There’s a bizarre subculture on the fringes of the U.S., often concentrated near coastlines. Their only permanent address is a private post box in some faraway town. They live a life in which they’re ready to break camp and move on whenever the whim strikes, or if state or federal officials might begin to notice that they’ve overstayed their welcome. Most likely, they will never be counted in the census.
They are not terrorists. They are campground hosts.
These are folks, usually retired, in their 60s or 70s, who live in their RVs and help manage state or federal campgrounds in exchange for free camp stays, according to the Seattle Times.
They might also act as volunteer interpreters or tour guides, such as Michael and Kathy Hayes, whom we met on a blue-sky sunny day when they were sitting in their lawn chairs, binoculars in hand, in front of Heceta Head Lighthouse, one of the most scenic spots on the Oregon Coast.
Like highway workers, they wore bright orange safety vests. But across the back it said, “VOLUNTEER.”
We struck up a conversation. They had seen a gray whale a little earlier, “just a young male, not many spouts, not much tail action, just sort of hanging around,” Michael said. “But lots of times the mothers and calves will come right in close here around the head.”
When I asked where they’re from, he said he grew up in Medford, Ore., and Kathy was from The Dalles. But where do they live now?
Now we volunteer at state parks and live full-time in our RV!” he said. While volunteering as interpreters and tour guides at the lighthouse, they get free camping at nearby Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park.
“We really like it, it’s just a great lifestyle!” Michael said. “Plus we get to sit out here and look at this view for four hours a day!” Below their perch, pelicans bobbed in the surf. In the summer, puffins are seen around the rocks.
Besides pointing out wildlife, they give a 10-minute lighthouse tour whenever someone wanders up the trail and asks for one. Tours are free, after you’ve paid the $5-per-vehicle parking fee for the park.
“We get people here from all over the world,” Kathy said.
Besides working as tour guides, campground hosts may sell firewood, perform maintenance and cleaning, and generally act as hosts and sources of information for other campers. Most campgrounds have at least two hosts; a sign posted by their sites indicates when they are on or off duty.
Some hosts add a bit of their own personality to their campsites, such as at Cape Lookout State Park, where one host had a flock of plastic pink flamingos sprouting from the earth and strings of white twinkly lights festooning their RV and surrounding salal bushes.