PROVO — Pulling a red bandana from his pocket, Ron Whitney, 73, removes his glasses and dabs the sweat from his face, forehead and neck. Sitting at the table inside his aging camper, Whitney opens a large bottle of Powerade and sips the cold drink, enjoying a little reprieve from the summer heat outside. It's a well-deserved morning break for Whitney, the campground host at Whiting Campground in Maple Canyon. After an early start cleaning up after the weekend rush, there is still much more to do.
Anyone visiting the campground in the past three years will have no doubt spotted Whitney, maybe even stopped to chat with him or just seen the host and his dog briefly, cruising by in a golf cart, arm outstretched in a friendly wave.
Upon retiring from what Whitney calls "real world work," he quickly signed up with the recreational management company American Land & Leisure and was applying for the Whiting Campground before the company even got the contract for it.
For four years he worked at other campgrounds before finally settling in the familiar surroundings east of Mapleton.
"I relate to this canyon. My dad was born and raised in Mapleton so we spent a lot of time up here when I was young," he told the Daily Herald, recalling family gatherings and camping trips in the area and hunting his first deer on the mountain above.
"I've been coming up this canyon mostly all my life," Whitney said.
From the sound of it, a good deal of that life has been spent working hard and that doesn't seem to be changing even in retirement.
After graduating from Brigham Young High School in 1957, Whitney served in the U.S. Navy, worked on road construction, as a taxi cab driver and at the Tooele Army Depot loading ammunition, and that's just scratching the surface. He even started his own recreation cleanup company, maintaining campsites in the Spanish Fork District.
The business didn't last long, however, as the U.S. Forest Service implemented pack-in-pack-out, and his services were no longer required. It was tough work while it lasted, 12 hours a day, six days a week, but it was work he enjoyed.
"Now at my age I'm doing good getting this campground cleaned up in a week," Whitney said, still sipping Powerade while enjoying his break, one of a number he takes to divide up his daily workload.
Arriving the first of April, Whitney gets a head start cleaning up the campground before visitors begin arriving Easter weekend. For the next six months he lives at Whiting, packing up around mid-September after the last of the large group reservations have come and gone.
Waking early and having a quick breakfast, Whitney is usually at work by 8 a.m., looking to get most of the difficult tasks done before the heat of day. With 25 campsites and two large group sites to take care of, there is plenty for one man to do, keeping him busy six days a week.
Whether checking on reservations, doing the paperwork, painting tables, cleaning bathrooms (the "technical work," as he calls it), digging out fire pits or enforcing the rules, Whitney takes great pride in his work and is happy to hear any compliments that come his way.
He gives guests a quick rundown of the most important rules he wishes them to follow: pets on leash, generators off 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., litter-free campsite, extinguish fires with water.
"And No. 5 — enjoy," he said to new guests before pulling away on his golf cart, his dog Baby sitting next to him keeping an eye out for visiting canines.
Each Tuesday Whitney gets a day off, if you can call it that. He works on his truck, gets a haircut for the dog, goes to doctor appointments, does laundry, buys groceries. The list goes on and on, making his work
"It's getting harder as I get older," Whitney said, admitting it takes him a little longer to get the work done than it did three years ago.
He frequently gets help from local Boy Scout troops and other volunteers.
"I'm a firm believer that if you get volunteers, use 'em," he said. "It takes a lot of work off my shoulders."
With or without the help, Whitney wouldn't give it up. He enjoys the work, enjoys his trailer, enjoys the simplicity of it all.
"It's simple, it's easy. Most expensive thing is keeping gas in this generator so I can watch my John Wayne movies," he said, showing off a collection of DVDs including some of his favorites — "Green Berets" and "Chisum."
If he's not enjoying a good movie, he's working his way through a stack of used books picked up from the book exchange in Spanish Fork.
"Usually by six or seven o'clock I'm plugged into a movie or reading a book," he said.
The 17-foot trailer is a bit small, and one day he hopes to upgrade if even by just a few feet. But it seems that's a lot of money and a long way off.
Still, Whitney seems comfortable in the old trailer, shaded from sun and sheltered from wind by a nice canopy of trees, a comfortable mattress to sleep on, a table to eat and work at and plenty of friendly neighbors coming and going from all over the world.
The best part of living in the trailer is that come the end of the season, "Just hook onto it and," Whitney whistled, pointing down the winding road to the valley below, "down the canyon I go."
By the time September rolls around he's usually looking forward to leaving, but by that time he's also signed the papers to come back the following year.
While he'd initially planned on only signing up as camp host for a single season, just to say he had the experience, Whitney is working his seventh year and planning on doing the same next spring. The winter he'll spend down in the valley, maybe in Nephi.
"Home is where the trailer is now," he said.
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