes to
the park. That helps when being considered for the next year.
'Gator in the grass
Hosts are continually coming and going. Parks love it when
responsible hosts stay for four to six months at a time but that doesn't
happen very often. A volunteer
who's great at one job may not be there to do it for more than a couple
of months. If Tina doesn't have a willing-and-able volunteer replacement
for that task, either the park staff has to do it, the park has to pay
someone else to do it, it doesn't get done until that volunteer
comes back the next year -- or it doesn't get done at all.
That's kind of what happened regarding the addition at HQ. Park staff
counted on Bob coming back in November or December so they put off the
project until he returned.
Tina told us prior to our arrival that we could do a
variety of other jobs like we did last year -- litter control in
the campgrounds, picnic areas, and trails; mingling with campers
and answering their questions; painting and erecting signs;
map folding; and at least one new task, weekend patrol duty
once a month.
LITTER & LIMBS
Litter control is one of the most common tasks campground hosts are
assigned. Although it's an ongoing job -- because some people are
inconsiderate all of the time -- Monday mornings are always prime time to
pick up trash around the campgrounds and picnic areas. That's because of
the big influx of visitors over the weekend.
More people = more litter.
The Hale Lake picnic area is
much larger than this one section.
Rilla and I are primarily responsible for keeping the campsites
cleaned up in our loop and for picking up trash at and near the Hale Lake picnic
area. We also check the nearby youth group camping areas that are
nestled back in the
woods, a couple miles of trails around Hale Lake, and two short, steep
paths that folks use to get down to the lake to fish.
Rilla and I work together for two or three hours on Monday mornings,
driving one of the 4 WD Gators (ATVs).
We park the ATV and walk around with one or two plastic buckets to pick up the
trash and clean out ashes from several campsites. Then we dump our
buckets into other buckets in the back of the ATV and move it to the
There's a lot of bending, carrying, and walking involved! However,
we both prefer to walk and clean up several campsites at once rather
than move the Gator to each site. Our MO is the same in the large
Part of the trail around Hale Lake
When we're done, we dump the ashes and trash where designated, clean
up the Gator, go back home, and take a shower!
Those ashes are filthy
and we get them all over us even if there isn't a breeze.
Rilla and I don't mind the work because we get to be outside and moving around.
And Rilla's fun to work with; our personalities and interests
are enough alike that we have lots of things to talk about.
Last year Jim helped more with this job but this time he's more
occupied with his carpentry duties. When it's time to shovel ashes out
of fire pits I'll need his help; that's much harder for an
arthritic woman with prior rotator cuff problems! Not going there again
. . .
Each campsite has a picnic
table, grill, and fire pit. (2-7-11)
Other campground hosts keep the 200-loop, overflow camping area,
primitive camping area, shelter loop, and Elm and 40-Acre picnic
areas clean. Hosts cover for each other when someone's gone or
assigned to another job, so sometimes Rilla and I will clean up other
areas of the park.
I'm real happy that "The Sisters" are willing to check on the
bathrooms when the ranger who usually does that job is off duty! Jim and I
avoided all bathroom cleaning last year and hope to avoid it this year, too.
I also walk and/or ride my bike around our campground loop on a daily
basis, checking campsites that have been vacated so they are clean
before the next guest arrives. That's also a good time to chat with
visitors who are outside their rigs. I've already met some interesting
folks this way and learned as much from them as they have from me.
This part of the 200-loop is empty on a weekday but
other folks are camped around the corner.
Volunteers at Brazos Bend are encouraged to come up with their own
ideas of how they can help. I really appreciate that attitude. Both Jim and I are pretty good about seeing
what needs to be done and doing it (with or without permission!).
When I saw the need to clear limbs and branches from some of the more
remote trails in early February, e.g., I mentioned to Tina that I was
doing this routinely on my daily hikes and rides. She allows me to count
some time for that in
our 25 hours. The work clearly needs
to be done and the rangers don't have time to do it.
I'd do it even if
I couldn't count the time, just because I feel some "ownership"
of this place and want to keep it looking great.
Of course, a clear path also makes it easier for me to walk and ride there, too!
Before and after: a few of the limbs I
cleared on the Sawmill Road Trail. (2-13-11)
Meanwhile, I'm getting in some volunteer time during a good workout.
Or vice versa.
Other more sedentary hosts sometimes pick up limbs when riding around
on an ATV. It's more fun and easier for me to pick up trash while I'm
walking or cycling. Park
staff don't care how we keep the place clean, as long as we do
More photos and stories about our jobs on the
next page . . .
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil