Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Life at the Hilltop Day-Use Area

I can't believe we only have two more weekends of work here at LL "Stub" Stewart State Park.  Where does the time go?  I am happy to report we are doing well at our survey collecting job for the OPRD folk in Salem.  It hasn't been near as painful as I feared.  In fact, I think we've actually found much of the experience pretty great overall!

We love people.  We also love having time to ourselves.  Volunteering for Oregon State Parks forces us out of our comfort zone.  We are rewarded by meeting some of the most interesting and lovely people!  It doesn't matter whether we are cleaning up a vacated camp site, selling wood for campfires or collecting completed surveys on a hilltop.  We thoroughly enjoy the contact with people.

In our positions here at Stub Stewart, we are guests of the park, getting to live here for free.  However, we are not actually working for the park, so it's a bit different.  Some of the "perks" aren't quite what we have experienced in the past.  For instance, the site we are given is not a typical host site, as those sites are in use by campground hosts.  Instead, we were given a site that is apparently not exactly one of the sites in more demand by campers....  See, there is a septic field behind our site.  The story we've heard is that some children had a lovely time dropping sticks down a hole, which eventually caused the sewer system to backup, flooding the site next to us (a couple feet lower than us).  Though the park got the system up and running again, there tends to be a certain "stench" which overwhelms us from time to time, depending on the direction of the wind.  It's not always there, but comes up unexpectedly to the point that we really don't spend much time out at our picnic table.
When we "booked" this job, we envisioned enjoying visits from local friends and family.  I imagined some major reunions, etc.  Though we have enjoyed seeing many friends and family, I've had to push aside having a group come.  Both the potential odor, and the fact that at this park our guests have to have $5 day passes in order to come see us.  Parking is also very limited.  While day-use passes in all state parks are $5/day (unless you buy a yearly or bi-yearly pass), our hosting positions at other parks have allowed us free passes for our visitors.  The culture of every park is different, and this park is not into "special privileges".  Live and learn.
I should say, it's not that the park rangers aren't lovely people here!  We have met some of the nicest rangers ever at Stub Stewart.  There's a young man here who I secretly desire to adopt.  Both Robb and his wife and children would be a welcome addition to our family.  We haven't asked him yet, of course.  Not sure if it might scare him just a bit.  Still, I would love to be a "mother" to him and a grandmother to his children ...  Weird, huh? 
We had a gentleman come fill out a survey for us one day who had a lovely accent, which for whatever reason I couldn't place.  I thought perhaps French?  I finally asked him where he was from.  His reply was China!  I told him I was pretty sure his accent was not Chinese.  I asked about France, and he spoke a little French to me.  Then he explained he was actually Irish.  He immediately started speaking in a wonderful "brogue" and I wondered why I'd been uncertain.  Steve said he'd known.  How many French-speaking, Irish men from China have you met recently?
Often when we go up to the Hilltop Day-Use area to work, we discover the covered picnic area where we like to work is reserved for part of the day.  When that is the case, we set up an awning which has been loaned to us by the park.  Having shade during an 8 hour day up on the hilltop is important!  There really isn't shade outside of the covered picnic area.  Perhaps one day the trees they planted will grow big enough?
Steve loves it when he finds out the covered picnic area has been reserved for a family reunion or church picnic.  Most always the people take pity on him and offer him food and treats.  This last weekend a Chinese church group from Beaverton treated us to fresh barbecued pork and Steve got to have cake too.  I enjoyed the company of the cutest little girl, who would peek over the railing at me periodically to say hello and visit.  I do love visiting with the children.  I consider it part of my job to keep the kids occupied while parents fill out a survey.  It's one of my favorite things!

Bike washing/repair station at the Hilltop Day-Use Area
The folks in Salem are hoping that we will have 400 completed surveys collected by OPRD Salem each Monday.  With two weekends of work yet to go, we have completed 325 surveys to date.  Gathering 75 in a single weekend of work would be normal for us, so we will surely exceed the goal of 400.  Though I'd like to say it's our charm that has brought us this success, the truth is that we are NO PRESSURE surveyors.  Our job is to inform them of what we are doing, and ask if they are willing.  Beyond that, it's up to the people.  Obviously, the people coming to Stub Stewart to enjoy the many day-use activities (disc golf, mountain bike riding, hiking, horse trails, etc.) value the opportunity to share their opinion.  That is why we are doing so well!  It's hard to believe we are nearing the end of our 6 weeks (7 weekends) of work.  We began very slowly on July 4th, but things stepped up a bit the following weekend.  We don't read the completed surveys, but we do count them, and send a package to Salem each Monday.
Though the weather here at Stub Stewart has been plenty warm for us, we have been surprised and delighted to find that it is generally cooler here than in Portland.  Also, there seems to be an almost constant breeze, especially up at the Hilltop.  Some weekends, day-users find us wrapped up in blankets, layered in sweatshirts as we try to keep warm up there, as they come back drenched in sweat!
As we see the month of August quickly slipping by, we are beginning to focus on our next job - at Wallowa Lake State Park.  I've begun "hoarding" non-perishable groceries which are so much less expensive here.  I'll be packing the freezer to full capacity in order to avoid spending $13 on a whole uncut chicken ...  It's just so wrong!  Costco, here I come!
We're looking into updating our Winter weather clothing, and I was able to get a pair of Gore-Tex hiking boots in preparation for the wet winter weather of October in the Wallowa Mountains.  Last year we had to leave the park 1 1/2 weeks early as the park needed to turn off the water early due to the very cold temperatures.  We drove away
with snowflakes in the air!  Both Steve and I have shrunk a bit with our new eating regimen and not everything will fit again this year.  Fortunately, we mostly stick to very basic clothing items in this life style:  jeans, t-shirts, sweatshirts, coats and hats keep us comfortable most the time.  We found we could live without an electric blanket on our bed, thanks to the light-weight down comforter we have for our bed.  We bought an extra portable heater to keep the chill down during the night, while reserving our propane-fueled furnaces for a short time each morning to bring the temperature up quickly and pump some heat into our storage basement.  It's hart to believe those will be realities in the very near future!
We are delighted to be hosting at Wallowa Lake for the second time with our good friends, Bill & Sharon Schaffer.  We'd hoped we'd be seeing other Wallowa hosts there again also, but plans change for host-like people for lots of reasons.  Sue (in photo, far left) recently sold her RV.  That changed things!  We plan to caravan over to Wallowa Lake with the Schaffer's, taking a few days to play along the way before beginning work for September and October.
We will leave Wallowa Lake in October as the weather dictates, and will be going directly to our next job at Champoeg State Park for November and December.  It will be our first time hosting at that park, though we've been regulars there as campers for years.  The ranger there has been kind enough to ensure us a spot for our Moby Homa, even if we end up arriving early.  Seems like a nice guy!
We still have a vacancy in our schedule for January and February, but look forward to returning to Jessie Honeyman State Park for March and April, where we will reunite with newer host friends, Tom and Chris Vorgert, whom we met there last year.  It's hard to believe we are thinking and planning for 2014 already.  Naturally, we plan loosely, as we never know for certain what tomorrow holds.
Keep an eye on my blog link "Where Are We" to see how life unfolds as we go along.

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