Summer camp-outs in Northeastern Oklahoma are especially appealing, blending the birdsong, sparkling lakewater reflecting the sunrise and sunset, and green shade trees for staying cool.
Factor in the friendly people, bird- and critter-watching, singing and roasting wieners by the campfire, and grilling the fish caught earlier in the day for supper, and you get a perfect setting for spending a weekend, or enjoying the whole summer.
Especially these days, Oklahoma’s state parks offer an affordable vacation option for families. And for those who have camping and volunteering in their range of interests, an opportunity to do both is available at three state parks in this area.
Greenleaf State Park, Tenkiller State Park and Cherokee Landing each have two campsite hosts who camp for free from April 1 through Oct. 31, in exchange for meeting and greeting park visitors, collecting camping fees, providing information, doing light maintenance and providing assistance to campers and visitors, along with keeping a watchful eye.
Camp hosts work 20 hours a week, including weekends, in exchange for free campsites with water, sewer, electric, and hookups.
“We’re looking for one camp host at Greenleaf, two at Tenkiller and two at Cherokee Landing,” said Steve Williams, park manager. “They have to pass a background check to be sure they’re the kind of people we want in our state parks and around kids.”
Couples can serve as campground hosts – like Dale and Gail Sleese, who have filled the role since 2004 at Greenleaf.
“You meet a lot of people and make new friends,” Gail said. “It gets hectic sometimes, but we enjoy it. Holiday weekends, the park is full of people, and we’re trying to help them find a spot and collect fees without interfering with their fun.”
For anyone who likes people and being out in nature, it’s not a bad job, Gail said.
“I was born and raised a city kid and didn’t know if I’d like it,” she said. “But we came from Oklahoma City and didn’t leave.”
Their children and grandchildren visit during the summer.
“Everybody here is just like a big family. If somebody needs something, we all pitch in,” she said. “We all get along and do our job or whatever needs to be done.”
Most of the time, Williams said, they encounter retired people looking for three or four months of camping with 20 hours of work. Light maintenance and trash pickup are among their responsibilities.
“As long as I can remember, we’ve had campground hosts, and I’ve been working here 33 years,” he said. “It’s always been a good program.”
They used to pay hosts, but that went the way of their budget, he added.
“Camp hosts are the front line representation to the park,” said Diane Rutland, sales and marketing specialist with the parks. “They assist campers with whatever they might need, from questions about how to hook up to backing up a trailer.”
Volunteers need good communication skills, Rutland added.
“They’re going to be working on weekends and off a couple of days during the week,” she said. “That’s why we have more than one camp host, so someone is always there.”
The three state parks are busy throughout the summer, with many return visitors and campers.
“We have so many regulars, it’s like old home week,” Rutland said. “Some campers may need to help leveling their RVs they’re parking for the first time, while others are well-seasoned and just like to feel welcomed.”
Park rangers are always around or nearby, but they work eight-hour shifts, Williams said.
“Campground hosts are there 24-7, so they do a better job collecting fees and getting acquainted with campers. Some of our campers keep odd hours, they may fish all night or work during the day,” he said.
Park rangers also collect fees, but having campground hosts frees them up so they have more time for protecting the parks on the security end, Williams said.
State parks have a lot to offer, along with camping, boating and swimming.
“The state parks have bouyed-off swimming areas, and a year-round program with naturalists,” Williams said. “We have nature trails at all the parks. The swimming pools are open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Miniature golf is available at Greenleaf.”
“With the price of gasoline we hope more people will choose to stay close to home and enjoy our parks.”
For information on being a park host, contact the park service at (918) 489-5641.