Summer Volunteering in Oregon State Parks

This summer we had committed to four months of host volunteering in Oregon State Parks. Finding camping opportunities during the summer months as we get around the state visiting family is difficult. Most campgrounds are packed all summer and boondocking opportunities are limited and short term. Volunteering allows us to hang out near family for a month or more at a time and have full hookups. First up is Champoeg State Park near Newberg, OR.

Champoeg State Park Visitor Center

For the months of June and July, we worked as visitor center hosts at Champoeg State Park in St. Paul, Oregon. This is a busy visitor center in the summer and we never lacked for something to do. They have an impressive historical interpretive display, a well stocked store and very popular campground and disc golf course. The park is located in a busy bike path region making it an ideal staging area for cyclists enjoying scenic bike ways.

Mike at Champoeg Visitor Center.

Mike at Champoeg Visitor Center.

The rangers were great to work with as were our fellow volunteer hosts. Our primary duties were to greet visitors and sell store merchandise along with a few grounds cleanup responsibilities. We set up the RV in one of the campground sites. Some hosts consider this undesirable due to noise and the number of people. We actually found it highly preferable to the other off-site options.

Our work schedule of two days on and four days off allowed us to take many trips into Portland to visit family. We also explored the area and came to really like the nearby town of Newberg. It’s a college (George Fox University) town, which means it has an abundance of great little coffee shops. There were several eateries with ample gluten free options for Patricia, including the awesome Newberg Bakery!

In July, our New York City grandson came out west for his annual summer visit with us. He pitched a tent at our camp site for two weeks. It was fun to spend time with him. It was also fun that he could visit with other family members in the Portland area during his visit.

Smith Rock State Park Welcome Center

After a short visit in Dufur with my parents, we transitioned to Central Oregon for the month August to Smith Rock State Park in Redmond. Our grandson still hung out with us and once again, had a nice spot to pitch a tent. Our duties were welcome center hosts. In contrast to Champoeg, Smith Rock was a laid back atmosphere in the visitor center. A large yurt served as a central point for park visitors to get information about the hiking trails and rock climbing opportunities. We worked all the days it was open, Thursday through Sunday each week from 9am to mid-afternoon. To this day, we can both recite the directions for the most popular hiking route in the park – Misery Ridge Loop! Day after day we repeated this hike description! It is aptly named I might add! We didn’t just talk the talk, we hiked the hike! Misery Ridge indeed!

Smith Rock Welcome Center

Smith Rock Welcome Center

We enjoyed this park immensely from a hiking and photographic perspective. Patricia had a whole month to photograph sunsets/sunrises one of the states most picturesque geologic features! There were miles and miles of hiking trails to explore and several geocaches for me to hunt! I even met up with a local geocacher for a day of hiking and geocaching. We also made several day trips exploring the area including family visits and shopping in Bend, hiking and photography near Mt. Bachelor (Todd and Sparks Lakes) and visits to Sisters, Redmond and Cove Palisades State Park.

Family visits played a part in our time in central Oregon as we were able to visit one of our daughters and her family. It was nice to get in several outings with them.

Molalla River State Park

Our final volunteer commitment for the summer was back in the Portland area at Molalla River State Park for the month of September. This is a day use park that must be opened and closed daily by camp hosts such as ourselves. Beyond that main responsibility, we just needed to empty garbage cans, check on bathroom supplies, record water usage, test park water, record park visitor count and some grounds maintenance (mowing large grassy fields and trimming walking paths). It was a very quiet and rural setting.

The primary reason for taking this commitment was to be near one of our daughters who was due this month with her first child! It took two thirds of the month to go by but grandchild #11 finally arrived! It was an exciting event and we took several trips into Portland to get as much time visiting as possible before we needed to ship out for the coast then on to the southwest for the winter. Not being close by during these early months of great change will be hard but hopefully we won’t miss out on too much with video chats!

Highlights from our time at Molalla River State Park include exploring the nearby community of Canby revisiting our favorite haunts in Newberg, Patricia making headway on her photography e-book and of course those family visits!

All in all, we really enjoyed these host jobs. They allowed us to visit family all summer without having to pay campsite fees. We met some great people and have tentatively re-up’d for two of these parks again next summer – Champoeg (June/July) and Smith Rock (August). We plan to spend September in Colorado next fall.