RV volunteers – feeding at the public trough?

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May 13, 2010

The headline reads, “Campground Hosts: Volunteers spend summers on government’s dime” at the Camp George Mule Ears spring Verde Bugle. Citing a long-time volunteer in the Prescott National Forest, the article implies that Dave Underwood is getting a smoking deal for free! The article says, “For volunteering to keep an eye on things and make sure everyone is comfortable, Underwood is provided an RV spot, complete with running water, electricity, propane and sewage disposal — all free — from the first of May to the end of October.”

What the article doesn’t say is the value the government gets in exchange for their site. Not only that, not all sites have such amenities. Many lack electricity and propane is often not included either. If the government had to pay an employee to do the same tasks, it would far exceed the value of the site. At even $10 an hour for 40 hours (and many hosts are effectively on call 24/7), they would pay $400/week or $1730/month plus ante up extra for benefits. Is that site worth $1730 a month? Hardly. You could live in a resort with a pool, hot tub and bocce ball for less than that. (See”What is a campsite worth?” to see how value can be figured.)

Vineski Volunteers are critical to state and federal agencies. They provide an enormous value in service and cost very little in return. According to an AARP study, 80 percent of Americans 45 years or older volunteer in some capacity. They volunteer 8.2 billion hours a year, which is worth more than $147 billion. That’s money the government and organizations do not pay out yet value they receive.

To imply that RV volunteers are taking advantage of taxpayers by getting a free site is misleading, to say the least. Sure, a site is nice and allows RVers to stay in an area they want to be in. But they are giving back way more than what they are paid. Most volunteer positions for the federal government require a minimum of 32 hours to receive a site. Many volunteers put in much more time than that.  Campground hosts usually get knocks on their RVs at all hours of the day and night; their jobs aren’t 9 to 5. Plus volunteers reduce the paid workforce by handling many tasks that would have to be handled by a paid employee or go undone. In addition, these hosts are deterrents to major damage and trashing the area that would take place without an official presence. They put out campfires left smoldering or enforce the no campfire rules when fires are dangerous.They pick up trash and litter. I could go on. The government – and taxpayers – are getting a deal.

Does this strike you wrong too? Or do you have a different take? Leave a comment and let us know where you stand. Jaimie Hall Bruzenak

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  4. John

    I believe we all can say the person writing this article does’t have a clue how any RV park operates. All they saw was someone camping for free. Doesn’t anyone research before writing anymore? Just like the internet. Sad state we are in.

  5. Duffer

    P.S. to Rehoppe,
    We are really grateful that you took the time and spent the energy to directly raise the issue to the Bugle writer. No kidding. He needs to know that his approach confused the fool out of some of us. But he lied to you in his response to your query to cover up his foolishness. Thanks for taking a lead to get to the truth, son!! No kidding.

  6. Jerry

    ” Free” seems to indicate getting something for nothing, the thought process behind democrats thinking.In this case, as usual, the liberal, uninformed media gets it completely wrong. That’s indicative of most of their “reporting”. Spending a little time actually gathering a few facts, on site, might help solve the misunderstanding instead of reporting untrue and unfounded rumors.

  7. Lew Pinsker

    Obviously the author of this article is misinformed. It would have been helpful if you included the name of the publication in which it appeared so that rebuttals could be directed where they might do some good. Comments on this blog pretty much preach to the choir.

  8. Duffer

    Jim Anderson; please inform Steve Ayers that the article did not “imply” feeding at the public trough, it stated it clearly in the headline!

    Bob and David R; I agree with you both. The Bugle writer and the RV.Net writer both failed to give a clear and concise account of the issue. Those of us who wanted to understand the issue were forced to go outside their writing and get our own facts if we wanted to understand their issues. They both used what they thought was a clever and catchy lead phrase which is sometimes used .attract attention. But their use of these was misleading and incomplete. That’s just amateurish and violates at least a few of the nine principles of journalism. They should each be encouraged to re-take their journalism classes. Rehoppe, take note here, son.

  9. David Rohlader

    Is it not a shame that a modern newspaper (with research capabilities) would print such an article? Perhaps the writer was asked to pick up trash they dropped and felt threatened? Try to follow a volunteer in a typical campground around for the time of their shift! Reality is an entirely different view. Disregard writers who do not present both sides of the picture, and keep volunteering!

  10. Bob

    My guess is that the article was written by someone who is picturing an RVer relaxing in his $250,000 motor home doing nothing more than watching the grass grow and getting a free site for his 45 footer. Any writer who make charges like this one did about volunteers freeloading on the taxpayers MUST DO THEIR RESEARCH to back up what they write. He should be fired. Volunteers are critical to keeping many sites open and maintained and at minimal cost to the tax payers.

  11. Nice article Jaimie. I hope you sent it to the editor of the Camp Verde Bugle.

  12. Jim Anderson

    Steve Ayers the reporter for the Verde Valley Newspapers reponded to my note about his piece with the following reply……

    “The article was never intended to imply that volunteers campground hosts were “feeding at the public trough. The article was written in conjunction with the Forest Service, who for some reason are lacking volunteers for this summer season. It was one of the FS reps I interviewed who used the phrase “government’s dime” as a way to entice more volunteers. As a side note, I got an email from one individual who read the story and subsequently has taken a position working at the Mingus Day Use Area for the summer. She was very grateful for the information provided in the story as were the folks from the Forest Service who don’t seem to have a problem with the headline”
    Steve Ayers
    Verde Valley Newspapers
    [email protected]

  13. w6pea

    Being a Volunteer, is one of the most Thankless jods in the world. Try being Ham Radio Volunteer Examiner….enough said.
    Thank you Jaimie for the article. I know of which you speak

  14. Richard Moffitt

    Its obvious that who ever wrote that article about campground hosting has never had anything to do with hosting and knows absolutly nothing about it. unfortunetly we have many in the media who try to write about things they know nothing about and this is just another glaring example!

  15. Gerald Strickland

    I agree with Jamie, the reporter’s title is very misleading and many people will never read the article; they just skim the headings and go away with the wrong impression of hosts. My wife and I volunteer as hosts. We’ve never been paid and do not expect to be paid. We’ve never had a full hookup sit either. We volunteer because we enjoy helping. Mostly for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game but for many other agencies as well.

  16. rehoppe

    You owe Jamie an apology! The title was an attention grabber, and the author never corrected or clarified himself that I can find. Although the tone of the article did change about midway….

    Back at you duffer. Do you feed at the trough? Now I feel better, how bout you?

  17. Karen

    Most people don’t volunteer for the monetary value of a job. They do it for a place in the world that makes them feel worthwhile, or for the love of what they are doing, the interaction with other people. I’m sure there are many folks who try the volunteer job for one season and say “never again”. Dave Underwood must really like what he does to keep coming back year after year.

  18. Duffer

    Bless you, dear woman. Sincerely. I’m sure I speak for many of us when I say our hearts ache for your loss of your late husband. Truly, I hope he is at peace.

    The personal issue you have with the Camp Verde Bugel article and it’s staff reporter, however, is yours to resolve, not ours.

    You cannot ever come back to your audience again with a partial recitation of the facts or statements made by this Bugel staff member. Your first thrust was to gain our empathy with the headline and emotion-grabbing text, and only after we all expended the effort to look into it further, did you acknowledge there was more to it and a different ending. You blew up the trust element when you didn’t provide the complete picture in the first place, nor the background, nor easy access for us to read the whole article for ourselves.

    Instead, you expected us to align with whatever emotions you had from whatever background you had. Finally, at last you told us why you reacted to the Bugel the way you did.

    That fractures trust, you know, as surely as the fractures among the facts in your story that you initially wrote. Honestly, I resent being manipulated, which is what I sense some of us feel after now knowing the whole story from the Camp Verde Bugel reporter.

  19. riggarob

    My old man used to say ” If you don’t like the way this guy is doin’ it, try doin’ it yourself”. Kinda sums up alot of things in this life.

  20. The article was apparently moved. You can read it at http://campverdebugleonline.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=26662&TM=77942.46

    My issue with the article is that the headline,” Campground Hosts: Volunteers spend summers on government’s dime.” gives the impression that RVers are getting some sort of subsistence for staying in the forest. The article makes the site sound quite attractive when in reality many volunteer sites have few or no amenities. My late husband volunteered for our “site” where we parked on a parking lot with no amenities. We had to haul water, use a Blue Boy or move to dump and used our solar panels. In another volunteer position, we macerated our sewage about 50 feet away. The alternative would have been to take the RV to town to dump. The first season we showered in town. We did get propane but had to use our solar panels and generator. (We paid for the fuel for the generator) Yes, we were glad to have a site and to help out, but it wasn’t full-hookups, for sure.

    In spite of nicely describing what volunteer Dave Underwood does, the author never indicated that taxpayers get more than their money’s worth or how much volunteers contribute in exchange for that site. For me, using that headline left the impression that RVers are taking advantage of the system. Volunteering is a win-win situation, but the government/taxpayers usually get more than they give.

    It’s fine if you disagree! I love the discussion and different points of view.


    (I find the captchas frustrating at times too- stay too long writing your answer and it is no longer valid.)

  21. Skip

    My apologies. After reading the article, I see that the lead “…feeding at the trough.” is very misleading. It is a good article. It makes me mad because I jumped to conclusions which is what the people have done with AZ 1070. And, I am really mad that most of them didn’t read the law, like our AG Eric Holder. We need the 70% to speak up.

    Again, my apologies.

  22. Skip

    You have to understand. The Camp Verde Bugle is very small, both in circulation and ideas. I use the Prescott Natl Forest on a regular basis and am very happy with the camp hosts, who do much more than I would want to do just for a place to park my rig.

  23. hoppe

    Might we know what the Publication was and who the D___ A__ Reporter is? It’d be nice if we had an email addy for the author of that headline. I’d be happy to impart my 2 cents worth.

    In Colorado the State Parks are an even worse proposition. All the hosts get is the free slot, nothing more.

    rehoppe at hotmail.com

    PS …. Still have trouble with the captcha’s

  24. Barry Engleman

    I agree with the last posts. The headline was unfortunate but the article was certainly not a dig at campground volunteers. I think the same type of thing is going on with those so upset with the new Arizona immigration law. Maybe you should read the entire article or law before you decide to criticize it.

  25. Duffer

    You didn’t post the entire article. You only extracted some limited language to present to us. What is the overall tone of all the rest of the articles from the author of this article and the editors of this newspaper? If you want a reaction, give us all the facts, please. The whole article.

    Camp Verde and it’s Bugle newspaper has a long-standing aversion to big government, I think. I’ve read parts of several other articles from this little publication that says they would rather have private businesses make money rather than have the government compete with them. Why don’t you give us the whole story so we can decide on the facts. Remember, Arizona has a lot of really good reasons to suspect the federal government’s motives on a number of issues. Especially the current federal government.

    You owe us the literary honesty and integrity of posting the whole complement of facts around this issue.


  26. 2009 Admiral

    You’re right Jim, the story is completely the oposite of the title. It even gives contact information for anyone who is interested in volunteering.

  27. Ed

    I feel that the volunteers are one of our greatest resorces and are vastly unappreciated. Should they quit doing this we would lose access to OUR parks as no one would be left to operate them.

  28. my husband and i are volunteer for state parks in norther wa. have done this for 14yr. and love it. were thankful for full hookups. we enjoy meeting people of all walks of life, thank you to the people that do

  29. Gary Underwood

    I think it’s a win-win situation. Sure it’s great to be a volunteer – get to live 24/7 in one of the prime places in the country. But, most volumteers provide back far more than the worth of the campsite. Many volunteers bring with them experience and skills from industry that can be used in our parks for the small rate of $10 a day. Thanks volunteers and for those sourpusses, find something else to complain about.

  30. Gus Jones

    You would do the volunteers a good service by bombarding the publication with the stupid headlines with a strong letter of facts. I doubt that any camper in areas with volunteers feel they are getting a free ride. We know what the volunteers do. You don’t need to tell us. Tell the uninformed reporter who doesn’t know where to find a story.

  31. hoppe

    Here in Colorado the Nat Park CGs are contracted out to Companies that then hire the hosts and maintenance folks. Then the Park Service gets a meager cut of the take. And no, the Hosting and Maintenance jobs are no ‘walk in the park/Margaritaville’ program. I’ve known several folks who did the jobs and believe me, I hope to never have to work for the kind of remuneration they receive. It is however a way for a lot of folks to enjoy their retirement a bit more.

    Thx to the hosts and maintenance people who put up with the rest of us.


    My only complaint with the program as currently run here in Colorado is that when the hosts go south for the winter the Management Companies close and lock the gates, depriving us of the use of ‘our’ campgrounds in the fall, winter, and early spring.

  32. Jim C

    In today’s economy, the only way many state and federal campgrounds are staying open is because volunteers are doing the jobs that the agency can’t afford to do with paid employees. I assume the writer of the original article is from Arizona (Camp Verde?, Prescott Natl Forest?), so he or she is surely aware that the State of Arizona has shut down of many state parks and highway rest areas. We took a trip through Arizona in March, and found only one highway rest area open the whole time. This rest area happened to be on I-17, just south of Camp Verde. Since the writer is so close to that facility, perhaps he/she is simply unaware of the sad state of Arizona’s welcome impression to travelers who need to make a rest stop.

  33. The question of whether volunteers who receive a small plot of ground and some hookups for the time, effort, and talent they expend for their chosen park should not even have to be debated. Volunteers are wealth, not expenses.
    Thanks for writing about this Jaimie. Without volunteers many of our parks would have to close. You can read my take on the subject in a blog I wrote for RV.net at: http://blog.rv.net/2010/04/can-rvers-save-our-parks-and-campgrounds/

  34. Jim Meehan

    These claims are so rediculous they are probably by the same people that think that it is a good deal for us all that many of the state campgrounds have started with privite services to take reservatios and manage the campgrounds. Those services by and large are not knowledgable about the sites and do not care to please or provide service to the campers trying to make reservations or to stay in spots that are clearly not being used.
    I met camp hosts in AZ that each put in 20 hrs a week and they get one camp site between the two of them, NOT MY IDEA OF A GOOD DEAL

  35. A free campsite is the least the government could do for all the great volunteers that keep the campgrounds running smoothly all season long. 🙂 The work they do is no small task!

  36. David Crymes

    Some folks say the glass is half full, others say it is half empty, and then there are those who say who drank my water. The hate and anger is everywhere. So many think they are being taken advantage of and get on their computers and get vile. Why don’t people be couragous and go straight to the source ie… Arizona State Parks before maligning volunteers. Thank you volunteers everywhere for your efforts.

  37. M H

    I have to agree. As far as I am conserned the volunteers are not paid nearly enough for the work that they do and the taxpayers and government are getting a real bargain.
    M H

  38. Thanks for your points. I didn’t mean to make volunteers look like slaves- only that volunteers aren’t lying around sipping margaritas while they get this wonderful, free RV site. It is an exchange. The volunteers do plenty for their site- even if they enjoy it! Both parties benefit, not just the volunteer. The original article made it seem that the volunteer was taking advantage of the system and not returning the value they received. I believe that in most cases, the government/taxpayers gets more value than the RV site.


  39. Volunteers volunteer by choice. You make it sound like we are slaves and are being taken advantage of. We have, both, worked in campgrounds and volunteered in campgrounds. Volunteering was, generally speaking, more pleasant work and we had a choice of which projects to work on. Even when we work in a campground for pay, though, there is a certain amount of work that we volunteer to do because we enjoy the lifestyle. We love the opportunity to live where most people only get to visit for a few days. There is a pay-off to the volunteer that someone who has never volunteered may not understand. Thanks for pointing out how much we are worth, though! That makes me feel even more valuable; not more taken advantage of.