In Which We Encounter Drama Upon Our Return to Lake Powhatan Camp Hosting

Upon completion of our three month job as “glamping” camp hosts at Lake Powhatan National Recreation Area outside of Ashville last November, we departed on what we thought were excellent terms with both on site and regional management at Pisgah Adventure (the contractor concessionaire managing the property.) So much so that we believed we were not only shoe ins for a return engagement at Lake Powhatan in the spring, but also we were likely to be invited for part time camp host work at one of their sister properties in Ocala, Florida. We were… overly optimistic on both accounts.

One night stop at Lake Hartwell, a great Passport America park a few miles off of I-70.

Granted, we did not immediately contact Adventure Ocala to lock in positions. Honestly, we were waiting to see how the pandemic and eventual vaccine roll out went, with an eye towards returning to arts and crafts markets should we deem things safe. After all we have not been, traditionally, traditional work campers, having done but one short stint as lighthouse tour guides at Washington’s Cape Disappointment State Park back in 2015. This lack of work camp experience has not been because of a lack of financial need; oh no, we definitely live an RV lifestyle that benefits from an income boost to our military pension. It’s just that the markets have been a better proposition.

PKM barely tolerating her pig outfit.

Ever since participating in a few very small Key West yard sale type events back in 2016, and then a few months later in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula stumbling across a local event in Grand Marais, which in turn lead to the much larger Marquette market, we have expanded Rosemarie’s jewelry sales business such that, pre-pandemic, we were selling at venues all over the country as a regular part of our travels. Our success was such that we had even transitioned away from weekly markets into significantly more profitable special seasonal events. Because of all that we never felt the need for regular work camping, and doing both would be impractical because the obligations associated with such jobs, i.e., a multi-month commitment at one location with significant weekend hours, would likely interfere with our ability to participate in the more desirable market events.

An excellent gift from Dad and Marcia.

But the pandemic cancelled all of our planned events, which is what lead to us working at Lake Powhatan in the first place back in 2020, and while the vaccine roll out was fitfully underway, we were likely months away from a jab ourselves, and thus decided to wait until summer before returning to markets. Having made that decision we attempted to contact anyone with Adventure Ocala in the hope of working a few months, late winter into the spring, but never even received a return call or email. We got hold of the Adventure Pisgah people back in Asheville, who interceded such that we eventually received a perfunctory brush off from one of the Ocala properties.

Rosemarie’s split pea soup with ham hock, sautéed farmers market chestnut mushrooms, and fresh made bread. We eatin’ right!

At a dead end there, we pursued two additional lines of inquiry: other camp host jobs in Florida, or an early return to Lake Powhatan. A lot of phone calls and emails produced but a couple of marginally promising leads for Florida, though nothing really jumped out at us, unless you count the very secretive campground owner (he would not even tell me the name of his place when he returned my call) who was looking for a like minded couple to bunker down and maintain his park/compound during the coming government collapse. That one did indeed jump out at us, but more in the horror movie manner rather than the promising offer sense.

Our site when we first get in…

As for Lake Powhatan, the problem was that they did not even open back up for the season until late March, and we were unwilling to commit to working there beyond late May. Management was frank about this limitation: though they would love to have us back, they were holding out for camp hosts willing to commit for much longer. We kept up the inquiries in Florida, but had mostly resigned ourselves to not having an additional source of income prior to our 2021 travel cycle, and sought to embrace that “freedom” while recognizing we might need to scale back a few things as a result.

…vs when we settle in.

But then, with a final inquiry, everything changed at Lake Powhatan. Having received no solid long term “Glamping Host” applications, Adventure Pisgah agreed to have us return for a two month stint, and wanted us there as soon as possible, ideally weeks before the official opening of Lake Powhatan in order to get everything ready for guests. Though we had made commitments that precluded their preferred arrival date for us, we did accelerate things and made the run north as detailed in our last posts. After a one night stop in South Carolina, we arrived at Lake Powhatan on March 15, whereupon we were informed that new senior management would be making a slew of significant employment related changes beginning within the week.

Now, pause for a minute and consider the wisdom of instituting major changes on a compressed timeline such that employees only learn of them upon arrival or, in the case of a couple of other camp hosts, during transit. With that skeptical perspective firmly in mind:

  1. All work campers would be shifted from a barter system, i.e., part time work in exchange for a free site, to an hourly pay scale, which would be at North Carolina minimum wage of $7.25 an hour for most of them. (As glamping hosts already receiving a combination of a free site and a pay check, under the new system we would earn a noticeably higher hourly wage.)
  2. Work campers would then pay for their actual camp sites at a discounted rate of $15 a night.
  3. There would be no onsite management at all, rather, Pisgah Adventure’s regional manager would assume all local responsibility for both Lake Powhatan and another nearby property.
  4. The existing on site managers and assistant managers were effectively demoted to regular camp hosts.

Finally received our center front marker light. Installing it here, along with other repairs.

Chaos ensued. Within a week the aforementioned assistant managers (who also did a lot of maintenance for the property) quit and took positions at a nearby private resort. Another couple turned around during transit and never showed up. A third couple already present put in their two week notice. The existing on site managers, who, let me tell you, did a lot for that place, handed off the reigns to the local regional manager, who also quit within two weeks, taking a position at a nearby forestry non-profit.

Kind of a farewell party for some of the people leaving after the changes at Lake Powhatan.

We did the math and calculated that the monetary effect would be a wash for us, i.e., we would be compensated about the same as under the old system based on our anticipated work hours. Plus, our glamping host job was somewhat insulated from the daily affairs of the rest of the park. The replacement for the replacement manager let us run our loop as if it were a private fiefdom, largely because she had enough on her plate running the campground and day use areas with fill in employees while urgently trying to hire new camp hosts. At one point senior management apparently realized they had gone too far, too fast, and attempted to reverse the demotion of the onsite managers, who refused the offer.

Back in Asheville, one of our first stops: Pizza Mind for their fantastic roasted cauliflower and golden beet pizza with balsamic. Fantastic.

Like the post title says: drama! We made do, adopting a Heraclitan “the only constant in life is change” attitude, though that was only possible due to our relative independence and the previously mentioned financially neutral effect of all the changes on us, personally. There would, however, be more drama during our stay. More in later posts.

Us, looking fabulous, mostly unperturbed by the changes and associated drama.