After meeting the Doheny State Beach park ranger last spring, Jeff and I committed to camp host for 3 months on the beach at Dana Point, CA.
Doheny State Beach is California’s very first state beach. It was named after oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny who donated 41 acres for public use on May 31, 1931. An additional 21 acres was later added by acquisitions from the Santa Fe Railroad, University of California and the Union Oil Company.
It was interesting to learn that Edward Doheny drilled the first successful oil well in the Los Angeles City Oil Field in 1892 that set off a petroleum boom in Southern CA.
After selling off his California oil properties, he was the first to drill for oil in Mexico and opened new oil fields in Venezuela.
He was later implicated in the Teapot Dome Scandal in the 1920’s, being accused of offering a $100k
bribe gift to US secretary of Interior in connection with obtaining a lease of 32,000 acres of government-owned land. The 2007 film There Will Be Blood is loosely based on Edward Doheny.
This is our first experience camp hosting and we where set to make the most of our free coastal living in exchange for 15-20hr of “work” each week.
For those not familiar with Camp Hosting, RV parks, campgrounds and National Parks will offer a free campsite (usually with full hookups) in exchange for 15-20hrs/week of volunteer work. It’s a great benefit to the campgrounds to have camp hosts on site to monitor the comings and goings of campers and to help with grounds keeping, bathroom maintenance and selling of firewood.
It’s a win-win for both parties as it offers us full timers an opportunity to give back, have purpose and camp for free while providing the parks with much needed help.
Each campground has it’s own agreements with hosts with different expectations/responsibilities and length of stay. So understanding your roll prior to committing is quite important to having a positive experience.
The reason we decided to make Doheny State Beach as our first experience was because it did not require cleaning of bathrooms or campsites, the campground is directly on the beach and it only required a 3-month commitment.
We showed up at Doheny a few days prior to our first day of work and did some training with the departing camp hosts.
Up at 5am to retrieve the camper log from the ranger station ½ mile from the campground with the provided golf cart. Drive around the campground to check registrations of campers, make stops around the shower houses, write up warnings to offending campers who string cloths lines from bushes or park in the landscaping. Then return the log back to the ranger station.
At 8am do a quick loop through the campground to remind campers that generator hours don’t start until 10am.
At noon it’s another trip around the campground to get those checking out to move along so that sites can be cleaned by staff before new campers start moving in about 1pm.
From 3-4pm we do an occasional loop to sell firewood for $7/bundle. We keep our RV door open until 8pm and make one more trip to remind folks that generator hours are over at 8pm before calling it a night.
We manage the campground with 1 other camp host couple and worked 2 days on/2 days off/3 days on. The following week we are 2 days off/2 days on/3 days off. That way we were off every other weekend. All hosts are flexible and if we needed a day off or just even a round covered, the other hosts were always willing to cover for us and us for them.
Easy peasy right?
So here is what really happens…
5AM while scanning the showers, if a door is closed and locked it usually means there is a homeless dude or meth-head encamped in the private confines of a shower stall. Whether they have chosen to take a sh*t in said shower stall is always the mystery when the ranger shows up to remove said homeless dude.
Place “friendly reminders” on windshields of those who showed up after hours that they must report to the kiosk to get their tags. Some are legitimate campers with reservations. Others are trying to camp for free by showing up late and leaving early. The ranger issues tickets to offending parties.
8AM we get to delay camper’s consumption of coffee by having them turn off their generators until 10AM. You can imagine how that is received.
Usually between 12-3pm we escort more homeless folks out of the campground who are trying to use the showers, toilets or picking aluminum out of the trash cans or are simply trying to walk off with campers bicycles, cell phones and wallets.
Occasionally we call the rangers on non-camper interactions that involve drug use and/or mental health crazy talk. Excuses for their presence is usually brushed off as they are there to “see a friend” or “a photographer taking family pictures” all the while walking off with someones generator with the extension cord dragging behind.
We’ve also dealt with groups of homeless folks that get one campsite then invite 14 of their friends for late night raves. According to the rangers, there is nothing that can be done since they paid for a campsite.
And when you confront non-campers they usually excuse their poor behavior by saying they are a veteran, saying they are helping veterans or give you a hardy, “God bless you”.
Luckily we only had two midnight knocks on our door that involved loud music. And another incident that involved a car egging after a large group of noisy campers ticked off their neighbors. According to the large group their music was “barely audible”.
I’m not going to lie. The first couple of weeks were a challenge seeing the overt drug use and mental health issues that this campground is surrounded by. But after that we developed quite a sense of humor about it all and realized that MOST people were opportunists rather than physical threats.
Despite some of the riff raff, we met a lot of great campers and got to spend a season living on the coast of California…for free.
Would we do it again?
We committed going back in October!
Doheny State Beach is located in the wonderful community of Dana Point. Within walking distance we had nice restaurants, grocery shopping and the Pacific Coast Trail to run and cycle.
It was a great location for the 10K Spooktacular Halloween run, 10K Turkey trot Thanksgiving Day run, the Cuyamaca 100k trail run and the Glamis Sand Dunes Veterans Day clean up.
We also drove to Newport Beach for the famous Christmas boat parade and took a trip to San Diego to have Thanksgiving dinner with some RV buddies.
Overall we really enjoyed spending fall/winter in shorts and t-shirts in southern California and look forward to returning to the coast in October.