By Bill McKay
Four years ago I retired after a successful career of 38 years. Two years ago my wife Paulette and I traveled to Vermont and Maine in our new RV to escape the heat of summer and to explore our national parks. While there, we found many people in our campgrounds were there for the same reasons as us. We discovered many were ‘Workamping’ working full and part-time in campgrounds or in nearby national parks and tourist destinations. This ‘senior workforce’, as we later discovered, is a vital resource to many businesses and organizations that are operated seasonably during the summer months. We found this to be interesting but did not give it a second thought; after all we were enjoying retirement.
In January we attended the Tampa RV show and found companies representing organizations looking for summer help. One of the companies, Delaware North Corporation, manages 12 retail stores in Yellowstone National Park as well as other parks, sports facilities (Amalie Arena) and nearby Kennedy Space Center retail and food concessions.
We pursued looking at working in Yellowstone for the summer. We completed applications, had lengthy telephone interviews and both my wife and I were excited to be offered positions at Lake General Store located on the shores of Yellowstone Lake.
Our adventure began in May, driving to Yellowstone in our RV, our home for the next four months. We took our time and made stops in Nashville and St. Louis before heading further north and west. We saw the Corn Palace, Wall Drugs and Badlands, Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore monuments and Devils Tower before we arrived in Yellowstone.
We arrived at the park in early June. Our first purchase was a window scraper for the frost on the car windows and heavier clothes for the cooler weather. The weather the first week dipped to 24 degrees at night. During the remainder of the summer the average nightly lows were in the 30s and daytime highs in the 60s, with occasional days in the 70s. Our three month contract began in June right after Memorial Day and for the next three months we lived and worked in paradise.
The store we worked in is picturesque, in a building built in 1919 next to the historic Lake Hotel. We were surrounded by mountains and not far from geysers, rivers, rapids, waterfalls, scenic vistas, valleys and abundant wildlife. Aside from the scenic beauty of the park, the experience working with the staff was heartwarming. The staff comprised of seniors and college students from all over the world, including many senior couples and singles on an adventure like us and students from the US, Bulgaria, Russia, Romania, the Philippines and Taiwan. This blended family worked well together and many friendships developed. The older staff introduced the students to American culture, traditions and holidays like Halloween and the Fourth of July. We even celebrated Christmas at the end of August following a long standing tradition and folklore in the park.
As the summer was closing so was our time in Yellowstone. We said our sad goodbyes the day after Labor Day, exchanged addresses, made friends on Facebook and started our journey home. The store remained open for about two more weeks after we left with a short staff and was closed for the season the third week of September. Another season in Yellowstone was completed.
If you are looking for an adventure next summer you may wish to consider working in one of our 59 national parks. At our location dorm housing and RV sites for those traveling in recreational vehicles was available. The nearest grocery store was 52 miles away so meal plans were offered for staff providing three meals a day seven days per week. Due to the 7,800 foot altitude, it is recommended to check with your physician as the oxygen concentration is 5.5% less than the Tampa area and altitude sickness affects many.
The experience, the memories and the friendships made this the experience of a lifetime. If you are an adventurer looking to do something different next summer and can work several days per week this may provide your opportunity of a lifetime.