Saturday, February 4, 2023


Life lessons in cleaning toilets. What years as a work camper have taught me 

My husband and I have come to the end of our six-year run as work campers (volunteers) at a regional park in Arizona. I have learned more than I thought possible. It has been wonderful, though sometimes trying and definitely hot. It’s been stinky and dirty at times, but I have learned a whole lot during our time as work campers.

It is not as much about learning new skills, although I can now get a toilet sparkling clean in under three minutes. It has been about perseverance, diligence, acceptance and a lot about human beings. Work camping has taught me a lot.

The truth about park hosts

We were hired as Park Hosts. Sounds great, right? Showing people around, selling firewood, telling campers what site they are in, walking the trails. Not quite. At 6 a.m. on training day, I was handed a toilet brush and a bucket. Turns out there are 10 bathrooms, 52 toilets, 10 major Ramadas, too many picnic tables to count, 123 grills, 83 huge 55-gallon garbage barrels, and trash to pick up for miles. I will admit that day one had me in tears and my husband asking if we had to sneak out in the middle of the night. I told him no, but I wasn’t touching a toilet!

Work camper job: Eliminated!

A year later (or maybe two) I started doing my fair share. It got better, I didn’t gag anymore and I learned to change gloves in seconds. We had a great schedule. We worked four hard days in a row and then had eight off to rest and/or travel. But now our job has been eliminated. The county parks have decided to hire full-time employees to clean. Seems they couldn’t get enough volunteers. Imagine that!

Perfect timing

Whether it was fate, coincidence, or divine intervention, the timing is perfect. We have inherited my dad’s house about 20 miles from the park. We debated splitting our time between our two “houses,” but we ultimately decided that wasn’t what we wanted to do right now.

Reflecting during these last four workdays (yes, I am counting), being a work camper has taught me a lot, a lot more than I ever thought I would learn.

Being a work camper taught me a lot

There are a lot of life lessons in cleaning toilets! Here are a few things I’ve learned as a work camper over the years:

  • People are really grateful for what we do.
  • Working with a spouse requires you to give and take. We went from spending little time together to full-time RVing and working together all at once. Beyond needing patience and compromise, it required us to establish boundaries. In the end, we each took our own jobs and did not comment on the quality or lack thereof to the other person. We practiced that valuable marriage technique of keeping our mouths shut unless there was a fire, an upcoming preventable accident, or I was going to drive the county truck off the narrow trail again.
  • Somebody has to do it! Behind so many faceless and sometimes disgusting jobs, there is a real person doing it. I say “thank you” more often now. I have more gratitude.
  • Doing a good job is doing a good job. I did my best in my past corporate office job and doing my best still matters to me. It doesn’t matter what the task is in front of you.
  • Don’t do it! Splashing water on a mirror, leaving toilet paper on the floor, or tossing a water bottle cap on the ground affects another person. Just please don’t do it.
  • Give people the tools. Hand out an extra trash bag or two and people will pick up after their party themselves. Is that similar to the proverb, “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”?
  • We are all connected. Our job is important, and not just because we’re cleaning the restrooms. Picking up the cans, twist ties, caps, water bottles and litter tossed intentionally or unintentionally is of value. We are interconnected with the other park hosts that keep everything running—the Nature Center, the entrance booth, the campgrounds, trails and maintenance. In life, too, we are more connected than we can even imagine.
  • Some people are just disrespectful—don’t buy into it! While the vast majority of people we encounter are well-meaning, there are some that don’t care or who want to act out. That is their issue, not mine. Don’t buy into it. Their anger doesn’t have to be my anger.
  • Teaching kids is important. We can always tell what parents are teaching their children. Some kids trash the playground and others are taught to pick up after themselves.
  • There is a season for everything. We are entering a new phase of our RVing life. Our work camper season has ended and a new one begins. One door closes and another opens.



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9 months ago

When I went camping, our site had a pit toilet. It stunk horribly. Some wonderful, experienced camper went in there with some kind of cleaner and hosed down the whole room. It smelled ok for the few days we were there! I will always be grateful for that person and wonder what they used to make the place smell so much better for a few days in hot weather!

9 months ago

It’s true womenfolk are terrible about flushing the toilet. Almost never clean a ladies room where the flush handle has been used in all toilets.

James and Deborah Gould
10 months ago

Awesome story. We’re on to our second workamping job soon. We understand.

Chuck Woodbury
10 months ago

Nanci, during my college summer vacations I worked as a fire fighter for the U.S. Forest Service. When not fighting fires we had to do chores of all kinds including cleaning the pit toilets. We would argue over who got the men’s or women’s toilets. Everybody wanted the men’s because they were always cleaner than the women’s.

Steven Noyes
10 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

When I retired from the US Navy the transition class told us to just get a job, because “it’s easier to get a job if you got a job”. They never seem to come around when you need them. To that end I took a job as a custodian at a High School while looking for preferred employment. I can attest to your claim that the women’s bathroom’s were the worse!

10 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

What? You are joking, right?

RV Staff
10 months ago
Reply to  Lobo

Hi, Lobo. In fact, Chuck told us about this observation in our Zoom meeting last week. Must be true, if he can still remember that so vividly so many years later. 😆 Have a good afternoon. 🙂 –Diane

9 months ago
Reply to  Chuck Woodbury

My husband, who worked on The Blue Ridge Parkway when he was in school, agrees wholeheartedly. Also, the women’s toilets were more likely to leak or be broken. So many women “flush with their foot.” His experience taught me to be extra neat in public restrooms.

10 months ago

Many, many thanks to you, your husband and all campground volunteers! AZ regional parks are among the cleanest, well kept parks I have visited in my 26 years of RV’ing.

10 months ago

I just want to say a BIG THANK YOU! to all of you camp hosts! You do a wonderful job at making our camp experience so much better. Keep up the good work, we really need you.

10 months ago

If you think toilets in a campground are bad, try a Nascar race sometime…

Diane Tricomi
10 months ago

I would first want to THANK YOU for your years of keeping the Regional Park clean here in AZ, I have been to all of the regional parks in AZ and must say they have the “CLEANEST
BATHROOMS”!! Thank You and enjoy your next adventure in life !!

Leslie P
10 months ago

Great article! Excellent points made! You both have been great camp hosts and volunteers that taught us many things. I’m glad your RVing life is changing. You both will be missed at the park I’m certain of that!

Donald Schneider
10 months ago

Work camping jobs can turn on a dime…for better or worse. My wife and I were working at a new in the office and she doing mowing. it was great until a group of contractors moved in and trashed the grounds and were always late in paying there weekly amount….both were week after week. We got sick of it and had to leave the jobs earlier than planned. Any group can be disrespectful of the grounds and make it hard to maintain.

Last edited 10 months ago by Donald Schneider
10 months ago

Good article Nanci. I guess some people are just slobs and there really isn’t anything anyone can do about it. Just back from a two-week stay at a great state campground in Raleigh, NC I could only shake my head when I would use the men’s room and see the mess in the toilet stalls, no need to elaborate. Bet it was clean when they went in!

A good idea that I like at some campgrounds we have stayed at is when you check in they hand you a large heavy-duty trash bag. Sure we keep a box of them on board, but I bet many weekend warriors don’t and a simple reminder to pick up your campsite by handing out trash bags help.

Karen Grace
10 months ago

Thanks Nanci. We’ve had two work camping jobs so far and looking for a third next year. Yours sounded especially grueling and it’s no wonder the park has switched to full time employees. Not many “volunteers” want to work that hard, even for 4 days out of 12! Kudos to you for a job well done!!

10 months ago

We thank you for ALL that you have done over the years! Enjoy your “retirement”.

Gary Broughton
10 months ago

We worked in Jackson, WY for about 19 summers. Mostly at a campground where we got our site and some pay. We ran the office, I helped mow and clean the bathrooms. We had fun exploring the Tetons and Yellowstone. Once in awhile we’d have some problem people but we were a private a park and if needed we moved people out.
Go where you want to be then look for a job.

Robert Palesch
10 months ago

Glad to hear you learned how to tolerate the job, and thank you for your service!! We got into camp hosting only 5 years ago (before we quit) due to the attitudes of the new crowd. We never complained about the work. But boy some campers could make our blood boil. And thus the reason we are enjoying our full time life.

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