Bud Holden greeted the visitors at the information sign on the paved trail.
Let me show you the map here, he began.
The day was warm but not too hot, and the sun shone on the groups of visitors who were beginning the short trek along a portion of the old Oregon Trail.
The park near the top of the Blue Mountains and only a brief drive from Interstate 84, was not crowded that day, but small groups arrived at regular intervals to begin the self-guided tour.
Holden, 74, and his wife, Peg, 82, are among several hosts who make visitors feel at home in the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds and visitor centers.
Down the road a few miles at Birdtrack, camp hosts Dick and Dorothy Halstrop were taking a break from their chores and enjoying the pleasant morning sun.
It was 37 here last night, Dick Halstrop said. Many nights it gets down into the 30s.
The cool temperatures dont bother the Halstrops of Baker City, who live in a well-appointed camping trailer at the gate to Birdtrack.
Both couples are seasoned travelers and campers, who in their golden years have given up the nomadic life. Dick Halstrop, 79, lived and traveled in a fifth wheel trailer for 15 years, and the Holdens, who live in Hermiston, have been full-time RV-ers for the last 12 years, spending their winters in Arizona. The Hermiston couple have visited every state in the Lower 48.
Dick Halstrop met his wife, Dorothy, 78, in Arizona more than nine years ago, after both had lost their spouses. Dorothy Halstrop, a resident of Baker City, spent winters in the southwest.
I talked him into coming to Oregon, she said.
I didnt have snow, he said. She said, Marry me and Ill take you to snow. Our first year here we had about an inch of snow.
The Halstrops have summered in several campgrounds over the past nine years, and the Holdens are spending their third year at the Oregon Trail park, after two years hosting at Prairie Reservoir.
This is a nice place to spend the summer, Peg Holden said, as she looked out over the Blue Mountains from the couples camper in the shade.
This is the best part of the job, her husband said. Look at that view.
The Oregon Trail Park, where the Holdens work, is not a campground, but an improved day park, complete with marked trails and well designed sign boards. Visitors can see the ruts made by covered wagons in the lava bed nearly 150 years ago. The park has restrooms, a paved parking lot and picnicking areas.
In contrast, Birdtrack, across Highway 244 from the Grande Ronde River, is a rustic campground with outhouses. Water is available but there are no shower rooms.
The Halstrops tend four campgrounds along Highway 244 and Spring Creek Road.
We make a round robin twice a week, Dick Halstrop said.
The hosts primary chores are keeping the park and restrooms clean and making sure that all guests have paid the required fee. At Birdtrack, it is $8 per night. Guests are asked to pack out all trash.
In most cases, theres no problem, Dick Halstrop said. People stop and ask questions; stop and chat. We greet everybody who comes in.
The hosts rarely find problems with visitors, but Dick Halstrop said that when the camping fee was set a couple of years ago, there were a few objections.
A steady stream of guests keeps the hosts busy and active.
You get people from all over the world, Dick Halstrop said. No two days are the same.
The Holdens, who recently bought a house in Hermiston, are spending their last year as camping hosts, but the Halstrops plan to continue.
Theres no pressure here, Dick Halstrop said. We can rest when we want. We never get bored.
MANY HOSTS COME BACK YEAR AFTER YEAR
From May through early September they are ambassadors for the Forest Service.
The camp hosts work five days a week, usually including weekends, for a $15 daily stipend plus expenses for propane and mileage associated with the job.
We really appreciate their efforts, said Deb Barrett, camp host coordinator for the La Grande Ranger District. These volunteers provide a high quality public service that we would not be able to provide without them.
Youre not going to get rich at this, said camp host Dick Halstrop, who has been a host for several years and has no plans to quit.
Many of the hosts are retired people who enjoy traveling and camping. Most have a camp trailer or motor home.
I have had people who lived in a tent, Barrett said.
Although many who are hosts say they enjoy their work, it is sometimes difficult to find camp hosts, Barrett said. This year, she has an opening for a host at Moss Springs.
Many of the hosts are married couples who are familiar with living in the woods.
They are well connected by radio with the sheriffs office and our office, she said. Many come back for a number of years.
Although most are retired, the people we get are still very active, mentally and physically; able to handle the physical requirements of the job.
People who are interested in becoming camp hosts are asked to call Barrett at 962-85830.