Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thanks, but no thanks

Host's site at Pulltite.
One of the maintenance guys here at Montauk is a former National Park Service employee who worked at Ozark National Scenic Riverways. When we met him a year ago, he and I had a good time chatting about various people we knew in common as well as the current status of various structures and landscapes. OZAR was one of my parks; I made several trips here to count buildings and bushes and to document the cemeteries. Each time we've been here, he's suggested the S.O. and I apply to be campground hosts at Pulltite.

Pulltite is a campground on the Current River. I had a vague memory of having seen it, at least briefly, when I documented the Weese Cemetery almost 10 years ago. Yesterday the S.O. and I decided to go check it out. It was kind of a gray day but not actually raining so it wasn't a bad way for us to spend our day off. Besides, it would take us out of the park and away from campers asking us to do the impossible (e.g., find them an empty site with electricity when the park has no vacancies).

On the positive side, the host's site at Pulltite is thoroughly modern. It has full hook-ups, the concrete pad to park the RV on is a decent size, and there's even a DISH satellite dish sitting there just waiting for someone to hook up a receiver. At some point, someone decided to do some landscaping: there are irises and other perennials planted in an attempt to sort of disguise the utility hookups. There's also a camp store located within easy walking distance so if you run out of something basic you wouldn't have to drive anywhere just to pick up some milk or bread. That's the good news.

Looking toward the campground area from the picnic shelter at Pulltite.
The bad news is that the camp store is also the Current River Canoe Rental company, one of the concessionaires allowed to rent canoes for use on the river. The campground itself is not real big (55 sites, according to information I found online) and is primitive, i.e., no hookups. It was hard to tell with the leaves on the ground, but it appears there are also no defined tent pads or parking at each site: you have a metal lantern post, a picnic table, and a fire ring. It's actually quite nice with a decent amount of space between the sites, although the sites themselves are fairly small. It's definitely set up for tent camping, not RVs. Someone with a small trailer or a pop-up would like camping there, but it can't accommodate Leviathans or the gigantic 5th wheels we get here at Montauk. This is not a bad thing except for one small detail: canoes.

The Current River Canoe Rental company is now shut down for the season, but when it's summer, it must do a booming business. There were multiple school buses and specialized canoe-hauling trailers parked in a lot off to one side of the campground; there is a humongous parking lot labeled "Floaters parking" spitting distance from the host's site. And there were photos in the multipurpose building (picnic shelter/showerhouse/contact station) showing so many people on the river in canoes that you could probably walk from bank to bank stepping from canoe to canoe without getting your feet wet.

I have nothing against people who like to canoe. We own a canoe ourselves. I am, however, less than enthusiastic about the idea of spending a summer sitting next to a super busy parking lot while crowds of people are departing or returning from floating the river. One or two people with canoes -- no problem. Dozens, possibly hundreds, of them every time the sun shines? That's a slightly different story.

Looking toward the host's site from the multipurpose building.
It didn't look like there had been a campground host at Pulltite this past season. There were no signs anything bigger than a lawnmower had driven on to or off the site in a long time, and the two picnic tables sitting on the parking pad looked like they'd been there for awhile. Given that it was a dry summer, if the site had gotten used for several months there'd have been some evidence. Jack said the Park Service has trouble finding a host for that campground, and I can see why. All those canoes. . . and then when you add in the fact it's down in a dead zone (neither the S.O. or I had any cell service; the host's site is wired for a landline) and quite a few miles from an actual town of any size . . . we could never host at Pulltite to begin with because we're not giving up spending summers in the U.P., but having seen the site, I now know why even people who live in Missouri aren't lining up to volunteer there.

On the positive side, the host's site is set high enough above the river that in the event of a flood, the host would not have to evacuate. That's not true here at Montauk.


  1. too bad they can't move the site for you or whoever away from the canoes. and have a phone in the place...

  2. Campground hosts almost always end up sitting right at the entrance to the campground. It makes it a lot easier for the idiot campers to find them.

  3. Do they actually pay you as a camp host or is it just free parking?
    the Ol'Buzzard

  4. Compensation varies depending on the campground. Federal agencies like the Park Service usually do a token stipend on top of giving you a free place to park. Back when I worked at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, I think the VIPs in the park got $10/day on top of a place to stay (space in a seasonal dorm or a place to park an RV). The token stipend was, or so I was told, a way of making sure the VIPs would be covered by workers' comp if they got hurt while doing work in the park. I have no idea if that's true. I don't know what Ozark NSR does; some parks are more generous than others. The US Forest Service has gone to contracting for a lot of its campgrounds; the hosts are hired by a private contractor (or are contractors themselves) and compensation varies.

    Missouri State Parks give you a free full-hookups site, a gift certificate good for one night of camping at any Missouri State Park, and reimbursement for mileage to and from the park up to a maximum of $100 total. So, yep, it's basically we get a free place to park for a month in exchange for maintaining a presence in the campground and doing a little bit of work several days a week. Other than the mornings when some idiot knocks on the Guppy's door before 8 a.m. asking about available campsites, it's not a bad deal.


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