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Work a few hours and you can still afford RV lifestyle

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By Linda Bryant Smith
Special to The Herald
Published:
Budget-demolishing gas and diesel prices have sent RVs to storage lots while their drivers wonder if they'll ever roll down the road again.
This is particularly true for retired Americans who have the time to travel but no money to fill the gas tank.
One option is to combine work with RV travel. Jobs as camp hosts as well as part-time work at other RV resort tasks can often be exchanged for site rent.
Our first year on the road we met Elsa and Fred Schmidt at a KOA resort on the Colorado River in Arizona. They earned their site rent for the winter by working eight hours a week in the park office and outside grooming the flowerbeds.
In the summer the Schmidts moved to South Dakota where they worked part-time as historical characters in an "Old West" theme park. She was a dance hall girl and he was a rogue gambler. In their off months they found jobs working as groomers on golf courses in Southern California. In each place, there was lots of time to play once the workday ended. Free RV sites, a little spending money and free greens fees were among the benefits.
That winter we also met Dave and Roberta Jones of Heppner, Ore. They're one of a dozen couples we call our "RV family" because we've spent winters together for more than a decade.
This summer Dave and Roberta are working as camp hosts at Cutsforth Park, a rustic, tree-studded county park that's just a 20-minute drive from their home. It helps that the park is on the shore of a lake loaded with feisty fish, because Dave loves to fish.
They moved their 32-foot motorhome into the park two weeks before the first campers were due.
Winter storms had left behind downed trees and damaged campsites. There was significant clean-up and repair work to complete before camping season opened. An employee from the county parks department, equipped with chain saw, front-end loader and a jitney spent the first day helping them get started.
After a tour of the park to orient themselves to water mains, electrical sources, camp spaces and the emergency sewer pump, they got down to the hard work. While the county employee cut downed trees into firewood blocks, they moved brush and debris into burn piles.
He left late in the afternoon and they were on their own. The couple put in long days cleaning fire pits, raking camp sites, chopping wood and cleaning bathrooms that looked like a large family of "porkers" had been the primary habitants, Dave said.
On May 22 they were ready for visitors. All the sites were reserved. Campers began pulling in around noon. "Then the fun began," Dave said.
" 'My Space is too small.' 'I did not want this space.' 'I can't believe you put me next to the road.' 'Somebody left a dead squirrel nailed to a tree.' "
About that time, he said, the rain hit, a virtual monsoon that continued all day and night. It stopped around 5 a.m., the temperature took a radical drop and heavy, wet snow fell the rest of the day followed by more rain.
Dave, a former Marine, has fought off a serious blood-borne cancer, a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, for the last decade. He takes each new challenge in his life with Marine toughness and a great sense of humor.
"Honest, we've having fun and enjoying this new adventure," he said of their first camp-hosting job. And once things settled down, he's found time mid-week to fish.
The Joneses fround their job through their county's parks department. They filed their application in January.
There are several Web sites on the Internet listing jobs in public and private parks. Many RV magazines also carry help-wanted ads. Be sure to read the information carefully. Some private organizations may charge job-finding fees just as regular employment agencies in the business world do.
Jobs vary from campground to campground but almost all require collecting fees from campers, cleaning bathrooms and grounds maintenance.
In our state, you can check out www.parks.wa.gov. To work in any state park, you must fill out an application (available on line or by mail) and return it along with your preference of parks (openings are listed on the Web site). Applications are reviewed by park rangers, and successful applicants are notified.
I checked this site just the other day and there still were openings listed for late summer and early fall.
If you're thinking ahead to winter, similar opportunities are available in private RV resorts in Arizona and Texas during snowbird season, but such jobs go quickly so check now if you're interested.
Retirement doesn't mean never working again. It just means we have choices about when, how and why we work. For those who love the outdoors and meeting new people, being a work camper may be the perfect travel choice.
Linda Bryant Smith writes about life as a senior citizen and the issues that concern, annoy and often irritate the heck out of her now that she lives in a world where nothing is ever truly fixed but her income. You can e-mail her at ljbryantsmith@yahoo.com.

How to be a host

Here in Snohomish County, three parks use camp hosts. Senior rangers to contact for informationare: Flowing Lake: Jack Davidson, 360-568-2274; Kayak Point Park: Jerry Smith or Jeanne Blackburn, 360-652-7992; River Meadows Park: Mike Remle, 360-435-3441.

Story tags » TravelLeisure (general)ElderlySocial security

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