Onto week three of Park Hosting here at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. I’m continuing to have a good time and now feel confident in calling this camp hosting experiment a success. For the curious wondering what it’s like volunteering for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), I present this little post that explains what I do here and how to sign up if this is something you might be interested in trying. Let’s go!
What It Is
There are over 50 State Parks, Wildlife Refuges, and Natural Areas in Texas that have Park Host positions available. Some parks have opportunities seasonally, and some take park hosts year round. You sign up to volunteer about 25 hours a week in exchange for an RV site, exact hours and duties will vary. All sites have electric and water, most have sewer. For first time volunteers, most places will ask for a one to three month commitment. Returning park hosts can request a longer stay if the park agrees. Oh, and no, you do not need to be a Texas resident to volunteer.
At Enchanted Rock, the norm is for park host teams to work three partial days a week to get their 25 hours in, and couples have the same work hours by default unless they’d rather be staggered. Our one solo park host worked 25 hours over the course of five days to get her time in. They will not outright ask you for more hours here, but on busy weekends we often end up working “overtime” because we feel bad leaving when the park is slammed. On the other hand, if the weather is bad and visitation is low, we are often let out early.
Here at Enchanted Rock, bathroom cleaning, litter pickup, and traffic control are the three main duties. All park hosts scheduled to work on a given day join the paid field staff to clean out the bathrooms first thing every morning. Then depending on how busy things are, couples may be sent out with buckets and grabbers to pick up litter, or may don reflective vests to help park employees direct traffic.
There are other ways to get hours in though. Once a week, the campground fire pits need to have the ashes shoveled out, and the back-country composting toilets need to get cleaned and have their toilet paper restocked. There are frequently small maintenance projects available if you are so inclined, and one of the park hosts here spends one day a week in park headquarters working as a clerk. The one long-term park host who just left had a good enough grasp of the area to give interpretive talks.
From what I’ve gathered, the duties can vary widely at different locations. Some have paid custodians and thus work campers don’t need to clean the bathrooms. Some have a lot of landscaping that needs regular upkeep. Some have a lot of trails that need maintaining. If the duties aren’t listed up front when you’re perusing the various park opportunities, make sure you ask and bring up any job restrictions you may have.
How To Apply
Interested in taking a peek? Here’s what to do.
- Go to the TPWD volunteer page. You’ll see near the top of the page a link that says “More information on the Park Host program”, you can click there for a summary of what I wrote above if you wish, but click the Back button on your browser to get back to the main page when you’re done.
- To find the list of jobs, look in the the box in the upper left hand corner that says “State Park Volunteer, Concessions & Employment”. The last link in that box says “Volunteer Opportunities”, click there.
- Scroll midway down the page and you’ll see a map of Texas split into regions on the right, and a search box on the left. You have two options here:
- You can click on a map region to get all of the volunteer opportunities in that area, if you for instance want to stay in southern Texas during the winter. The page it takes you to will be ALL of the opportunities though. Look for ones that have “Park Host” in the job title and click them for more details.
- To see all of the Park Host jobs through all of Texas, use the search bar on the left and type in “park host” and then Search.
- When you’re looking at job listings, pay attention to the job requirements (all will require a background check, some might require special things like a Texas boat license), hours, and job duties. If you’re not familiar with Texas, you’ll probably want to copy the address and look it up on a map to see where it’s located and how far away it is from the nearest town.
- When you find one you’re interested in, hit the blue “Sign Up” button, and then follow the directions for new volunteer registration. It’s a fairly straight forward five step process. At the end of it, you might get a prompt to sign up for a certain schedule or months, or you might not. You can now go back and sign up for as many park host positions as interest you.
- At this point, you might also want to call or send e-mails to the contact listed for each park. I did a simple “Hi, I’m interested and signed up on the TPWD volunteer page. I’m looking to volunteer for so-and-so months, do you have anything available?”
- Not all of the listings are going to be up to date. A lot of parks leave their park host advertisement up on this page continually whether they have positions currently available or not. Some will have open months in the job title or description, but not all. You may have to “apply” to several before you get a hit.
- Amenities at the parks will vary. Julie and I interviewed and were accepted for both Enchanted Rock and Hill Country State Natural Area, but Hill Country didn’t have running water in their bathrooms (no showers!) and since the water heater is broken in my RV, that was a necessity for us.
You’re unlikely to get replies if the answer is no. If the park is interested, they will contact you about setting up an interview after speaking to your references.
All three interviews I’ve done with TPWD have been pretty easy. They’ll ask you a few questions about your work history, your rig, and your expectations, and you should ask them any questions you haven’t had answered yet about the park and area, such as:
- closest grocery store
- closest laundry
- closest Wi-Fi
There is a sort of uniform that’s required, but they’ll provide it. Park Hosts wear a beige TPWD volunteer button-up shirt and matching ball cap, you can wear jeans or shorts with it as desired.
And that pretty much covers it. Have any other questions about TPWD park hosting? Ask away in the comments below.
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