Disclaimer: Before I start, I want to mention that the company we are working for this summer has a very specific media policy. I will not be mentioning them by name, or mentioning the specific names of anyone I am working with, except for Lee. Also, because it’s not really that difficult to figure out which company it is, I want to be clear: I in no way speak for the company, and am only recounting my personal experiences. Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part. As usual, if you want current job specifics I recommend checking out the company’s website. OK, that’s done, now on to the post!
All across the country there are campgrounds, marinas, and day use areas owned by and/or operated by local utility companies. Sometimes maintaining locations is required by contract, other times it is done for conservancy, providing additional customer value, or sites for employee recreation. I have had friends who have stayed in these places and even stayed in them myself a time or two, but I have seen nothing on the scale of what is happening here in Portland. We didn’t really understand the scope of it, until we decided to take a ride up to the Timothy Lake location. Since our campsite in our campground is a new one they are creating, we didn’t have a fire ring, and when we asked we were told there would be extras at Timothy Lake. We could have waited for someone to bring one down to us, but since it was a nice day we decided to drive up and see it for ourselves, and save someone that trouble. The main road to the campground still had quite a bit of snow on it, so it was recommended that we take the back road. This was a twisty, turny road and led us through National Forest, past Lake Harriet which has a dam, a small campground and day use area.
Eventually we made it to Timothy Lake and received a very warm welcome. The campground is still closed and not all the camp hosts were there yet, but everyone we met was very nice and helpful. Not only did they find us a brand new campfire ring, but they also encouraged us to look around and told me where the best campsite would be to take a picture of Mt. Hood across the lake. This is a huge lake with multiple campgrounds around it, plus a lodge that can be rented by utility company employees. Although this is a National Forest campground and the reservations are handled by Reserve America, because of the dam and lake it is watched over by company employees. This is an example of a positive partnership between a business and our forest service and from everything I have seen relationships between the two entities are very strong. The Forest Rangers here cover 1.1 million acres, and since this is a very popular campground area it is important to have people on site continuously. Most of the camp hosts we met work out of Timothy Lake and many have returned year after year because they enjoy the beautiful setting. (Some have been coming back for 16 years or more, which in my opinion says a LOT about the company. – Lee)
This is definitely remote camp hosting as wifi/cell coverage is limited, and none of the sites have full hookups and some don’t have any hooks ups at all. We saw hosts use a combination of solar, and generators for power, but these folks knew what they are doing. In the last few days, we have met numerous RVers who have been full timing for many years and have worked summers for this utility company for many of those. I am always fascinated when I meet folks who have been doing this for such a long time because it’s a rarity on my social media network, and it’s generally a good sign when we stumble across a job that has a high concentration of them. We met several long-term full-timer couples at the beet harvest and more while gate guarding, but this is the highest concentration we have seen. More about that later though. We enjoyed our visit to the lake and after discussion decided to head back down on the main road with snow because it seemed the more direct route. The road wasn’t 100% cleared yet, and still had some heavy patches of snow, but with some careful driving we made it through and headed back down to our campsite with a bran new fire ring.
The next day all the new employees had a training class and thankfully it was just down the road in one of the utility offices. Some folks were at locations much farther away and if they wanted to were able to stay in one of the cabins or Yomes in Promontory Park. Since all three couples at “Prom”, as it is called are new, we were all at the first training class and we met several new couples there as well including the new Lead Hosts out at Timothy Lake. Our immediate supervisor and his boss did a really nice job of providing us an overview of the company, their philosophy, and hierarchy. We also received a full certification course in CPR, Safety, and AED use. I was particularly excited about that because I haven’t had CPR training since I was 19 years old and things have changed dramatically, plus they had lots of hands on activities and the instructor was really great. I enjoyed the class very much, Lee less so because he is not great at sitting still in one place for that long, but I was really grateful for the time they spent. It’s unlikely we will have an incident this summer, but if we did, the fact that they went to the time and expense to prepare us goes a long way with me. Plus I thought the exercises were fun, but hey, I am a nerd like that.
So I left class after the first day feeling really good about the training and the fact that they were investing in me as a seasonal employee. And in case you are one of those people who are skeptical about this sort of thing (and Lee certainly is) let me contrast to it to most jobs on the road we have had where they give you minimal instructions and throw you out there into situations that could be more dangerous than this job. But then again I come from a corporate environment and for the first time in a long time in working on the road I really felt comfortable.
The next day all of the employees participated and we filled up a large training room. We had a series of short presentations and learned about the archaelogist they have on staff (very cool), the biologist we had on staff, and other members of the full time team. The fact that the company has an archaeologist and biologist and specific processes to follow if you find bones, birds nest, etc impressed the heck out of me. I, like most full-timers, love nature, and the time and trouble they have gone to to protect wildlife was impressive. In particular, the Clackamas River is a major fish spawning area and they have spent millions over the years making sure the fish can migrate past the dams. I hope to learn more about that as the summer progresses.
The Diversity and Inclusion section was next, and let me just say there were some strong personalities in the room. Although I would recommend spending a little more time on this in future training they did manage to get the main points across. And the bulk of the day was spent on Verbal Judo training. These techniques were developed for law enforcement officers and the trainer, who was a state park employee, was excellent. We spent quite a bit of time on this and it was impactful, but since we are more educators than enforcers it would be good to have it tailored a little more to the camp host position. Part of the problem out here is there is minimal law enforcement to cover huge tracts of land, so it is more likely we will need to deal with situations ourselves, at least initially. Many of the campsites also have no cell coverage, so just getting someone to a place to call 911 could be challenging. I was getting a little concerned to be honest, but when we talked to long-term hosts on the break were assured these type of incidents rarely happened. Mostly problems are around off leash dogs and alcohol and since Promontory Park is alcohol free that should be less of a concern hopefully for us.
There was also quite a conversation around marijuana use, because it is legal in Oregon but not in the National Forest, which is public land. Even in Oregon it’s not legal to use “in public” so it can get tricky. Again, the conventional wisdom of long-term hosts carried some weight because their point that marijuana users rarely caused a problem was a good one. Hopefully with edibles and vaporizers it will be a non-issue because it’s not like we are going to go looking for trouble. They seem to have struck a nice balance between having some rules and not being super militant about enforcement. That’s a stance I personally appreciate, because there is nothing worse than an over zealous camp host making a fuss about a minor rule. In the stories we have heard across the country it happens though, so once again I was glad they took the time to spell out their policies.
So I loved it and Lee was just ready to get to work, but that’s OK. We are pretty much two ends of a common spectrum with lots of folks falling somewhere in between. Plus it was nice to get to meet so many people and get to know our fellow camp hosts more. For once we weren’t the youngest people in the crowd, as there were other couples our age and a few people in their 20’s and 30’s. And again, I walked away feeling really good about working for a large company again, even in a limited capacity. My experience in my life is small companies can often have a level of capriciousness in their rules and processes that make me uncomfortable. I have been trying to stretch myself in that area, but it is nice to take a turn at working in a place with a solid set of policies in place. That’s just me though, and we will see how it plays out over the summer.
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