Campground hosting: a perfect fit for this retired mayor

After 12 years as Stonewall mayor, Ross thrives in volunteer posts in U.S. parks.

Coffee time Chez Thompsons, with happy campers!
Coffee time Chez Thompsons, with happy campers!

Ross Thompson

People ask if I miss being mayor of Stonewall after 12 years in the chair. “Not really,” I reply. “There comes a time when I’m up for a change – something different, and the town is due for a fresh approach.” Thanks to volunteer host programs in most provincial and state parks, I have the honour and privilege of being a “mayor” of two campgrounds for a month each, in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Voluntarism is a way of life with many seniors, and volunteering as campground hosts is a fun, meaningful and healthy example, ideal for those in the Freedom 55 category.

“Why go across the line to volunteer?” you might ask. Most parks of our neighbours to the south have a one-month term, whereas in Manitoba it is for the whole summer: mid-May to mid-September. For us, the shorter stint is ideal.

Our first park was Icelandic State Park, just west of Cavalier, N.D., a short hop over the border from southern Manitoba. We were selected for the busiest weekends all summer: civic holidays, theme weekends and kids weekends, all complete with games, contests and other special events. This park features plantation-style evergreens, well-groomed biking and walking trails, a huge reservoir and a golf course across the waters.

Later in that first summer when we were at Itasca State Park south of Bemidji Minn., we filled out an application and handed it in person to the supervisor. I verbally highlighted my experiences as a Manitoba parks and natural resources biologist, but that didn’t seem to register. He looked at me and said, “Holy moley, You’re the MAYOR! Uncle Sam wants YOU!”

Mississippi headwater monument.
Mississippi headwater monument.

Itasca State Park is at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, an historical, spiritual and cultural icon, even though at its source, leaving Lake Itasca, it is not as wide even as Portage Avenue in Winnipeg – the Mini-Mississippi, would be a good description. Check it out. There is a live webcam of the headwaters on the Park Rapids, Minn. website. We told out kids at home to click on at a certain time to watch me moonwalk across the Mississippi….. BACKWARDS!

Here’s a contest to see if you are paying attention. The first person to email me with a complete list of all the U.S. states that the mighty Mississippi touches en route to the Gulf of Mexico will win an Itasca prize!

Host duties involve being the eyes and ears on the ground so to speak, assisting campers, checking out the facilities and features, conveying comments and assisting with special events. In return, hosts are provided with a site for the time stayed.

Another bonus: hosts get to meet wonderful staff and visitors. Lynne started a coffee time in both campgrounds and the responses have been marvellous! What a great way to hear visitor comments, beefs and bouquets, and of course to socialize. Much of the discussions focus on travel, home communities and tips for RVing. I have helped many campers with solving problems (been there, done that), loaning tools and equipment and pointing out features and events. In many situations, campsite visits were required to remedy glitches. Three times I did “break and entries” to help locked-out campers.

If you have the right stuff, and the time and flexibility, campground hosting may be just right for you. Most parks have an on-line application form or you can visit a park, check it out and meet in person with the staff.

The many rewards of this type of volunteering are worth considering. It is not about getting, but more about giving – your time, talents and experience. In the case of campground hosting, the rewards amount to six figures: S-M-I-L-E-S!

Ross Thompson is executive director of a northern Manitoba caribou board. Reach him at

One thought on “Campground hosting: a perfect fit for this retired mayor”

  1. Ross, it was great to read of your new activity. We met 8 years ago when my wife, sister & brother-in-law, all from Winnipeg, were seated with you and your family at the Centennial Cantata at the legion.
    Your warm welcome added to the evening, and then a week later we received your hand-written note, accompanied by 2 Centennial pins.
    Thank you again for your hospitality, continue to enjoy your new interest!

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