Friday, December 6, 2013

Campground hosts at Champoeg State Heritage Area

Moby & Caddie at Champoeg State Park
October 30, 2013

There are two kinds of excitement I feel every time we move to another park hosting job:  One is the fun of discovering another treasure of a park – sometimes a park we’ve never heard of before accepting the invitation to work there.  Another is what we are experiencing at Champoeg State Heritage Area – a chance to get to know a favorite park from a whole different perspective.

As Steve and I took our first walk around the park after arriving at the end of October, I could already see a difference from what I remembered from our many previous off-season camping experiences in our 2000 Cardinal 5th Wheel Trailer.  Keep in mind, at the time of our walk, we hadn’t even begun our hosting work yet, or met a single ranger in person!  However, I was already looking at the park through different eyes.
The host sites were located - right where we expected, just inside our loop.  We walked through the RV group camping area, and I noted the meeting hall.  I had never noticed it before!  I knew there was a RV group space area, but had no idea about the extra building, complete with wood stove!  While not providing full hookups, it certainly is a great place for a weekend family reunion or a weekend social of some other organized group.
Continuing our walk, we realized we had no idea where the park office was located at Champoeg.  Often they are either a part of the registration area, or near the entrance of parks.  As Steve and I later studied the campground map, we found there are areas of this park we’ve never even walked through!  The park is much larger than we remembered - something like 615 acres in total.  We’ve gone on many walks along the river – it’s amazing to realize how the Willamette River runs here and there around Oregon.  The office is down at an end of the park we hadn’t even realized existed!
When we were given our assignment at the park we were surprised to hear from the ranger that we were assigned to “Loop A” – the older loop in the campground – as in our off-season experiences, that loop was always closed for the winter months.  Now, my eyes see it is the more beautiful loop (many mature trees surround us).  Somehow it seemed it must have been “spruced up” since we were last here, though we’ve been told since then that it hasn’t been.  It is quite beautiful with the mature trees, many of them oaks, mixed with some evergreens.  Those trees make getting our Dish Network satellite a bit of a challenge, but the leaves fell fast which helped.  Steve had no problem at all zeroing in on those satellites with the help of a computer program he uses on his Nexus tablet (of course, he’s also getting better and better at it too – practice makes perfect!).  Only when the winds cause those tree branches to bounce and sway does our signal get interrupted.
We’ve walked the path along the Willamette River during some very high river levels a few years back!  It’s so nice to enjoy the river in so many seasons of change.  We knew about the large Champoeg day-use area with the disc golf course.  We’ve since learned that area is the Oak Grove Day Use area.  It is well treed, with a path leading down to the river.  There’s a boat dock (for fishing), and a group tent camping area beyond that.  Disc golf is very popular.  We see groups even on days we consider inclement!
As park hosts, we learn repeatedly to be very careful about absorbing attitudes of other hosts without discovering our own perspective about various parks.  I have to say we were a little nervous as we waiting for our job to begin here, as we received unsolicited opinions from a pair of hosts leaving the park after three months of service here.  They were lovely people, but had gathered some negative views of various people and how things work here, all the while planning to return to work again next year.  Steve and I both were a little nervous about what we might have got ourselves into …  They also cautioned us about our incoming fellow co-host…

It became clear very rapidly that perhaps those previous hosts had just been on the job too long and had their own ideas about how things ought to work here.  Our personal experience  is that his is a wonderful park to work in!  We have truly enjoyed and respect all of the rangers we have met.  They are hard workers, and very appreciative of everything we do to assist them, as is most often the case with many rangers we have met.  The new host coordinator ranger, Mel, is a very nice and helpful lady.  We probably work most often with Ranger Michael, who we have also found to be a pleasure to work with.  He assigns us our extra tasks.  We’ve been able to help him blow off the roads and paths of leaves, and have been blowing leaves out of the landscape areas for ease of mulching them.  Both Steve and I enjoy getting to use the power blowers.
We have also helped with winterizing of the yurts.  Insulation in the form of wall padding needed to be adjusted and retied, ties on the window flaps had come off and needed to be replaced, and the gutters over the doors needed to be clean out.  With our loop being closed during the weekdays, we have had extra time for some of these kinds of tasks.  Our loop was opened on weekends as an overflow camping area up until Dec 1st.
Our main ongoing activity is dealing with the yurts.  We have six yurts located just in front of A Loop, just behind our coach.  We check in campers when they arrive, sell firewood, and clean and disinfect the yurts when they are vacated.  We also keep an eye on the restrooms in A Loop, for refill needs and cleanliness.  It’s not a hard job.
A real positively unique aspect of our job here at Champoeg is the work schedule.  Rangers work four 10-hour shifts a week, in general.  We, as hosts, work three days on with four days off, then four days on with three days off.  We are expected to be here all day on our work days, but other campgrounds require that of us for a regular five day a week work schedule.  It’s nice to get 3 and 4 days off on alternating weeks here.  We have already decided we will be looking forward to return to Champoeg to work again in the future!  It's a beautiful park, we've met some very nice people, and it's even within a reasonable reach of our old friends and family.

In the meantime, we are getting more excited about our next adventure!  We will leave Champoeg a couple days early to get a little more service done on our coach in Salem, and then will be heading off to Lowell State Park, about 20 miles SE of Eugene.  I've already learned there is a beautiful covered bridge that is waiting for me to take pictures of!  What a great life this is.