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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane couple balances travel with being a campground host

We sometimes wonder if we have what it takes to be campground hosts, the volunteers who help keep parks tidy and keep track of traffic in exchange for free camping.

The short answer is probably not. Our travels are more about being on the move. Still, if we ever decide to change our tune, we’d look to Jerry and Debbie Swayne for guidance and inspiration.

The Spokane couple have been on the road for about 17 months and they make the RV lifestyle look easy. We follow them on Instagram, and, boy, they’ve been everywhere in their Arctic Fox camper. From the Florida Keys to South Padre Island in Texas, the Swaynes have been enjoying full-time RV roaming from coast-to-coast.

“We really enjoy traveling, visiting different cities, getting reacquainted with old friends and relatives that we haven't seen until recently,” said Jerry, who worked at The Spokesman-Review before retiring a couple of years ago.

Since then, there have been many highlights, including a crawfish feast with friends outside of Charlotte, N.C., and exploring the Everglades. Well, except for the bugs. “They were terrible,” Jerry said.

One of their fondest memories involves hanging out with friends in Florida for an extended visit. “I was able to use my friend’s workshop to get some things dialed in on the trailer, adding shelving and coming up with systems for tying things down. That was really helpful. He’s so handy, a jack of all trades,” Jerry said.

They pull a 10-by-17-foot utility trailer, a very useful way to transport their gear such as motorcycles and bikes.  

There was also the time when a fellow camper noticed the Gonzaga flag the Swaynes were flying at a campground in Texas: “She was from Spokane. We had some great visits with her while we were there.”

Landing the campground host gig: When they’re not out exploring the country, the Swaynes have spent the past two summers working as campground hosts. They first worked at Hunters Campground on Lake Roosevelt in 2019.

Jerry explained the typical duties: “At Hunters, we wrote the checkout date on the back of the camper’s self-registration so the rangers and fee people could read it from their vehicle. We logged the number of tent, RV and boat trailer visits each day, fielded questions from campers and alerted rangers of any bad behavior.”

Of course, the pandemic changed some of the rules. When they worked at Spring Canyon Campground, there was more paperwork. But the perks were pretty cool.

“Fishermen like to share their bounty,” Jerry said. “They gave us Kokanee, rainbow trout and steelhead.”

They also got to meet lots of happy campers from near and far: “We met some really nice people.”

Requirements for becoming a campground host in Washington state are pretty straightforward. For starters, you’ve got to be at least 18, have your own RV, enjoy working with the public and be willing to commit to at least 30 days of service.

Sticking around in one spot was one of the big attractions for the Swaynes. “We love going to state and national parks, but there’s a 14-day limit on camping. We like the option of staying longer,” Jerry said.

That all sounds pretty peachy, but a dust-up we recently witnessed at the lovely Sunset Bay State Park on the Oregon Coast gives at least one of us pause on the prospect of hosting.

A massive Class A pulled into the campground, only to find their site wasn’t large enough to accommodate the impressive rig. The passenger got out and started yelling at the campground host as if it was his fault that they chose the short site.

The host’s feathers weren’t ruffled in the slightest, which is an admirable quality. John could definitely pull that diplomatic style off, but Leslie’s short fuse would probably blow if she were confronted by someone hollering at her. Ha!

Leslie Kelly
Leslie Kelly is a freelance writer.