From as early as I can remember, my summers were spent in campgrounds. I would hike with my parents, swim in the lake with my brothers and ride bikes with kids I hardly knew. My parents gifted me an incredible series of summers but, as I grew older, life stepped in. I took summer jobs, moved to a city, got a full-time job and the lazy days of hanging out by campfires slipped into the past.
A few months ago, I was visiting one of Colorado’s state parks for a work project, and someone mentioned the Camp Hosts. Camp Hosts? This had my attention. Apparently, there are people whose job it is to live at our state park and state wildlife area campgrounds for the summer season, greeting arriving campers, promoting interpretive/educational activities and performing minor maintenance tasks. In return, they get to live there. Amazing. I needed to know more, so I headed down to Cherry Creek State Park to do a ride-along with a few of these lucky folks.
As I pulled my truck into the campground, I spotted hosts Pat and Bernice Greaser coming out of their camper with coffee and breakfast scones. They greeted me warmly, something I’m sure comes naturally to them, being the first faces new campers see when they arrive at Cherry Creek State Park.
Seated in a picnic area they have set up next to their RV, they told me this is how they start their mornings: spotting mule deer, turkey and rabbits. As soon as the first campers are packed up and ready to leave, the Greasers will be ready to rush over and clean up their campsite, getting it ready for the next group to arrive.
Suddenly, Bernice is at attention. “Look, they’re taking their dog out to the bathroom. You can tell they’re about to leave; that’s the last thing everyone with a dog does.” The coffee goes down on the table and Bernice is halfway to her golf cart while I’m still mid-bite on my scone. Her dogs Spritzer and Snuggles leap up on the passenger seat while I climb into a second cart with Bruce. As they start up the motors, the campers close their car doors and start their vehicles. We pass them on their way out, waving as we pull into the site they just left. Time for work to begin.
A Sense of Pride
I spent my morning alternating between working with Pat and Bernice and another set of Camp Hosts, Bruce and Karen “Lu” Bittmann. Assigned to different sections of the campground, they all did the same work. Campers would leave, and we would pull in with our golf carts loaded with outdoor cleaning supplies. The paved section would get swept off, the fire pit cleaned out, and every single bit of trash, no matter how tiny, was picked up.
My job was to scrub off the picnic tables and benches with a brush. It wasn’t difficult work, but at the pace we were going it was definitely light exercise. As Lu bends over to pick up a tiny wrapper I didn’t even see, she tells me, “We feel responsible to ensure our campers have a great experience, which especially includes VERY clean campsites and facilities. Rangers are responsible for enforcing laws and rules, so we can focus on keeping our park beautiful. We are really proud of that.” Bernice echoed this in her actions as well.
Our golf cart trips kept getting interrupted every time she saw a cigarette butt on the ground. “I can see them from a mile away,” she says. “I can’t ever walk or drive past one. This is my home, and the home of our guest campers while they are here. I take pride in keeping it beautiful.” And beautiful it is, after the teams of Camp Hosts have swept through.
Time for some Q&A
It’s 4 hours later and the sun has reached its highest point in the sky. It’s starting to get hot, and we are finished with our work. I sit down with Bruce and Lu, this time over iced-cold drinks to counter the summer heat, and began asking questions.
How did you become Camp Hosts?
(Lu) We’ve been Camp Hosts for nine years. We were staying at Cherry Creek quite regularly, and we would see the hosts do their jobs. When we retired, one of the rangers urged us to apply. We applied online, were called into an interview, and eventually they found a position for us.
What is your favorite part of being Camp Hosts?
(Bruce) My favorite part is interacting with the campers. They all have such great stories to tell us, and we get to know the regular campers. We learn many great hints about where to camp and what to see in the states from which they came. This has helped shape many a trip when we travel for three months after we leave Cherry Creek.
(Lu) It was love at first day. We get to live and work in a place we love. We meet new people and greet campers who we have known for years now, who also come back to Cherry Creek year after year, since it is such a special place. Getting to live here is the best part. We hike the trails, boat and jet ski on the lake. We also live amongst deer and wild turkeys. We see our friends, our kids, and grandkids who like to visit and camp.
So do your kids and grandkids visit a lot?
(Lu) They live nearby and our whole family can get in for free. For them, they’re not coming to a State Park. They are coming to Grandma & Grandpa’s house.
What do you get out of being Camp Hosts?
(Lu) The reward for our 25 hours of work each week is to get to live in Cherry Creek, work with good people like other Camp Hosts, office personnel and the Rangers, as well as obtain free access to other Colorado State Parks.
(Bruce) We wouldn’t change a thing. This is our home away from home, and we are proud to be Hosts here. We are retired professional people, and it has been a pleasure to spend Act 2 of our lives here during three months every summer.
Making Retirement Plans
I spent a long time chatting with both the Greasiers and the Bittmanns about their lives as Camp Hosts. The longer we talked the more certain I became that this is something I want to do when I retire. With Camp Host opportunities available in 30 State Parks, five state wildlife areas, and at four hatcheries, there are so many opportunities to live the Camp Host dream in the mountains, out east, on the west slope and even near the Denver Metro area. I, for one, can’t wait to retire and get back to spending my summer days swimming in the lake and summer nights by a campfire, with the joy of a little hard work in between.
To apply for a camp host position, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
For more information about becoming a Camp Host, please contact the CPW Volunteer Program at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (303) 291-7325.
Story and photos by Crystal Egli. Egli works in CPW’s video production unit and is an avid outdoorswoman.