Nehalem Bay State Park
Park Ranger Shelley Parker, volunteer and host coordinator at Nehalem Bay State Park

For anyone who has spent time visiting the parks of the Oregon Coast, you know that you never want to leave. There is too much beauty, activity and relaxation to enjoy in one visit. A select few have chosen to stay and make these parks their home away from home. They are camp hosts, and they have dedicated themselves to sharing their passion for these beautiful places with others.

Dick and Carolyn Colbert of Rockaway Beach were looking for something unique to do with their retirement. While many of their peers were fleeing to southern climates, they wanted to get out and explore the coastline they had chosen to call home. After talking to friends who had hosted at area parks, they decided to give it a try. “We always loved to camp,” Carolyn said. “We wanted to help enhance the visitor’s experience of Oregon.” They hitched their up cozy trailer and headed north to Fort Stevens State Park in Warrenton.

Fort Stevens State Park lies 10 miles west of Astoria and is a shining example of Oregon’s coastal beauty, with a 4,200-acre historical oasis of camp sites, bike trails and beaches. As one of the most visited campgrounds in Oregon, reservations can fill up a year in advance. Even though it was so close to their home, Ft. Stevens quickly became the Colbert’s favorite park at which to host, who enjoyed being available to visitors from their campsite and found themselves meeting and befriending people from across the United States and around the world. They participated in helping park rangers organize nature talks, history presentations, and potluck dinners. “Even when there was nothing going on, we were never bored,” Carolyn said. “The best part about hosting at Ft.Stevens is the nature. We were just a short walk to the ocean, surrounded by trees and birds. It’s as close to heaven as you can get.” The Colberts spent nearly a decade hosting and estimate that half of their trips were at Ft.Stevens. “The time we spent there gave us some of the best memories of our lives,” Carolyn concluded.

An hour south of Ft.Stevens is Nehalem Bay State Park. Nestled on a beautiful sandy spit, it offers activities such as horseback riding and fishing. Park Ranger Shelley Parker, volunteer and host coordinator at the park, knows firsthand how vital camp hosts are in the operation of the Oregon Coast’s parks. Nehalem Bay hosts do clean-up projects, maintenance duties, interpretive talks, and provide on-site supervision. “They do everything from simple meet-and-greet of visitors to repairing sites and buildings,” Parker said. “We have special projects hosts that have mechanical and woodworking backgrounds, skills they brought with them from former occupations.”

Besides offering diverse skills, camp hosts represent a wide cross-section of the United States. “We have hosts from Oregon, of course, but also from Montana, New York, Florida and everywhere in between,” Parker said. “They come because of the Oregon Coast’s great natural beauty and mild weather, but also to meet people like themselves. Camp hosts are people who love to interact with everyone.” Parker also noticed an incredible amount of repeat hosts from year to year. “People love coming to the Nehalem Bay area and we certainly get a lot of hosts who return every year,” she said.

The joy of camp hosting on the Oregon Coast is a culmination of good people, good times and the great outdoors. Throw in service to others and to our parks system, and you have a recipe for a dream come true. “I routinely tell our hosts that we absolutely cannot do what we do without them,” Parker said.

Editor’s note: For more information on camp hosting, visit the Oregon Parks and Recreation website.

about author Dan Haag

Dan Haag has lived on the North Oregon Coast for 20 years. Originally from the great white north of Minnesota, he decided to stay in Oregon after he fell in love with the beaches, the forests and an Oregon gal. He holds a degree in History from Linfield College and served for five years as Director of the Garibaldi Maritime Museum. He is now a full-time writer and is featured regularly in the North Coast Citizen, Coast Weekend, Coast River Business Journal and OregonLive.com. He spends his free time wandering coastal trails and doing his part to support Oregon's craft beer industry.

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