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Campground Hosts: Lesser Known Heroes of State Park Campgrounds

June 21, 2023 12:00 AM
By: Allyson Ritchey, DCNR Office of Communications Intern

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​Happy National Camping Week! Pennsylvania offers a lot of opportunities across state parks and forests for campers at all levels.

Camping is a great way to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of the Commonwealth.

Some people get to appreciate this outdoor activity full-time as state park campground hosts!

You may have met these helpful campers if you have already camped at state parks; and if you have not camped yet, you’ll likely be sure to meet them.

They are there to welcome you to the campground, answer your questions, and make sure you have the best camping experience you can!

What Exactly is a Campground Host?

Man and woman walk away from RV in state park campground

Being a campground host is part of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Conservation Volunteer program. In this position, individuals serve as live-in hosts at a state park campground.

Basically, individuals stay at campsites for free in exchange for some volunteer work. You read that correctly, for free.

This volunteer opportunity is available at every state park in the Commonwealth that has overnight camping. Commitments to the position must be at least two weeks long, working 40 hours-a-week.

While duties vary park to park, here are some common tasks for campground hosts:

  • Assist campers by answering questions, informing about campground amenities and regulations, and giving directions around the park and locally.
  • Perform light maintenance work around the park such as picking up litter, cleaning the bathrooms, and repairing fixtures.
  • Help with additional tasks as requested by the park manager.

However, many campground hosts go above and beyond with their duties.

Meet Lana and Gary Klingensmith

Lana and Gary Klingensmith post for photo next to their RV.

Despite both working full-time jobs, this couple has been hosting at Chinquapin Hill Campground in Caledonia State Park for the last three years.

Some of the regular tasks these two do as hosts include:

  • Put out camping reservation permits and clean up the expired ones
  • Clean firepits and pick up trash around the park
  • Stock toilet tissue in the bathrooms

However, their favorite part of the position is helping people, which comes naturally to Lana and Gary as a nurse and a mechanic, respectively.

The well-known Appalachian Trail passes through this park in the South Mountain landscape. Often hiking up to 20 miles a day, thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail stop at Caledonia State Park, and Lana and Gary are there to help them with whatever they may need.

This can be anything from cooking breakfast for them to giving them a ride to the nearest grocery store.

Their help doesn’t stop with Appalachian Trail hikers; they also love getting children engaged.

From activity books with stickers and crayons to sidewalk chalk and glowsticks, Lana and Gary make sure all kids have something to do. They even have a little party for Halloween!

Lana and Gary host pretty much the entire camping season, from April 1 to October 31. For Lana and Gary, “It’s like a vacation every day, waking up and seeing the trees.” They love Caledonia State Park and all that it offers:

  • Fishing is popular at Caledonia with its various trout-stocked creeks and streams.
  • Caledonia State Park features a large ADA-accessible swimming pool that is refreshing in the summertime.
  • Unique to Caledonia, Totem Pole Playhouse offers performances during the summer months for visitors to enjoy. 

To those interested in becoming a campground host, Lana says, “[You] would love this if you give it a chance; give it two weeks.”

Gary recommends going to the park you are interested in hosting at, checking it out, and organizing your camper before you live in it very long.

Meet Beth Lerew

Beth Lerew and her daughter Joan stand next to their Campground Host sign with Gifford Pinchot State Park Manager Jennifer Park.
Left to right: Joan, Beth Lerew, and Gifford Pinchot State Park Manager Jennifer Park

A campground host at Gifford Pinchot State Park for six years, Beth spends a few months each summer at the York County state park serving as a friendly resource to campers, visitors, and park management.

Beyond this, she also is a friend, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her daughter Joan stays with her at Gifford Pinchot, and her great-grandson Timmy joins as a junior campground host occasionally.

With almost 300 campsites at Gifford Pinchot State Park, this year has been Beth’s busiest so far, but she doesn’t mind being busy.

She helps out wherever she can, from picking up litter and cleaning firepits to painting letters on the park’s signs and everything in between.

Beth is a strong advocate for getting children outdoors. She helps with a junior campground host program for children like her great-grandson Timmy to engage with a world outside electronics. They also get their own badge.

Because of this, Beth learned how to become crafty. Headquartered in her “work in progress” 1987 Sunline camper, Beth has painted signs, made curtains, and brainstormed some collaborative crafts in the future involving rocks.

Beth has been a host at 10 different parks and has visited about 80 of the 124 state parks across the Commonwealth, but Gifford Pinchot remains her favorite park by far.

Attracting half a million visitors each year, Gifford Pinchot State Park boasts 2,338 acres of outdoor activities:

  • Birding is very popular at Gifford Pinchot with warblers, vireos, and thrushes in the forests, and mallards, loons, and snow geese at Pinchot Lake -- to name a few.
  • Speaking of the lake, its 340 acres support fishing, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding.
  • Individuals can participate in various kinds of camping at Gifford Pinchot, from cabin and tent camping to even staying in a yurt.

All of these features give Gifford Pinchot a special place in Beth’s heart.

State parks provide a place to go when you need to be quiet and when you need to make friends. As a campground host, she gets to give back to the park system that has given so much to her.

While Gifford Pinchot is their favorite state park, Beth and Joan are leaving in August to camp in North Carolina and Georgia later this year.

Beth has described the campground host position with several words:

  • Information providers
  • Nature carers
  • Friends of campers and workers
  • Teachers
  • Learners

The one piece of advice Beth Larew would give anyone interested in becoming a campground host is, “Do it!”

How Do You Become a Campground Host?

Two tents set up in woods next to picnic table with camping gear on it.

Individuals interested in becoming a campground host can visit the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Conservation Volunteers website for more information.

However, the best way to become a campground host is to contact the state park of interest. Only the park knows what volunteer opportunities are available.

Learn more about volunteer opportunities like campground hosting at your favorite Pennsylvania state park by reaching out to the park manager!

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