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Wednesday, June 7, 2023
June 7, 2023

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Want to live rent-free in an RV at a Washington state park?

Here’s how you can as a host volunteer


TACOMA — Have you ever wanted to stay in a park for weeks on end? Are you looking to get outside and explore a new part of Washington? You can, but you just need an RV or boat.

Washington State Parks has more than 165 volunteer host positions across its more than 120 parks statewide. These opportunities, which allow people to stay in a park rent-free for 30 days, are just one of the agency’s volunteer programs.

Each year, the park agency welcomes around 700 volunteers at campgrounds alone, with some people traveling across the country to help out, according to Paul Ruppert, volunteer program specialist with the park agency. Overall, around 1,200 people assist Washington’s state parks at various sites like campgrounds, retreat centers, museums, lighthouses and marinas.

“There’s a diverse range of volunteer opportunities,” said Paul Ruppert,. “It’s a very rewarding job, the hosts love it … It’s a great opportunity to help the park system, help park staff and give back to the community. “

Volunteers have been assisting the Washington State Parks system since the ‘80s, Ruppert says. In return for volunteer service, the park provides hosts with utilities like internet. Many parks also have other amenities like fire pits, a satellite dish and cart access. The park system also waives its volunteers’ campsite fee.

For those interested in spending a month at a Washington state park, here’s what else you need to know:

How do I qualify to live in a WA state park?

To become a park host, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age and pass a criminal background check.
  • Have your own RV, camping unit or boat.
  • Commit to at least 30 days of volunteer service. Park managers can extend this to 90 days, if so desired. If you’re stationed at a park marina, the time commitment is expected to be between one to two weeks.
  • Be able to perform a minimum of 28 hours of service across 5 days every week.
  • Enjoy working with the public, embracing new challenges and wishes to learn about Washington’s state parks.

The state parks and recreation commission doesn’t provide lodging, so volunteers must have an RV that’s self-contained with its own bathroom and shower. The park’s host site guide tells you which sites have campsite RV hookups for water and electricity.

If you want to apply, you have to complete a park host application, a disclosure form for criminal background history, a host agreement document and a proof of vaccination status. You can download each of these forms on the park’s website. You can then email those documents to parks.volunteer@parks.wa.gov, or alternatively you can ship physical copies to the park system’s P.O. Box 42650, Olympia, WA 98504-2650.

What are WA state park host duties?

Hosts have a range of responsibilities depending on the park they’re volunteering with. Here are the different park areas where volunteers can help out:

  • Campgrounds: A host at a campground will assist in greeting visitors, answering questions about the park and performing maintenance tasks like litter pick-up, raking, trail maintenance and lawn mowing. The volunteer may also help out in other ways depending on park needs and based on their skills and interests.
  • Retreat centers: These are lodges and cabins that people can visit, such as during a school field trip or group retreat. The park host assists visitors checking in, using the center and handling light maintenance duties.
  • Interpretive centers, museums, lighthouses: Volunteers help park staff with interpretive programs, provide tours, manage gift shops, and open and close facilities.
  • Marine parks: Hosts help boaters while they enter into a marine park, educate them about park facilities and moorage, warn boaters about weather conditions and tell visitors about surrounding park areas.

If you’re interested in the marina park host opportunity, you must have your own self-contained boat with a bathroom.

WA state park openings

Washington State Parks split their park areas across six regions: Eastern Region North, Eastern Region South, Northwest Region North, Northwest Region South, Southwest Region North and Southwest Region South.

For more information on park contact information and which months you can volunteer, check the Washington State Parks Volunteer Program spreadsheet, which Ruppert says is updated frequently. If you’re interested in joining a specific park, the park agency has a site guide on its website. The document contains information like a park’s site access, if it has Wi-Fi, the quality of cellphone reception, and distance from the closest hospital, grocery store and laundromat.

To reach the park’s volunteer program office for any other specific questions, call 360-902-8583.

Here’s a list of all the park volunteer spots available throughout the state:

Eastern Region — North: The eastern region contains five park management areas, including Central Lakes, Inland Northwest, Lake Wenatchee, Okanogan Highlands and Wenatchee Valley.

  • All of the parks in Central Lakes have openings at some point through spring. The parks are Alta Lake in Pateros, Bridgeport in the town of the same name, Lake Chelan in Chelan and Twenty-Five Mile Creek in Chelan.
  • There are openings in the Inland Northwest area, including Crawford’s Gardner Cave in Metaline, Mount Spokane’s Bald Knob Campground in Mead and various spots at Riverside. The latter park has openings at an interpretive center, recreation area and some of its campgrounds. Riverside extends across Nine Mile Falls, Spokane and Tum Tum.
  • Lake Wenatchee in Leavenworth is open for park host volunteers during later spring.
  • The Okanogan Highlands area has openings at two different Conconully campgrounds in the town of the same name, at Curlew Lake in Republic and Pearrygin Lake in Winthrop.
  • Parks in the Wenatchee Valley have spots open in late winter and spring. These include Daroga in Orondo, Lincoln Rock in East Wenatchee and Wenatchee Confluence in Wenatchee.

Eastern Region — South: This region to the west of the Cascade Mountains is home to the Blue Mountain, Central Cascades, Coulee Corridor and East Columbia Gorge management areas. These parks have opportunities open:

  • Several parks around Blue Mountain have spots open starting in April. The parks you can stay at include Camp Wooten’s retreat center in Pomeroy, Fields Spring in Anatone, Lewis and Clark Trail in Dayton, Lyons Ferry in Washtucna, Palouse Falls in Washtucna and Sacajawea in Pasco.
  • Openings are available in the Central Cascades at Fort Simcoe in White Swan, Ginkgo Petrified Forest’s interpretive center in Vantage, Lake Easton in Easton, Wanapum’s recreation area in Vantage and Yakima Sportsman in Yakima.
  • There are openings starting in spring in the Coulee Corridor. The parks that have volunteer opportunities are Potholes in Othello and Steamboat Rock in Electric City. You can also volunteer at either a campground, retreat center or interpretive center at Sun Lakes-Dry Falls in Coulee City.
  • The only spring opening in the East Columbia Gorge is at Maryhill in Goldendale.

Northwest Region — North: This Washington region consists of the Central Whidbey, Deception Pass, San Juan and Whatcom Bay areas.

  • In Central Whidbey, there are spots open at Fort Casey’s campground, boat launch and Admiralty Head Lighthouse in Coupeville. You can also volunteer at South Whidbey in Freeland.
  • Two openings are available in March at Deception Pass’ campground and its marina at Cornet Bay in Oak Harbor.
  • The San Juan area has opportunities around Moran at its campground, interpretive center and retreat center in Olga. There’s also an opening in March at Spencer Spit on Lopez Island.
  • Whatcom Bays has openings most months in spring at two parks. These include Birch Bay in Blaine and Larrabee in Bellingham.

Northwest Region — South: Three management areas are in this region of the Evergreen State that include the Cascade Foothills, Salish Foothills and Tahoma Gateway areas.

  • There are no park openings in the Cascade Foothills during winter or spring.
  • Several parks in the Salish Foothills have openings in spring. They include Cama Beach on Camano Island, Camano Island State Park on the island of the same name, Rasar in Concrete and Rockport in the town of the same name.
  • In the Tahoma Gateway area, you can sign up as a park host volunteer at Dash Point in Federal Way, Federation Forest in Enumclaw and Saltwater in Des Moines during the spring months.

Southwest Region — North: This region is composed of the Kitsap, Olympic Peninsula, Olympic View and South Sound areas.

  • There are multiple camping spots available in the Kitsap area, including Blake Island’s marine park in Manchester and Scenic Beach in Seabeck.
  • In the Olympic Peninsula area, spots are open at Bogachiel in Forks Potlatch in Shelton.
  • or the Olympic View area, volunteer spots are available at Anderson Lake in Chimacum, Fort Flager’s interpretive tours and Mystery Bay’s marine park in Nordland.
  • penings are available at several parks in the South Sound area, including Belfair in the town of the same name, Jarrell Cove in Shelton, Joemma Beach in Lakebay, Penrose Point in Lakebay and Twanoh in Union.

Southwest Region — South: This region is made up of the Battle Ground, Long Beach, Millersylvania, Northern Shores, South Beach and Upper Cowlitz areas.

  • There are no openings in Battle Ground.
  • The only opportunity in Long Beach is at the Cape Disappointment’s campground in Ilwaco.
  • You can volunteer at any of the parks in the Millersylvania area. This includes two areas at Millersylvania in Olympia and Rainbow Falls in Chehalis.
  • You can stay at parks in Northern Shores, including Lake Silvia in Montesano, Ocean City in Hoquiam and Schafer in Elma.
  • In the South Beach area, the only park that’s hosting a volunteer in spring is Twin Harbors in Westport.
  • Several parks in Upper Cowlitz are hosting for months through spring. You can sign up at Ike Kinswa in Silver Creek and Lewis and Clark’s campground or its environmental learning center in Winlock. There are also various spots at Seaquest in Castle Rock, including its campground, visitor center and at Yurt Village.