Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Volunteering with the Forest Service

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We had two unanswerable questions in our minds when making the decision to accept our first ever Forest Service Volunteer Campground Host position. 

1) Will we be happy staying in one place for four whole months after having the freedom to move at will for the last seven?
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2) Will we be happy in a campground setting surrounded by so many people after months of dispersed camping in unstructured, private and remote locations?

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Sure, most work campers are a bit more practical about their worries.  They concern themselves with questions about the work load or the hours or the variety of random and sometimes unpleasant duties they will be asked to perform like cleaning pit toilets.
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(An ‘after’ shot… we spared you the ‘details’.)

The work however was not an issue for us.  We were more concerned with the quite drastic change to our otherwise rather solitary and spontaneous existence.
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Remember all of those ‘Where’s Annie?’ photos with us in the middle of nowhere all alone?!

Well, after four months of living in a campground and serving as campground host we happily report that the answers to those two original questions are a resounding YES and YES! 

We were very happy to stay in one place for four months as it afforded us time to really get to known the area and to make some wonderful new friends.  It didn’t hurt that it was a place as beautiful and peaceful as Vedauwoo!  We were also quite happy with this particular campground set-up.  Our host site, while at the entrance to the campground, was far enough from the other sites that we often felt like we were still dispersed camping.

So, down to the nitty gritty…

What did we think about volunteering with the Forest Service?

We loved it!  There is nothing to compare with the feeling of providing a service purely because you want to and expecting nothing in return.  Pit toilets and all!

What were our duties?

For a month and a half of our four months, we managed the entire park consisting of 28 site tent/RV campground, a 17 site tent only campground, 14 pit toilets, 25 day use / picnic areas and a group shelter.  While the picnic / day use host was on site, our duties were reduced to the 28 site campground, 8 pit toilets and two portions of the day use.  Our maintenance duties included cleaning and stocking the pit toilets, picking up trash and monitoring or cleaning fire rings, picnic tables, grills and campsites as needed.  In addition to an ongoing focus on keeping the campgrounds and park clean and ensuring everything was in working order, our primary responsibility was to make ourselves available to the public, to inform them of the rules, address any concerns, answer questions, make them feel welcome and ensure that their ‘Public Lands’ experience was a good one.

What is the most important thing we learned about being a camphost and day use attendant?

Being a presence matters.

Did we learn anything about people?

Yes.  Respect them, their individuality and their inherent desire to do right by giving them space to do so.  While they all have their own way of getting there and some even have their own time frames (which we affectionately termed “Wyoming Time”), the majority (once informed) will do the right thing.

And, what did we learn about ourselves through this experience?

A lot!  The two most important things that we learned were: 1. We make a great team!  2. We really enjoyed welcoming folks to ‘our home’, getting to know the passers-by as well as our return guests and doing what we could to ensure that all of them had a wonderful experience during their time at the park.

Were there any negatives to volunteering in this position?

None.  Seriously.  No negatives for us.

What was the best part of this experience?

Everything.  We loved it all!  But if you really pinned us down to one thing we’d have to say that it was a tie between being so warmly welcomed into the Laramie Forest Service ‘family’, being so warmly welcomed into our ‘regular’ campers lives and knowing that our service with and for them truly made a difference.

Would we volunteer again?

Definitely!  In fact, we already have in another location.

More on that later though.  We’ve got to hit the road and make tracks to get there.  Guess we’ll see “Where the Wind goes…” and what adventures we can find along the way.

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And with that we bid a very fond and sad goodbye to our 2012 Summer home of Vedauwoo, Wyoming.  Land of the Earthborn Spirit, you are now a part of us and we will miss you.

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