For nearly 15 years, George and Barb Carley have made Bunker Hills Regional Park near St. Paul, Minn., their home from April until October. They are the park’s official hosts.
“I call this our Garden of Eden, and every year I want to come back to it,” Barb Carley told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
When they retired, the Carleys hit the road in their camper. They met several park hosts as they traveled the country and thought it would be a fun job, George Carley, 74, said.
So Barb Carley, 70, started calling around to inquire about whether hosts – a fixture at campgrounds throughout the country – were needed. Bunker Hills was her third call. At the time, the official she spoke with didn’t know about campgrounds having hosts, she said. They’ve been at it since as the park’s first and only hosts.
The National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officials recently recognized the couple for their service. Over the years, the Carleys have donated roughly 15,000 hours to watching over the campground and its 40-plus sites.
They aren’t paid a dime.
The Carleys have a 35-foot trailer, rarely leaving for more than a few hours, except for Sundays to attend church and do laundry, they said. They sell firewood, get campers to safety when weather is bad, share information about the park and assist naturalists at environmental events.
They stay up “usually past Leno” for any guests checking in late, Barb Carley said. And they joke they can’t be undressed at the same time – because that’s usually when there’s a knock on the door from a camper with questions.
“I think if you volunteer for something, you should be here. I’m a homebody, so I try to be here,” Barb Carley said.
The Carleys, married for 47 years, bought their first trailer in 1969 and have named each one.
They recently bought a house in Mesa, Ariz., where they’ve spent winters in their trailer, and will move in at the end of October. It will be the first time in nearly 15 years they have spent more than a week or two inside a place that doesn’t move on wheels.
Their campground home is where they entertain friends and family. They planted a garden, and they’ve landscaped alongside their trailer. They added a gazebo, wired by George Carley, an electrician, so they can use a fan.
The staff at Bunker Hills consider the Carleys – who are well-known for their homemade salsa and pickles fresh from their garden – family.
“We always get excited when April rolls around because it means the Carleys are coming back,” said Jennifer Fink, a Parks and Recreation staff member.
The Carleys plan to host until they get “crabby” and no longer enjoy it.
“How are they going to get rid of us?” George Carley asks.