Camp hosts improve camping experience
POLSON — “Good mornin’,” Dave Gray calls in a Louisiana drawl to a couple walking towards Flathead Lake.
Gray works at Big Arm State Park, operated by the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Department, as a camp host.
Big Arm State Park has 41 campsites and three yurts, two large and one small.
The perfect person to be a camp host, Gray likes people and the recreational vehicle lifestyle. He visits with any campers out walking, answers questions, gives directions if asked, sells firewood and ice and makes change for the showers.
He and wife Judy are from Haughton, La.
“We love the RV lifestyle,” Dave said. “We love to travel and were blessed to be able to retire fairly early.”
Dave is a former firefighter, and Judy is a registered nurse.
The couple has been camp hosting for four years, but this is their first year in Montana.
Judy has a brother in Arlee who has lived here for 22 years.
“It’s fun getting to know him again,” Judy said, and she and Dave wanted to get to know his family.
“It’s hot back home, and it’s cool here,” Dave said, citing another reason for coming to Montana.
The FWPD has a computerized central reservation system, Dave said. He prints each day’s campsite reservations and then makes rounds of the park to see if any campers came in late at night. Then they prepare the park for the day. A volunteer, Judy and another volunteer clean bathrooms while Dave checks reservations, puts reserved tags on campsites and cleans camp sites as people leave.
“We handle cancellations, custodial work and light maintenance,” Dave said.
Mowing and watering the grass, keeping the bathrooms, pit house and bath house stocked and clean, picking up trash around the park and cleaning and prepping the campsites keeps the camp hosts busy. For larger jobs, FWP has a maintenance guy on call.
There are four camp hosts at Big Arm State Park, two on duty at any given time. The Grays and one other camp host work three days on and four days off, while the other crew works four days on and three days off.
Big Arm State Park is the jump-off point for Glacier National Park and it’s also one of the largest state parks around Flathead Lake.
Before hosting in Montana, Dave and Judy hadn’t had a chance to meet many Canadians, and they think Canadians are great.
Guests from Switzerland, Russia, France, Turkey and Belgium as well as all over the United States have stayed at the park.
Many overseas visitors fly halfway around the world, rent an RV and then drive to Glacier.
Dave and Judy and their crew are ready to help with direction, explanations of signs and brochures.
One of the neat things about working as a camp host, Dave said, is getting to know the neighborhood. On vacation, five days or so only gives people a hint about an area.
“When you live in the community, go to church there, get your hair cut there and buy groceries, then you get a taste of the region,” Dave said.
After Labor Day, they’ll be heading back to Louisiana to await the birth of twin grandchildren in January.
Maybe next year the Grays will come back to Big Arm State Park, or maybe they’ll pick another state, but as one camper said, “He’s a great camp host.”