Welcome to the summer home of Ray and Mary Winter, where taped to the center-support pole somewhere between the picnic table and overhead tarp is the message: "This is a rest area - RELAX."

One might assume the sign describes the Winters' lifestyle - the couple returned for a fifth summer as campground hosts at the Uinta National Forest's Payson Lakes campground, living from late May to late September in a recreational trailer among the pines, aspen, wildflowers and wildlife.But relax? Forget it.

Chances are you might see Ray and Mary out picking up trash, chatting with campground visitors, watering the grounds, checking up on the 98 campsites, picking up more scattered trash, making a mile-long monitoring check around Payson Lake, picking up even more trash, performing any necessary maintenance tasks, cautioning against the wasting of water, waving at about anybody who drives by their site and, yes, picking up some more trash. And we haven't even mentioned jump-starting dead batteries, lighting obstinate lanterns and disposing of disabled or dying wildlife.

As hosts, the Winters give much more than that, too - they'll offer a handful of candy, a slice of white cake or maybe a scoop of homemade ice cream to anybody ambling by when the treats are out on the table.

And their salary? Not even a penny, since they're volunteers. However, the Winters aren't apt to turn down a bag or two of ice - a cool commodity always in demand - that might be offered by the regular campground visitors or Forest Service workers.

However, Mary is quick to detail some of the rewards of the summer work - a summerlong campground site at no charge, lasting friendships, Christmas cards from across the state and nation from summertime acquaintances, and return trips by campground visitors who admit they come back in part because the Winters are hosts there.

Most importantly, the reward is pride in helping to improve a recreational area and watching others enjoy it.

The campground host program has been a U.S. Forest Service function for some three decades, but was begun only a few years ago in the Uintah National Forest.

Loyal Clark, Uinta National Forest public affairs officer, said the Uinta-area host positions attract a gamut of individuals - retired couples from Florida to California offering to stay the summer in Utah as part of their cross-country treks or locals opting to call a campground in the nearby mountains home for some four months.

In fact, Uintah National Forest has so many interested host applicants that they forward some names to other nearby national forests.

Individuals are assigned to high-use campgrounds and asked to be there during the Friday-through-Monday peak periods. Some hosts may take a day or two off during the middle of the week to return home to check on the house, lawn or garden - Ray and Mary head back home to Levan for a day each week but always make it back to Payson Lakes later the same night.

Duties include representing the Forest Service, distributing brochures or garbage bags, monitoring campground activity and discouraging vandalism. Light plumbing and carpentry might be included if an individual has the skills.

However, Clark underscores the public contact offered by the hosts. "They are the right arm of the Forest Service . . . . It's a personal touch."

A few hosts go above and beyond the call of duty. Some have offered nature lectures, campfire talks and, in one instance, impromptu accordion concerts.

It's no summer vacation but instead survival of the fittest of sorts for the Winters. They squash water fights among the kids, outlast rare Memorial Day snows, double as a makeshift first-aid crew and round up the stray cattle that break through nearby fences. Mary even stayed at the campground for the duration despite a broken arm suffered outside the trailer one summer.

Meanwhile, Ray and his jack-of-all-trades efforts are more dependable than the campground water supply. The water has been off some dozen-plus times for one reason or another during the Winters' five summers, but Ray - who can solve just about any water-related crisis or other campground woe - hasn't spent a summer night anywhere else but at Payson Lakes.

In his five summers since retiring as a rubber-plant worker and farmer, Ray has helped restore the Payson Lakes campground - which had been been closed as a result of a damaging flood nearly a decade ago - by putting in water lines, sewer lines, sandy lake shores, asphalt trails, cement pads for barbecues, wooden stairs and more.

In all, it makes for a four-month summer at Payson Lakes campground that's anything but relaxing. But Mary says she and her husband wouldn't have it any other way.

"We just love to have it nice and we love to keep it that way."