Step inside Don and Jo Leech's "office," and here's what you'll find: one moose, looking for lunch; a dozen squirrels, darting in a blur from tree to tree; and a few flustered, first-time campers who haven't yet cut the price tags off their sleeping bags and air mattresses.
The Leeches can't do much to help the moose or the squirrels, but they are pros at helping new outdoor wannabes figure out how to build a campfire or keep the skunks and mosquitoes at bay.
Rule No. 1? Zip up your tent.
Now that summer is officially here, the Leeches are ready for whatever campers toss their way at the Jordan Pines campground in Big Cottonwood Canyon. As campground hosts, they've dealt with everything from overflowing latrines to rowdy card games since they quit their jobs two years ago and traded their four-bedroom house for a fifth-wheel trailer.
They downsized from a living space of 2,300 square feet to one that fills up less than 250, but now that they've sampled the simple life, they don't want to go back.
Instead of an alarm clock, the Leeches are awakened by the sound of birds singing and the tantalizing aroma of campfire bacon. There are no lawns to mow, no roofs to repair and no electric bills to pay. Their only big expense is filling their gas tank.
"Since we stay parked most of the summer, even that's not such a big deal," says Don, 56, a former software instructor at Hill Air Force Base. "This is the best lifestyle in the world. To be out in nature, to be able to see the stars and watch the wildlife. What's not to like about that?"
Eager to share the joys of campground hosting, Don and Jo, 49 and a former software developer, recently joined me for a Free Lunch chat during a break from collecting campground fees and helping campers figure out how to put up their new Springbar tents.
Inside their Fleetwood Wilderness trailer, there's a sign near the kitchen sink that reads, "Home Is Where We Build Our Nest." Don's mother gave it to Jo on her birthday, after the couple announced they were downsizing to spend their summers as campground hosts and winters volunteering in warm climates like Texas.
Until a few years ago, the Leeches seemed content with their 9-to-5 lives, commuting to their jobs from the pretty little town of Mantua, in Sardine Canyon. Then, while vacationing in Island Park near Yellowstone, they met a pair of happy campground hosts.
"We had no idea that such a job existed," says Jo, who like Don has always enjoyed camping. "We thought, 'Man, that looks fun. Why couldn't we do something like that?' "
She and Don counted their retirement dollars and figured out a way to make it work. Before they sold their house, they asked their three grown children to come and take whatever they liked.
"We have a laptop and a cell phone and our cameras, so I guess we're not exactly roughing it," says Jo. "But life is much less complicated. That's for sure."
Don especially enjoys watching the transformation that overtakes city dwellers when they breathe in fresh pine. "Once the tent's up, it's nice to see them relax," he says.Unless, like one group of Girl Scouts, "they can't tell the difference between a cat and a skunk." Then, says Don, things can get a little too interesting around Jordan Pines.
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