Our Amazing Campground Hosts
Message From The Director
To paraphrase one of my children’s favorite movies when they were younger, “be our guest, be our guest. Put our service to the test!” Every day your South Carolina State Parks team opens our gates to welcome visitors. Some of them are venturing in for the first time, others are on their Ultimate Outsider journey and some are visiting their favorite getaway spot. Each of them arrives with different needs and expectations. We strive to make each of their experiences memorable, whether it’s a day at the beach, a hike on the mountain or a fishing trip on the lake. Not all visitors are day-trippers, however, and providing for these overnight guests requires a little bit more attention…enter the campground host program.
At Lake Greenwood State Park, part of the team that serves those overnight camping guests are Don and Norma Kennerly. Since their retirement, the Kennerlys started spending more time doing what they love-- camping. It was on an early retirement trip to Lake Greenwood last year where they found out about the South Carolina State Parks host program. The program allows people to stay in our campgrounds for long periods of time in exchange for working to help manage the park. Don and Norma saw this as a win-win situation and they immediately expressed interest to the park staff in becoming campground hosts. After the disappointment of learning that the park’s host positions were already full for the year, circumstances changed with a cancellation and the Kennerlys got their chance to become campground hosts for Lake Greenwood State Park.
Camp hosts around the state work in a number of capacities, from maintenance and welcome station attendants to retail clerks and program aides. At Lake Greenwood, the Kennerlys job assignments are focused on ensuring the campground runs smoothly. A cursory look at their job description probably doesn’t read as too engaging or interesting: 1) check on incoming campers to make sure they find their sites 2) manage the check-in and check-out lists, and 3) visit sites after campers leave to clean fire pits, check for problems and communicate any issues in the campground to staff that can help them solve it. If they fulfill these tasks, I guess you could say they were doing the job assigned. But to the Kennerlys and many other campground hosts, this description misses the biggest part of their job-- helping people. And it is in the “helping people” department that make the Kennerlys exceptional.
On a recent camping trip to the park, I had the pleasure of spending a little time getting to know them and finding out more about what they love about the camp host job. As they checked on us at the site, their easy nature and outgoing personalities turned a quick check-in to a great conversation. Don pulled up in the gator with a five-gallon bucket and pick-up stick to check the site next to us before a new arrival. I learned he had retired from working in nuclear power plants, teaching in Africa and finally working as a substitute teacher. Norma joined us as she was walking their dog. She is a retired operating room nurse who spent her entire career helping people in a healthcare environment. Don has hiked the Appalachian Trail and they both love to play pool, so well in fact, that Norma has competed in Las Vegas. With all of those adventures and interests, it would be easy to assume that they are bored staying in a campground for months checking on campers, but from the minute the conversation starts you can tell they love what they are doing now.
Don and Norma, and probably many of our hosts, see their job as a way to help others and make all feel welcome. They repeatedly emphasized the importance they place on treating everyone who stays at the park with the same level of respect and care. Their backgrounds in teaching and nursing have instilled in them a sense that no matter who you are we all need help from time to time; and that’s what they do-- they help. On any given weekend, that may mean showing the couple that just bought an expensive motorhome how to hook it up correctly or giving a family on their first tent camping trip advice on staying comfortable. As a retired nurse and teacher, they sometimes call on those skills to help with bumps and bruises or to teach fire safety (and they would be upset if I didn’t take this opportunity to remind everyone to please fully extinguish your campfire when you go to bed or leave your site). For convenience, they make their own fire starters and frequently share them with groups to help them get fires going when they are struggling. If something isn’t working right on your site, or with the park’s infrastructure, they will help fix it or get someone who can. They are there to make you feel welcome and to do everything they can to ensure your stay at Lake Greenwood will be a great experience.
Without people like the Kennerlys on our team, we could not possibly provide the customer service experience we hope to in our parks. For many visitors, our hosts are the face of the park. In fact, they may be the staff person that interacts most with them during their stay. Around the state, these hosts share stories, expertise, passion and a warm welcome to our visitors. Their work helps ensure guests feel welcome, and it allows other staff to focus on the needs of the many other visitors to our parks. Ask any park manager who has ever worked with an exceptional camp host and they will tell you just how indispensable they are.
So next time you find yourself in one of our many campgrounds stop by and say hello to the host; and who knows, if you’re visiting Lake Greenwood, or Devils Fork State Park this summer, it may even be Don and Norma who greet you!
If you are interested in becoming a camp host one day, please contact the park you are interested in directly, to check for openings!