One of the things Lee and I were the most curious about when we started full-timing was the concept of work kamping. Essentially, work kamping is when you trade your time and labor for a free campsite. There are many different variations of work kamping, but a common theme is it is a way for many full timers to reduce their campground costs. Since most full timers in years past were retired people, many work kamper jobs are geared towards folks who are retired and want to stretch their retirement dollars a little farther. But with the influx of younger full timers, there has been some change in work kamping and many positions now require more strenuous physical labor and/or more money per hour for work performed. However, with so much variation and so many employers it was tough to really get a handle on what work kamping would look like for us. This coupled with the fact that many of the assignments are long-term (4-6 months is common), although Lee and I were anxious to try a work kamping assignment we were cautious about what we applied for. There are many websites that have work kamping opportunities and the most popular is Work Kamper News, which not only has job opportunities listed but also helps you build an online resume and allows work kampers to review the employers in a confidential environment. Since we wanted to research what jobs were available, we purchased an annual membership. I highly recommend this if you are researching the full-time lifestyle because for a minimal cost of $27 a year you can see all of their job listings. We now have the $47 Silver membership which includes the full listings, daily hotline emails for immediate opportunities, and the online resume builder which makes your resume available to employers on the website.
We have been watching the hot line emails for several months now and have even been contacted by a couple of employers. Unfortunately none of the opportunities fit our existing itinerary. Many people who have been doing this a while follow a route and know what areas of the country they will be in during certain time frames. For those of us who are newer, there are so many things to see we tend to cover more territory and move faster. Although I think we have done a nice job of not rushing all over the country and burning ourselves out (a common newbie problem), we also haven’t been really interested in staying in any one place more than a couple of months at a time. Since most positions are longer than that, for us, work kamping hasn’t really been a good option. I say that knowing full well that we have this luxury since we have income coming in and others may need to commit to a work kamping job right away. If possible though I wouldn’t recommend it right out of the gate, since it is stressful enough settling into the lifestyle and I am not sure I would want to commit to a work situation immediately. There always are exceptions of course. Our fellow Class of 2014 graduates Linda and Scott Malchak found a work kamping job in Texas helping create a new campground and they have been there over a year and absolutely love it. She has some great info about the experience on her blog Conservative RV and I really recommend you check it out to get their perspective.
There really is no one true way when it comes to the when, where, and how of work kamping, but I do intend to share my experiences in this area because I do believe they will be a big part of our lives going forward. Please keep a couple of things in mind. This is our experience and depending on your personality and the employer they absolutely will vary. Also, I do not intend to bad mouth any employer in this forum. If something particularly egregious happened I would probably share that, but in general I am a professional person, these are jobs, and I don’t believe any kind of social media is the place for that. Within that context though I will tell my experience as accurately as possible. It will be a balancing act, but I believe I can honestly relay our experience and still remain professional. Also, it’s worth noting that I only say this now because it’s our first job. Our experience so far here in Susanville has been great, just trying to set the stage for future experiences that may not be as good. Anyway, on with the story.
A couple of months ago we had seen a position on the hotline to volunteer as camp hosts on BLM land and not only was the timing right but the location in northern California was perfect. The commitment was only 2 months and after Lee spoke to Stan about the position we thought it would be perfect. It is a volunteer position, which means there is no hourly pay for work performed, but we would get a free full hookup site. Lee really liked the fact that it’s not actually a campground, but a day use location, that opens in the morning and closes in the evening, and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management or BLM. Stan has worked for BLM for over 24 years and is very enthusiastic about what he does. He seemed like a great guy and the work for site tradeoff seemed very fair. Essentially Lee would open the gate at 8am every day, check/clean the restrooms once a day, and walk one mile of the bike trail picking up litter, then shut the gate at sunset. A couple of hours worth of work 5 days a week and we get to stay in a beautiful setting without other campers, for free. One of the good things about waiting until the last-minute to pick up a job is many of the shorter term positions become available. People leave a position or have an emergency and need to be replaced. The negative of course is the additional stress waiting until the last-minute may bring. We decided to wait until the last-minute, although this really isn’t my normal preference, because we were adamant that we did not want to sign up for a 4+ month job right out of the gate as our first experience. Baby steps. Turns out we found something within a couple of weeks on Work Kamper and then found a second volunteer position in the California Redwoods for December by looking at the State of California website. Another good resource for volunteer positions in particular are the Department of Natural Resource websites for each state you are interested in. Although many of their positions may already be filled, and it requires many more emails and phone calls to nail something down, if you are looking for something in a particular area and love state/federal parks this may be something you want to try out. Lee invested several hours with email/phone correspondence before finding and locking down the Redwood job, but hey, it’s the giant ancient redwoods and how cool is that? One more thing I should mention: season really comes into play with these positions. If you are willing to be in an area slightly out of season there is more opportunity. Since we spent 15 years in New Hampshire a little bit of cold weather doesn’t bother us at all, we actually prefer it, and this allows us to be in areas where there are fewer people, hence more positions are available.
But, back to this experience. We arrived in Susanville on Thursday in the late afternoon after a tiring day of driving. The last five miles into town were an 8% down grade. We were looking forward to getting set up in our new site. What we weren’t counting on was the immediate need for orientation and paperwork. Stan had asked us to contact him when we were close and we drove over to the BLM office. Susanville is a very small town (pop 7000) and the BLM office is on the small side. We didn’t think we could fit the rig in the parking lot so drove around to a parking lot nearby and then gave Stan a call. He had us come into the office and gave us an orientation. It was a really good one. Stan introduced us to people, gave detailed explanations on how things would work, where to get our mail, etc, and introduced us to a ton of people. He also told us all about what the Bureau of Land Management does, showed us maps of the area, and gave us some of the history. He’s a very nice guy who is very passionate about the area, we just weren’t expecting all that information coming off several days on the road so we felt a bit overwhelmed by it all. After filling out the paperwork, he led us to our site and as soon as we pulled the truck in proceeded to give us another two-hour orientation on the site itself. He explained the job duties and told us where all the supplies were plus we walked some of the trail so he could show us the other set of restrooms, trash cans, etc. We asked a lot of questions and he assured us that he was available either by phone or in person for any follow-up issues we had and then he left so we could finish setting up. By this time it was getting kind of late and we were bushed, but thankfully we have our basic setup down to a science at this point and I had some easy travel day food that was ready to prepare. It was all worth it though when we had a moment to look at our new home.
The site is very nice. It sits at the top of a canyon, and is well removed from the upper parking area, and several hundred yards from the main day use area, although we can look down on the picnic area, restrooms and parking lot. We have a nice new power pedestal, which includes two 50amp, a 30 amp and a 20 amp hookup. There’s a sewer hookup, and city water. Plenty of space for our car, a nice heavy picnic table, and a fire ring. Plus, there’s quite a bit of seasoned firewood cut and split and stacked, for our use. In the day use area there are several picnic tables and outdoor grills down the hill along with two pit toilets. The main bathrooms and area was very clean when we arrived although the trail itself and second set of bathrooms needed a bit more work. Overall, it just took Lee a few days to get everything ship-shape and organized and so far maintenance from that point on has been pretty easy. We’ve also been visited by several BLM employees who are just checking in to make sure we are doing fine. They had a bit of a problem with the last working couple and want to make sure everything is going well with us. The last folks were a little overzealous with holding people to the rules, including locking someone in the park and refusing to open the gate to let them out, which is one of the reasons why they are no longer here. We just keep reassuring the BLM employees that we can keep an eye on things without going overboard. Once the initial flurry of visits was done, things have been blissfully quiet. The folks who use the park are very nice and have caused no issues at all so far. Having the place all to ourselves every evening is absolutely wonderful. There are a group of college kids who are volunteering as part of a college program starting next week and will be living on site in tents, but for right now it is just us and we are really enjoying the solitude.
In addition to the picnic area, the park has the Susan river running through it that some kids swim in, and part of a very nice rails-to-trails bike trail called The Bizz Johnson Trail that goes for over 20 miles. We are only responsible for the trail a quarter-mile in one direction and a half mile in the other, and the walk to look for litter is good exercise. In October there will be some excitement on the trail as it is used as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. Generally though, aside from the occasional visit by local cross-country teams, the trail is used by people walking their dogs. Out here in the west, dog walking and dog poop is handled differently than back east. The local ordinance says dogs need to “be under control” and voice control counts. Also, people don’t really pick up their dog poop. The first time we walked the trail I was a bit horrified by all the poop on the sides of the trail, but after talking to the BLM maintenance guy about it realized that’s just the local culture. At this point I just shrugged and let it go and I think that is a VERY important point to Work Kamping success. I don’t live here, I am visiting and there is no point in trying to impose my cultural values on other people. It just annoys folks and frankly what right do I have? As long as I am not responsible for cleaning up the mess (which we are not) then let the dog’s poop wherever they want. My job is to maintain the rules and regulations as they exist and in a reasonable way. Period. For example, medical marijuana is legal in California and occasionally people smoke pot in the day area. We talked to the BLM employees about it and they simply ask folks to move farther along the trail and keep it out of the family picnic area. I can see how someone could get a little crazy on this issue, checking cards etc, but really life is too short. If someone complained or I saw an issue I might politely ask them to move down the road, then again I might not. We have the number of Darren the local BLM law enforcement officer and would be more likely to call him or the police if we saw something suspicious.
But that’s all speculative as nothing weird has happened at all. Just people coming in, walking their dogs, and leaving. The most excitement we have had is several new bird sightings, including a covey of California quail (say that three times fast) and watching a family of deer that likes to hang out near our site. We did ask about local wildlife and were told mountain lions are at the top of the food chain here, but there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting in 12 years. When I asked Stan what to do just in case, he said make yourself as large as possible and then said some people take their shirts off and wave them to make themselves even bigger. He said this with all seriousness and I had to bite my lip to not crack up. If I see a mountain lion I do not think I would start stripping under any circumstances, but I did really appreciate the pointer!!
Overall it’s been a terrific start to our first Work Kamping job. We really love the site, the people are very nice, and we are appreciating the solitude. Will keep you updated as things happen, but I totally get why people do this now.
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