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Park hosts make for happy campers

T.K. Laureno relaxes outside her RV at Inks Lake State Park, where she volunteers as a park host. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Home, as described by retiree Mike Randall, is “wherever my wheels are. Right now, it’s Burnet.”

Randall and his wife, Joanne, are park hosts at Inks Lake State Park. Along with park host T.K. Laureno, who refers to home as “all over,” they pick up trash, clean the trails, or take reservations in exchange for a free place to hook up their RVs and stay awhile.

After years of volunteering as a park host at several locations, Mike Randall has joined the Inks Lake State Park maintenance staff. Randall remains an advocate for park hosts and other volunteer positions at Inks Lake that help keep the park running. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

The popular Inks Lake State Park is not alone in enlisting help to pick up maintenance slack. National parks as well as the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Black Rock Park, Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area, and Turkey Bend Recreation Area also have park hosts.

“What we all do is help maintain the park itself,” Laureno said. “The staff can’t keep up with it.”

Park hosts keep campsites and restrooms clean, mow the grass, work in gift shops, and take reservations. Some paddle along in kayaks and canoes to maintain shorelines. If there’s a problem during the night, when park rangers or other staff are not always available, guests turn to park hosts for assistance.

“(We) take care of our happy campers,” Randall said.

Inks Lake State Park host T.K. Laureno helps fit a young camper with a lifejacket. Park hosts perform a variety of duties, trading volunteer hours for RV space at national and state parks. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

At Inks Lake, park host couples each work at least 12 hours a week, while single hosts volunteer a minimum of 24 hours a week. (Requirements vary by park.) In exchange, hosts are given free RV space and hookups.

Laureno has been a park host at Inks Lake State Park off and on for at least four years. Randall served as one for three months before accepting a paid position there in May.

The lifestyle is transient and spartan without a lot of personal belongings that would have to be moved from one park to the next. These volunteers on wheels see their lives as ones of adventure and travel.

“I’ve been able to see everything in the U.S. I wanted to see,” said Laureno, who has served at parks in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, and New Mexico.

Since Randall convinced his wife to sell their home in Georgia about 15 years ago, they have visited every state except Vermont.

Service to community is another aspect of the job all three cherish.

“We were instilled with that service mentality,” Randall said. “We did it because there was a need, an opportunity to give.”

Guests appreciate the park hosts and their work. They often invite hosts to a meal or to share in activities.

“We make an impact on each other’s lives as hosts or volunteers,” Laureno said.

As a bonus, they get to do that work in some of the most beautiful natural areas in Texas and the nation.

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