Give back, live the dream: be a camp host!

Camp Hosts Gus and Shannon Tomaras Belfair

Camp hosts Shannon and Gus Tomaras, pictured in May of 2018, created a welcoming vibe at their Belfair State Park campsite.

Feb. 20, 2019

Have you dreamed of traveling in your RV? Are you pining for freedom or looking to downsize? Do you enjoy helping others?

Why not be a Washington State Parks camp host?

Many camp hosts are living the dream. They sign on for one to three months each at a lineup of parks, and they work 28 hours a week for their campsite. Camp host duties could mean cleaning campsites, assisting park aides, gardening, answering questions, doing handiwork, running educational programs and recommending activities. They are considered essential by park staff and, along with park aides and rangers, they serve as ambassadors to the public.  

It takes all kinds

Last summer, Jim and Jannie Boynton of Pasco kicked off their ninth year as camp hosts at Brooks Memorial State Park, a mountain treasure between Goldendale and Yakima.

In many ways, the Boyntons have been typical Washington State Parks camp hosts. Long-married and retired, they owned an RV and loved to travel and volunteer. 

Jim is tough, sinewy and not afraid of hard work. But for several years, Jannie had a condition that required a portable C-Pap and oxygen. She spent most days in the RV, chatting with folks from the door until Jim designed a forklift to bring her down to the campsite. They both stressed that people of most abilities can be camp hosts.

Camp hosts Jannie and Jim Boynton at Brooks Memorial

Jannie and Jim Boynton and their pups, pictured in August of 2017, were fixtures of Brooks Memorial State Park for nine summers.

Karen and Chuck Rose, a youthful retired couple from Tacoma, began hosting in 2017 and hosted at Fort Flagler, Lincoln Rock and Millersylvania state parks. In 2018, they hosted all year at Ocean City, Rasar and Lewis and Clark Trail state parks.

Camp hosts must have a background check. The application process, which includes fingerprinting, takes up to two months. Otherwise, all that’s required is an RV and a good attitude, says Volunteer Program Manager Cindy Jorgensen .

New and returning hosts may attend a spring training called “Camporee,” where Parks interpretive specialists, historic preservationists and archaeologists answer rookie questions.

Freshman hosts use Camporee to meet rangers recruiting for their parks. The Roses said the rangers at Camporee helped them choose their lineup of parks.

Camp hosts Chuck and Karen Rose Ft. Flagler

Chuck and Karen Rose, pictured at Fort Flagler State Park in 2017, represent a younger set of retirees who are giving back while having a grand adventure.

Not a people person? Don’t despair! Some hosts work with park maintenance crews and have little public contact.

Are you single, a teacher who has summers off or a retiree with a working spouse? No problem!  And don’t leave the four-legged family at home. Pets are welcome, on leash, of course.

Giving back for the less-flex crowd

Still doing the 8 to 5 grind? Not ready to live in 200 square feet?

Hosts are not the only volunteers you’ll find in Washington state parks. Workplace philanthropy programs, Friends and community groups and individuals make up the bulk of the volunteer cadre.

More than 9,100 people volunteered more than 200,000 hours in state parks in 2018. Only 514 were camp hosts, though that group gave a whopping 119,000 hours.

Volunteers clean facilities, work in park offices, stage community events and much more.

Camp host camporee Cornet Bay 2017

Camporee, a three-day introduction to camp hosting, takes place in April and is open to all approved camp hosts. Many attendees use the training to meet park rangers and arrange summer hosting schedules.

As Parks coordinators plan this year’s Camporee (April 15 through 17, at Cama Beach Historical State Park), Jim Boynton will head back to Brooks Memorial April 1. He’ll maintain grounds and run programs, as always, but he’ll be on his own this year. Sadly, Jannie, who loved sharing the park with visitors, passed away in January.

Chuck and Karen Rose have enjoyed the last two years living and working in parks, but they’re ready for an at-home staycation starting in April.

Chuck has a few tips for newbie hosts:                                                                          

❤ Variety is the spice of life. Staffing levels, rules, tasks, visitor demographics and vibes will be different at each state park.
❤ Don’t play cop.  Camp hosts are are not law enforcement. That's the job of park staff.
❤ Keep your camp clean. As a park ambassador your site should be warm and welcoming but organized and uncluttered.
❤ Lend a helping hand. Get training in tools you want to use and activities you want to do. Go beyond your 28 hours of duty,            especially if you want to be invited back.
❤ Be a tourist. Try local restaurants, shopping and attractions. Guests will be coming to you for recommendations.
❤ Hosting is not a vacation. There is always more work to be done.
❤ Have fun. By all means, have the time of your life!

Learn More

To learn more about camp hosting or volunteering with Washington State Parks, visit our Volunteer Program online, or call (360) 902-8583.

Heading out to a Washington state park?
Check in with the camp hosts and get valuable information about the park!

Have you been a Washington State Parks camp host?
Share your story here.