August 2, 2001
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
Meet the Forest Service Campground Hosts of Seeley Lake
By Donna Love
For the Pathfinder
So you're retired, ready to kick back, put your feet up, and rest awhile. What do you do? Buy an RV, head for Seeley Lake, park in one the most beautiful campgrounds in the world, and clean toilets.
That's right! You've just become a Forest Service Campground Host.
Forest Service Campground Hosts are volunteers who live in a campground and monitor its use. Along with cleaning toilets they provide many services that help vacationers have a pleasant a camping experience.
This year seventeen campground hosts work in the Seeley Lake area.
Monture Campground Hosts
Eleanor Cooley, Hilda Barrett and Shirley Herrick manage Seeley Lake Campground. Eleanor is originally from Victor, MT, but now spends her winters in Georgia. She has been a campground host for eleven years.
Hilda and Shirley are from Florida. This is their second year to be hosts.
Jack and Barbara Meek manage River Point Campground. They are from Missoula, but now spend their winters in Arizona where they "go to play." They are also in their second year as hosts.
Two couples, Bert and Darlene Davids, and Roy and Sarah Shriner attend Big Larch. Bert and Darlene are originally from Oregon, but now they winter in Arizona "where it is warm." They have been hosts for two years. Roy and Sarah are closer to home. They live in Missoula and are in their third year as hosts.
Dick and Pat Tullar and Earlene Turnquist manage Alva Lake Campground. Dick and Pat are most recently from Minnesota, but now winter in Arizona. They have been hosts for seven years, five of which have been in Seeley Lake.
Earlene, the "Latrine Queen" hails from Missoula. She is in her first year as a campground host.
The Forest Service also has several "dispersed campgrounds" including Clearwater Lake, Rainy Lake, trailheads and other sites, including Coopers Lake in Ovando. Richard and Pat Thune live at River Point Campground and travel to attend these sites.
They are from Great Falls, but spend their winters in Arizona. They have been campground hosts for twelve years.
Another set of campground hosts, Dean and Teddy Clawson, live at the Monture Guard Station near Ovando. They manage the Monture Trailhead Campground and care for the administrative site where Forest Service stock is pastured.
Dean and Teddy are from California and spend their winters in Utah. They have also been campground hosts for twelve years.
The Campground Hosts call Seeley Lake home from Memorial Day through Labor Day and become members of the community.
Seeley Lake resident, Nora Ketland, who has cooked for the Seeley Lake Senior Citizen's Center for the past ten years, says that throughout the summer the hosts frequently eat at the Center and in the spring "everyone is anxious for their return." Near the end of the season the Center hosts a meal in their honor.
A campground host's job is not an easy one. Their main duty is to spruce up a newly vacated camp site by picking up litter, washing the picnic table, cleaning the fire pit and raking the site to remove all trace of the former inhabitants. They clean several sites each day.
They also monitor the beaches and remind folks to keep their pets on a leash. They provide a helping hand when needed, and give out information on what to see and do in the area.
It is also their job to check that each camper has paid for the campsite, but the hosts don't handle the money. They just look for the pay stub in the vehicle's window.
"They are wonderful ambassadors for the Forest Service," said Seeley Lake District Ranger Tim Love, and added, "Their work reflects well on public service."
Campground Hosts are volunteers. The only compensation they receive is free rent, electricity, water, sewer, and telephones in their trailers for local calls.
Bruce Johnson, Resource Management Assistant in charge of Recreation for the Seeley Lake Ranger Station said, "We [the Forest Service] essentially couldn't run the campgrounds without them. They are indispensable."
Johnson explained, "We've got one of the largest campground programs in the area because Seeley is a regional destination so there are a lot of campgrounds that go with that."
Other Forests in Montana with large campground programs are in the Gallatin and Kootenia National Forests.
When asked how the Forest Service recruits their hosts, Johnson said, "The best way has been through word of mouth." Often campers learn about the job by talking with hosts. If it sounds like a great way to spend the summer they come to the Forest Service Office for an application.
Others are recruited when hosts return home and tell friends what a fun summer they had.
Another source is the Good Sam's Club, a club for RV owners. Job advertisements instruct potential hosts to call the Regional Office in Missoula.
When someone interviews to be a campground host Johnson "makes it clear to them what they have to do" and let's them decide if they can do it.
Cleaning toilets is the least liked part of the job, but Johnson said, "If they don't have a problem cleaning toilets they can usually handle the rest."
The hosts are never asked to lift anything heavy or handle disturbances. "They call for help if it is needed," Johnson said.
Usually safety is not an issue, but sometimes precautions are taken. The Forest Service moved the hosts out of the campgrounds last year when the Hell's Angles visited Missoula.
The hosts still attended their daily duties, but they weren't in the campgrounds overnight.
"Ordinarily," Johnson said, "family campers surround the hosts so even if there is one bad apple they are still surrounded by good people willing to help if there is a need."
The Forest Service provides backup with regular tours in "green trucks," and the campgrounds have further support from local law enforcement.
Most of the time the problems are simple to solve. One host helped a young camper who was afraid to go into the restroom until it was checked for spiders.
At Big Larch campers once brought a hot tub with them on their truck. Imagine their surprise when other campers decided to take a dip in their pool in the middle of the night.
So why would a retiree want to become a campground host? Reasons vary, but mostly its because they love the outdoors.
Eleanor "needed something to do after her husband died." She and her husband had worked at the Tamarack Resort and she loved the area.
Hilda and Shirley wanted to spend some time in Montana. They know it caused a mess, but they thoroughly enjoyed the recent snow that we had.
Roy and Sarah say its because they "like to meet people." Bert and Darlene thought it would be interesting.
Jack and Barbara became fulltime RVer's when they sold their house in Missoula. They were looking for a way to spend their summers in Montana, and travel south in the winter.
Richard and Pat have family in the area. Dean and Teddy enjoy being near the Forest Service stock.
Earlene volunteered because Dick and Pat were good friends and she wanted to help them.
Dick and Pat summed it up nicely saying, "Hosting is a great way to be of service, stay active, meet new people, and enjoy a beautiful environment."