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For many years, work camping was dominated by volunteer host programs in the National Parks and National Forests. Hosts, often retired couples, would manage a campground for the summer camping season in exchange for a free site for their RV or travel trailer. Most public campgrounds have special host sites which often (but not always!) have full hookups, even when the campground they are managing is primitive.
Camp host jobs vary greatly from campground to campground, but almost all require taking fees from campers, cleaning bathrooms, and light grounds maintenance (such as raking fire puts, blowing leaves, etc.) Hosts with maintenance skills are always in demand.
Today, while volunteer host jobs are still available, many public campgrounds are run by private companies under special concession contracts. Unlike the government,private for-profit companies cannot legally accept volunteer labor. Most of these private companies now pay their work campers by the hour. Typically, camp hosts will work a certain number of hours (10-20) a week for their site, after which they are paid an hourly wage. The net result is that work campers will typically get their site plus $500-$800 a month in wages.
Work campers should be aware of a few issues when working for a private company:
- All the usual labor laws, including minimum wage laws and workers comp requirements, apply to camp host positions with private companies. Just calling a camp host a “manager” does not get a company out of following these laws, though many companies try it. A camp host that has nobody reporting to them and no hiring/firing responsibility is probably still an hourly worker by the rules of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- Keeping track of hours for a camp host can be a real challenge. Camp hosts usually live right at their job site, so simply being present in the campground does not necessarily mean that one is “working”. Actual tasks performed tend to be scattered throughout the day. A host might be having breakfast, get up to greet a new guest and accept their fees for a few minutes, then go back to the morning paper in their kitchen. Companies and hosts must work together to reach a mutual, reasonable definition of work hours to ensure everyone is paid fairly
- Many camp hosting jobs in private campgrounds are more strenuous and require more hours per week than volunteer positions. However, they seldom require a full forty hour week, particularly when a couple is hosting together.
Together, these changes are making camp hosting accessible to more and more people, becoming an attractive lifestyle for both young and old.
Warren Meyer is president of Recreation Resource Management, a large private concessionaire managing campgrounds on public lands.