Putting out a welcome mat
Lynn and Hugh Fulton recently checked a young couple into a campsite and later realized the campers were having a bit of difficulty getting their dinner started.
"They had said 'We're so excited to be doing this. We're going to cook our dinner on the fire,'" Lynn said. "But they had no idea how to start a fire. Hugh walks over and asks 'Can I help you?'"
The Fultons are camp hosts and spend their days welcoming guests to parks, among other tasks. This summer, they will spend several months at Milo McIver State Park in Estacada.
Middle school teachers by trade, the couple began camp hosting 13 years ago during their summer breaks. When they retired last year, they sold their house in Washington and started hosting full time. They now live in a recreational vehicle with their beagle Molly, moving from campground to campground year round.
The pair enjoys the adventure of constantly staying in different parks.
"We've never had the experience of 'we can't wait to get out of here,'" Lynn said.
The Fultons have been camp hosts in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Massachusetts and British Columbia. In Oregon, along with Milo McIver State Park, they've hosted at Harris Beach State Park in southern Oregon, William Tugman State Park on the Oregon Coast and Champoeg State Heritage Area in Donald. Later this summer, they will head to Wallowa Lake State Park in Joseph and Umpqua Lighthouse State Park near Reedsport.
Typically, they stay at a park between two and three months before moving onto their next destination. They've scheduled stays at campgrounds through September 2019 and will be at parks during all seasons of the year.
"We love people, so it's really lonely when the parks get quiet for winter," Lynn said. "It's strange to be in the parks with no people."
A typical day as a camp host consists of greeting visitors, marking campsites that are reserved, removing signs from sites that are not reserved, cleaning the campsites and selling firewood.
Hosts can also work on other projects in the parks, like maintaining trails or removing litter and invasive plants.
For the Fultons, the best part of being a camp host is connecting with people.
"I always tell (campers) 'Welcome to the neighborhood,'" Hugh said.
Camp hosting can usually be tailored to someone's interests, they noted.
"There's a lot of history in the parks, and you can work with that," Hugh said. "Some people just sell firewood."
"It depends on what you want to do," Lynn added.
In exchange for these tasks, camp hosts receive a free site. Many parks also provide hosts with other amenities, such as access to the local library.
Lynn and Hugh agree that their background as teachers has been useful while camp hosting.
"We were active in the classroom and now we're active in the parks," Hugh said. "We do a lot of teasing with our guests because that's what we did as teachers."
They've led campers through several activities, such as Dutch oven cooking and nature walks.
"You do the same thing you'd do with the students. You're used to standing in front of people," Lynn said.
And on occasions when campers are less-than-happy, their years as teachers also come into play.
"We taught middle school. We know how to deal with upset people," Lynn added.
Hugh and Lynn are glad they made the choice to host full time after they had retired.
"This was perfect for the transition. It was the best thing we could have done," Lynn said.
The pair noted that they sometimes meet people at one park and see them again months later at a different park.
"We have friends all across the country" from camp hosting, Hugh said.
The Fultons enjoy exploring new parks as camp hosts but noted that they always look forward to returning to Milo McIver.
"We love this area. We have friends in Estacada that we've met through the park," Lynn said. "The staff here are amazing, hardworking people. It really is a fun park. It's probably one of the prettiest Oregon has."
"It's probably the most like home," Hugh added. "Not that we own the park, but this is where our community is."