Working on the Road

{mosimage}Some RVers work to support their wanderlust. Others retire with grand plans for leisure, but become bored and look for productive roles. Some work long hours for salaries, others volunteer a few hours a week either without pay or in exchange for campsites and hookups.

Henk and Georgia Parson have made volunteerism a second career since they moved into their motorhome full time in 1991. Over the past 17 years, the Parsons have accrued thousands of hours of volunteer service for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Park Service (NPS). In 2004, NPS honored the couple with a Volunteer Accessibility Achievement Award for the 1,100-plus hours each donated over a two-year span to improving accessibility for persons with disabilities at Yosemite National Park. They continue to volunteer at Yosemite, conducting accessibility evaluations of facilities, services, and programs, and taking hundreds of digital photos to illustrate accessibility deficiencies. Additionally, in collaboration with the park editor, they produced the 20-page Accessibility Guide to Yosemite National Park.

Productive Lives
Henk and Georgia started their first volunteer assignment one winter at Corn Springs, an isolated BLM campground in the California desert. Their job description: Be a presence and collect the camping fees—if anyone shows up.

{mosimage}The Parsons thrive on volunteer assignments that give them a sense of productivity.  One summer, they volunteered at another BLM property, the John Jarvie Historical Site, a Utah ranch and trading post dating back to 1890. Henk points out that each assignment with the BLM is different. At Corn Springs, because of its distance from grocery stores, the Parsons received a small monthly stipend. The Utah assignment offered what Georgia called “luxuries,” referring to the use of the manager’s washer and dryer and part of an upright freezer.

In September 2007, the NPS flew Henk and Georgia to Glacier Bay National Park, near Juneau, Alaska, to set up a document-scanning program that they had developed over the past two years at Yosemite National Park. At Yosemite they had scanned into a computer more than 10,000 pages of Completion Reports documenting work in the park dating back to 1917.

In Alaska, the Parsons scanned documents related to a Vessel Management Plan, addressing the need to control the amount of sea traffic allowed into that precarious ecosystem.  “In a month, we set up the system and scanned 3,000 pages of documents.  We also trained one of the local rangers to complete the work,” Henk says.

Henk and Georgia live by their motto:  Have fun while volunteering.  They embrace each day with energy, enthusiasm, and a strong work ethic. At ages 80 and 79, respectively, Henk and Georgia prove that one is never too old to be productive—or seek adventure.

Seeing the Country
While many of the most exciting jobs are for volunteers, Workampers also can earn money, often at jobs totally different from their former careers.

After dedicating 21 years to building a hometown newspaper in Florida, publisher Bob Sharkey looked at his wife and said, “Hey, I’m not hanging around for the gold watch!”  Jill Sharkey agreed.

{mosimage}The Sharkeys found jobs with the National History Association at Grand Canyon.  “For six glorious months, we lived and worked in the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, selling books, videos, and tapes of the National Park,” Jill says.  “We loved it!  Millions of people went through there during our stay.”

With their work bound by the corners of a desk for 25 years, the Sharkeys had not seen much of America, but that has changed as they have traveled slowly from job to job. “Once, we took two months to travel from Florida to a job in West Yellowstone, Montana,” Jill says with a laugh.

Bob and Jill hired on as store clerks for Bargain Depot Outlet Stores in the Montana town bordering Yellowstone National Park. In addition to an hourly wage, they received a portion of their rent in a private RV park within walking distance of their jobs. An added bonus?  Yellowstone for their backyard.

Camp on the Coast
State parks along the scenic Oregon coastline offer Workampers a campsite and hookups for approximately 20 hours per week of work in the park.  Most volunteer roles require a minimum of a month’s stay, affording time to sightsee in an area before moving on. Jobs vary from housekeeping to selling firewood. On a finger of land jutting into the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon, dozens of Workampers volunteer each season at Fort Stevens State Park. Fran and Velden Fothergill drove 2,500 miles from Fort Worth, Texas, to lead daily walking tours of the historic military batteries at Fort Stevens.  Cindy and Wayne Wright from Colorado served in Fort Stevens’ museum and general store, dispensing information and selling books, postcards and souvenirs.

Erv and Ginger Johnson took turns driving an old U.S. Army cargo and personnel truck, touring guests around the once-strategic fort. “The old trucks are difficult to steer,” Erv says.  “Yet, Ginger loves to drive and insists on taking her turn.”

At Cape Lookout State Park, campground hosts Dick and Penny Weidl and Larry and Evelyn Zeller cleaned deluxe cabins and yurts for the park.  Early in the season three nights a week, they held keys for the lodgings.  As crowds increased, rangers took over that duty.

Seven lighthouses on the Oregon coast use volunteers to greet visitors, lead tours, and handle gift shop sales.  The volunteers’ benefits include vests, hats, and badges, and RV accommodations in nearby state parks.

Frank and Gloria Alfana set a personal goal to volunteer at all seven Oregon lighthouses open to the public.  At Cape Meares, Frank ushered visitors up winding stairs to the lantern room and answered questions with knowledge he gleaned from studying each lighthouse’s history.  Gloria sold books and souvenirs in the main floor gift shop.  They worked three days on and four days off.

While the history, romance, and raw beauty of the Western states lure many Workampers, each RVer has his or her idea of what to see and where to work. Jobs and volunteer assignments abound across the nation—and opportunities to earn a few extra dollars or make a contribution to America’s public lands are as broad as an RVer’s imagination.

For information about Workamping, check .

Arline Chandler is a writer living in Heber Springs, Arkansas

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