8/20/09 - Jackson Meadow Recreation Area, CA - We have bears! For the past month or so, a bear (or more) have been visiting the campgrounds almost nightly. They're not doing much damage, other than getting into someones food. We are CONSTANTLY educating campers to lock their food up when they are not around. But there's always someone who leaves food out overnight. The bears are starting to get used to this and are returning almost every night to find food. But it's not just the campers. Connie and I left a garbage bag in the back of my company truck one night and a bear tore it apart. Last night, a bear got i and nto a small trash bag. The only food in it was an old steak bone.
Earlier this week, Connie and I took pne of ourt short working day off vacations. Let me explain... Since we started a "Camp Store" this year, we've been learning how to keep it stocked. Being cautious, we didn't over buy. However, this meant we would need to make a trip into Reno, NV every week to purchase more store stock. We've started buying a bit heavier, but still need to restock every couple of weeks. The only time we've had to do this, is on our days off. It's an all day trip to visdit the many stores in Reno for restocking. Sometimes, we wouldn't return until after 8:00pm. We learned that we could make this a 2 day trip. This is what we did earlier this week. We went to Reno in Monday, enjoyed dining out, played miniature golf (sometimes a movie), and stay in a hotel. We've been using "reward points" to get a free night at the Mariott Courtyard. We enjoy a long hot shower and using the hot tub. We also enjoy a good meal out. Then on Tuesday, we get an early start and do all of our shopping. We even have that down to a science now. We have our list of what to get and where. We've learned to return to the same stores, as we know the layout and can quickly go through the store buying what's on our list. After visiting the same 6 or 7 stores, we can return home by 5 or 6:00pm. Not the perfect way to spend your days off, but it's our choice.
The company recently purchased us a LARGE cargo truck. Next year, we'll build a warehouse and stock up in large quantities at the beginning of the season. Hopefully, we'll only need to restock once a month.
All else is the same at work. Business is getting a little slower. Soon, school will start and we'll be slow again in all the campgrounds. Labor Day weekend is coming up fast, then we'll be doing last minute work and closing the campgrounds. Connie and I are already talking about what to do this winter. We're thinking of traveling across the USA again and visit Florida for a month or so. We spent a few months in Florida in 2005 and really enjoyed it. Unfortuanetly, the cold winter limits where we can go.
8/10/09 - Jackson Meadow Recreation Area, CA - Okay, I KNOW I've severely neglected the website. Once employees started to arrive and we worked to get the campgrounds opened, it seemed we never had any free time. What little free time we had, we sure didn't feel like working on the computer all night. Now that things have gotten into a routine, we have some personal time. We actually have 2 days off this week! Keep in mind, most of this hard work has been by choice. As the district manager (operations manager), I felt obligated to get everything working the way I wanted, or expected. Trying to catch up on the past 5 months may take awhile, but I probably won't go into much detail. Here's a glimpse of what's happened with us since March (the last update):
March 2009 - Indian Valley Campground, CA - After a few days of snow, it melted real quick and got nice again. We finally got the electric company to come out and turn on the power. Life was good and relaxing, at least for a couple weeks. We got use to the local area and prepared for the employees to start arriving. We spent much of our time shopping for company items. We organized the employee training session, created new employee packets and training items, purchased much needed tools for the camp hosts, and are variety of office products. Without an office, our home was pretty messy and packed full of items and boxes of stuff. But we felt fairly prepared for when employees would start arriving.
April 2009 - Indian Valley Campround, CA - We had 12 campgrounds to get opened by the end of April, just in time for the opening of fishing season. We had a four couples arrive, which included a couple area managers, a couple maintenance men, and a few hosts. Looking back, we had too many people arrive too early. But they wouldn't agree. Opening campgrounds and being out of shape is physically demanding. Considering almost everyone may be considered "seniors", the work was pretty demanding for them. After campgrounds have spent the winter, there's a ton (many tons) of pine needles that need to be raked up and moved to a "slash" pile. This involves MANY truck loads! In addition, there's broken trees, fire pits that need cleaned out, very messy bathrooms, and streets that need be cleaned off. Getting 10 campgrounds cleaned up in two weeks can be a challenge. But the crew worked hard and got the mission accomplished. Pretty much this was the limit of the excitement for April.
The difficulty for Connie and I was primarliy the long driving distances involved. Our companmy trucks were stored in Carson City, NV. That's about a 3 hour drive from where we were staying onthe Yuba River. Reno, the nearest city for shopping was over a 2 hour drive each way. We were making this trip almost daily to purchase supplies and tools. Luckily, the weather remained nice after we had that last snow fall at the end of April. Connie and I moved our motor home further up the mountain to Sardine Lake Campground. The 12 campgrounds were opened on time by April 24th. Of course, they weren't very busy, whcih allowed the new camp hosts to get better accustomed to their jobs and the paperwork involved.
May 2009 - Sardine Lake Campground, CA - Before the campgrounds opened the end of April, we moved our home further up the mountain to this campground. The host site here has full hookups. Of course, it took a few phone calls and missed appointments to get the electric and phone service turned on. We worked to get the water system operational. During this time, most of the remaining employees showed up for work. We had their training scheduled for the beginning of May. We conducted training, even though we were short a few hosts. One couple wouldn't be arriving for another month and another host was missing. The missing host never did show up or return any of our calls or emails. Connie had worked hard to plan and provide a meaningful training session. Larry's boss attended as well. Everything went very well. We heard it was one of the best training sessions conducted. But we have ideas to improve it for next year. After a week of work, one couple had to leave. A medical exam suggested he might have cancer. Reluctantly, they packed up and headed home for more medical exams (which ended up being clear). Right off the bat, we're short a camp host and maintenance man. Luckily, we found some campers who were interested in the position and started working for us. Unfortunately, they also left after a month or so due to family medical problems. We also had another host quit after one day of training. But this wasn't much of a problem, as there was already another local host to cover the workload. Both of them were part-time. The other host just became full-time.
Our stay at Salmon Creek campground was short lived. Rick, the local area manager (site manager) was to occupy this site and his wife Cookie was the camp host for this campground. They had stayed down at the lower elevation (3200') at Indian Valley Campground. Now that training was over and he had a full staff, they needed to move up here to start getting these campgrounds cleaned up and opened (6500'). Our next big goal was to get at least 9 more campgrounds cleaned up and opened before Memorial Day weekend. We enjoyed one day of full hookups before we needed to move out of their RV site.
Since half of the Yuba River area campgrounds were already opened and the staff was in place to get the remaining campgrounds opened, Connie and I moved over to the other area we would be managing. We moved to Cottonwood Campground in the Sierraville Ranger District. This campground is only 22 miles from Truckee, which reduced the time to go to Reno by about an hour. This campground was already operational, being one of the 12 we opened the end of April. Our next goal was to get into Jackson Meadow Recreation Area as soon as possible. We had been closely watching the road, as this area is a "Sno Park" during the winter for snow mobiles and such. The road going back to the recreation area was slowly being opened, a few miles at a time. It's 17 miles back off the main highway. By now, we could get within 8 miles of the recreation area. We were really hoping to get at least one campground opened for Memorial Day weekend. Again, after spending one night in our new location (no hookups), we heard the road to Jackson Meadow Recreation Area had been plowed. We checked it out, and sure enough, the road was open to the lake. We packed up and moved again after spending one night here.
We moved into the Pass Creek Campground overflow area. This area isn't covered by trees and we could get our satellite signal there. Opening this campground was even more difficult then the others. One of the problems opening campgrounds is the staffing. The first campgrounds to be cleaned up and opened will have many employees doing the clean up. But as campgrounds get opened, the staffing gets reduced. Once a campground is opened, the camp host needs to work on their own campground. Eventually, as was the case now, there's few employees left to clean up the campground. They are all busy working their own, opened campground. Being short a few hosts didn't help either. Adding to the shortage of labor, it was only a week before Memorial Day weekend. The few of us worked pretty hard to get this one campground opened within the week. But we did it! Surprisingly, Memorial Weekend was pretty slow. People weren't used to having the campgrounds opened this early. Normally, they are still closed due to snow.
Our next goal was to get another nearby campground opened within a week. This would have been almost impossible, due to the shortage of staff. Luckily, we met a camper over Memorial Weekend would wanted to help out. We gave him a couple weeks of free camping in exchange for his helping to clean up the campgrounds. This guy was GREAT! He worked hard all day with minimal supervision. With his hard work, and that of the few employees we had locally, we got another campground cleaned up and opened within the following week. But this one had TONS of pine needles that needed to be moved.
During all this time, Connie and I never had a day off. There was still too much to get done and we were still short employees. Next year, I'll try to be OVER staffed!
June 2009 - Pass Creek Campground, CA - While the crew continued to finish opening the picnic area and group campground on this side of the lake, we still have another area on the other side that needed to be worked on. Our RV site, the office, the warehouse, and the location of the future camp store was also on the other side of the lake. However, the road getting there was still closed and covered with snow.At least until the early part of June. Four wheel drive vehicles and ATV's had plowed through the road enough to make it start melting quickly. Near the beginning of June, we were able to move the motor home ONCE AGAIN. However, this time it was into our RV site we would stay at the rest of the summer. FINALLY, we had arrived (after being in the area for over 2 months). We setup home and started to work on cleaning up the administrative area. The late camp host couple had arrived and started work. We did some moving around of who worked where to cover the campground we just recently opened. But we were still short a host for the campground that were left to be cleaned up and opened. With very little staff left not already working at an opened campground, it was left to maintenance, the are manager, Connie and I to get these remaining 3 small campgrounds, picnic area, and group campground opened as soon as possible. At the same time, we're trying to create an office to work out of and a new camp store. We were shuffling work quite a bit. Connie and I would work on cleaning the campgrounds in the morning, then move to making an office in the afternoons. After a couple weeks, we had the remaining campgrounds open for business around the middle of June. However, we were still short a host for them. I had been trying to hire someone and finally got a couple to accept the position. They arrived and have turned out to be good camp hosts. He works as the host and she now works our new camp store a few days a week. Finally, we were 100% staffed. But that would only last for a couple weeks.
Back on the Yuba River area, I mentioned that a couple had to leave due to a family medical emergency. This really hurt us, as this included the maintenance man leaving. The area manager did a good job of reassigning responsibilities to cover for the missing couple. While it all worked out well, they sort of got themsleves into a bind. He decided all was working pretty good as it was (with a missing couple) and decided not to replace them. Of course, this meant many of the workers were working harder and longer, but it seemed they were all (almost all) happy with it. I've been assured all is working well. However, it would have been MUCH better if they were fully staffed in that area. But it's now too late to hire a couple for a few weeks.
Part of our goal coming here this year was to develop a "Camp Store". My plan was to convert a storage area into an office, then convert the old office into the store. While I met some resistance with the previous office staff, they were helpful in making it all happen. Connie and I worked hard, with many shopping trips to Reno to build our new office. We had to remove shelving, dead squirrels, toilets, and supplies from the storage room. We built a wall, installed a door, installed wall sheeting, molding, finished off an "dormer" window, painted, added a drop ceiling, carpet, and finally had a live-able office. Although it didn't turn out perfect, it turned out pretty good. After working on the new office for a couple weeks, while also cleaning up campgrounds, we finally moved into it the middle of June. Now that we had a new office, we could move all of the furniture and equipment out of the old office. We then cleaned, painted the bathroom, replaced the front door, and added carpeting to the old office. We installed shelving and a cash register, and a chest freezer. After MANY trips to Reno, we now had a new "Camp Store". But now, we needed to make many more trips to Reno for items to sell. We were cautious at first, not knowing how well the new store would be received. The store grew and grew. It was VERY WELL received and has been generating good revenue. We added a second chest freezer for ice and a refrigerator for cold drinks. Part of problem has been, we don't have electric here! We run an old trailer 20KW generator all day for electricity. While the generator has been giving us some mechanical problems, it's been working out well. We're selling almost 200 bags of ice a week. Of course, that's another issue. Nobody will deliver to us. We're too remote for any deliveries. This means we've been driving the 35 miles each way to pick up ice twice a week. We go at 4:00am to prevent the ice from melting before we get back. I think Connie and I now have it better planned. We're not afraid to buy in larger bulk, as the store is doing pretty well. While we were needing to make restocking tips weekly, we now only need to go back into Reno every 2 weeks to stock up. We've also learned to buy the candy as the last thing. Having a couple hundred dollars of chocolate bars melting isn't a pretty site. No, it didn't happen. But I thought for sure it was going to one hot trp into Reno.
July 2009 - Jackson Meadow Recreation Area, CA - By the Independence Day weekend, everything was fully operational. Everything was starting to run as a routine. All campgrounds were full on the weekends and pretty busy during the week. All of the hosts were now experienced enough to know what to do and were doing a pretty good job. Connie and I finally got a day off! We held an employee BBQ to let everyone know they're doing pretty good. We're getting MANY compliments from campers and only a few complaints. When you have thousands of campers and less than 6 complaints, you know you're doing a good job. The Forest Service is pretty happy with us. After the problems of previous years (other management), we're happy that we seem to have turned things around. We can now concentrate on improving even more. We've still got ideas on what more can be improved.
We had one camp host who was "okay". He did a good job of keeping his primary campground clean, but was negligent in cleaning the other 3 campgrounds he was responsible for. In addition, he seemed to be negligent on aggressively collecting camp fees. We weren't too upset to hear that he was quitting. Other than being short the host position, I was actually glad he was leaving. Luckily, we filled the vacant position within a week. The new host is doing an outstanding job. In this type of business, hiring workampers, or seasonal employees, employee issues are the most frustrating part of the job. Our previous 2 years with California Land Management, we didn't have hardly any employee issues. However, we also weren't at this level of management before. This year, it's been difficult with employee issues. I do my own interviews and hiring. Applicants will tell you anything to get the job. But once they've started working, their attitude can change. While most employees have been good, a few make it frustrating. The one host who never showed up or answered any of my followup phone calls or emails was extremely excited to be working here this year. Why didn't he show up? Is he dead? Guess I'll never know. Filling the positions here isn't the easiest either. While there's plenty of interested campers who would like being a camp host, we don't have many host sites that include electric. Most of my camp hosts have to be willing to live without electric and use their generator. Not having cell phone coverage is also a problem with some applicants. I hope the lessons I've learned on employees will make next year easier. The employees we having working now are all pretty good. Some can be better at paperwork, some can be better at cleaning their restrooms, some can be a little "nicer" with campers, and some can be better at collecting fees. But they all are doing a good job and could be MUCH WORSE.
The month of July went by pretty quick. Connie and I are now getting at least one day off a week. This is partly becauase we have a lady working the store 3 days a week. To help with the extra maintenance work load on the Yuba River side (due to an employee shortage), Connie and I started going over there one day a week to do some minor maintenance together. Not only is this helping them, we're getting out of the local area and spending some time together.