Osceola National Forest Workamping is a new experience for us. Not only are we in a forest but a national one at that. So the workamping rules and perks are slightly different than with our Florida State Parks. Originally we were slated to be campground hosts at Ocean Pond Campground but when we arrived the volunteer coordinator wanted us to go to the Olustee Beach Day Park and Boating area. Since, they currently do not have any park hosts in this area and have one at the campground we said, “Okay with us!”. And, for now, it is turning out to be similar to our Troy Springs State Park experience. We clean the bathrooms, mow the grass and open and close the gates each day.
Now for the differences. First, we are allowed to stay for 6 months here instead of the maximum 4 months with the Florida State Parks. National parks and, especially, forest and wildlife refuges have different guidelines for their live on-site volunteers. Mostly, because it is very difficult to get volunteers to stay from the late spring to early fall months. And, once you have proven yourself they are allowed to let you stay longer if you wish and it is needed. Just like the state parks, each of the national parks, forests and wildlife refuges do not have many problems getting volunteers to stay from October to the end of March. So, there is great opportunities here for those of us willing to stay in Florida during the “Non-Peak” seasons!
The second difference is that they have slightly different rules/forms/requirements, etc. compared to the state parks. We have a form for just about anything you can think of that we have to fill out ourselves for supplies and repairs. Here EVERYONE has to attend the monthly Safety meetings. No real hard ship in that the District office is just down the road and it gives us a chance to meet the other forest personnel as well as any other volunteers. They are very strict about not using ANY equipment you haven’t had their training for and some vehicles and equipment require particularly qualified instructors. We will find out more on that later.
There are probably a couple of more differences but I can’t think of them right now. Suffice it to say, we are enjoying ourselves right now. We are the only hosts so we have to do everything 7 days a weeks. Mostly, that entails opening and closing the gate to the swimming and picnic area each day. Cleaning the huge bathhouse within the picnic area, the barbecue grills and trash cans. And we have to mow the entire area every 2 weeks, blow off the sidewalks and the parking area and roadways. So far, the visitors have been pretty clean and helpful about not messing up the bathhouses. The biggest problem so far is about once a week someone just will not understand the concept, “Closed at Sunset”! So, if we can find them we have to tell them we are locking up. If not we lock their cars up in the parking lot until they come back. During our first week here one car stayed about all night but just before dawn he drove through the woods next to the other park hosts campsite and squeezed his little car between some trees. No one ever came down to our RV and asked to be let out.
Each evening we go down to the boat launch area which is just to the left of our campsite and clean the bathrooms, pick up the trash in the parking lot, walk down the boardwalk to check for trash and empty the trash cans if they get about 1/2 to 3/4 full. Completely full is just too heavy to try and lift and you really don’t want to leave trash in the cans more than a week anyway. Of course, we do spend time picking out bits of trash out of the aluminum can recycle bin as well. I just don’t know why people insists on putting other kinds of trash in them when they are clearly labeled “Aluminum Cans Only”.
We are currently responsible for “Group Landing” area which is a separate camping area that the forest has just for groups. It has it’s own locked entrance, bathhouse, picnic pavilion, large barbecue grill and swimming area as well as 4 campsites with water and electric. No dump station or sewers onsite though. We clean up after those campers as well as change the camper combo lock when they leave. Mostly, it is for boy scout groups, large families and business retreats. Now that the weather is getting a little warmer it is pretty much booked every day for one group or another. The hardest part so far is getting the large city trash bin picked up. No one fully explained how we were supposed to signal them it needed to be picked up. We assumed that had their own key to get back their but that doesn’t seem to be the case. So now, we have to not only put up a little pink flag that the former park host attached to the entrance sign but we have to go over their very early on Mondays and open the gates for them. Then after 5 go back down and lock them back up again.
We do have a very nice concrete pad (water/electric/sewer) with picnic table, barbecue grill, two storage sheds, access to a washer and dryer in the pipe chase of the main bathhouse and the use of a gas powered cart. All we need now is an extra refrigerator/freezer and we could stay here as long as they will let us! They are in need of another park host here and one or two campground host across the pond so if you can pass a Federal background check and are looking for a nice place to spend a few months go online and apply at http://volunteer.gov with the Osceola National Forest.
Till next time…..
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