On any given visit to Columbia County's Wildwood Park, you're likely to see either Shirley Cliett, Ollie Bargeron or Bernice Melton.
The three not only work at the park. They call it home.
"Most of our time is spent right here, right here in this office," said Bargeron, the camp host veteran, who has been working in the camp office and gatehouse greeting park guests for six years and has been living in the park for three.
The three women work about 20 hours a week in the office and make sure to greet each guest of the Columbia County-owned park with a wave and a smile.
"We couldn't have any better people-people to deal with the public. We are really fortunate," said Charlie Beale, Columbia County's recreation director. "They are all really fun. We enjoy having them up there."
Bernice Melton is the newest camp host. She started in March. Cliett, who retired from driving a school bus after 23 years, was a frequent camper at the park and has been living and working there for a year and a half.
The women live in campers at the park, but that doesn't mean they do without any modern conveniences.
"We don't rough it," Cliett said, adding that the three have large campers with slide-outs, outdoor carpeting and lights and satellite television. "It is just like home. Out here is just like our home."
Cliett said she enjoys her spot on a lake cove where she drinks coffee every morning while watching the squirrels and birds.
"I just sit there and look at the water and you feel like you are in another world," Cliett said. "It is so nice."
The women said they often get comments from people jealous of their laid-back lake lifestyle.
"But they don't really know what is behind it, how much work it is," Bargeron said. "It is nice, but they think we work up here in the office and that's it. There's a lot more to it."
When not greeting park guests, Bargeron said the camp hosts make rounds greeting and signing in campers, keeping the restrooms clean, handling any emergencies campers might have and cleaning up after they leave.
Because they live at the park, Bargeron and Cliett agree that greeting guests feels like inviting visitors into their home. That's why they say they feel like neighbors, not just campers. Many park regulars are well-known to the camp hosts.
Bargeron and Cliett say they enjoy getting to meet people as part of their job.
Cliett said it's exciting when the park holds fishing tournaments, even though the camp hosts start work at 4 a.m.
"We never get to see anything because we are working," Cliett said. "But the last day, we usually go down to the boat tournaments and get us some hats and T-shirts and autographs."
In her less than two years on the job at Wildwood, Cliett said she's put her foot in the water only once, while Bargeron admits she's never enjoyed the park's beaches. They stay too busy, she said.
On their days off, Cliett said she and her fellow camp hosts enjoy heading to "town" for shopping and dining out.
"They don't lock the gates on us," Cliett said with a big smile. "We just go to town and spend money."
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