As some of you know, I spent this summer in Harriman State Park in New York. I worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a company with campgrounds and lodges at various points on the Appalachian Trail, from New Jersey to New Hampshire. This means that I was able to spend the summer in a beautiful place, surrounded by nature and opportunities for adventure. The experience was one I know I’ll be telling stories about for years and years to come, so I thought I’d start here, where someone might be sparked to do something like this themselves.
First, logistics. I found the job on a site called coolworks.com, which has listings for jobs of this nature all over the country. You can apply to be a white water rafting guide in Colorado or to work at a restaurant in Yellowstone. Coolworks is a gold mine for unconventional opportunities that allow you to make money while spending time in a beautiful or unique location, and often provide (or charge a nominal fee for) room and board. My job at Harriman charged next to nothing for a place in the staff cabin and three fantastic meals each day. This made it a great way to save money, since all of my basic expenses were covered.
I also had lots of free options for leisure available to me, since I was surrounded by hiking trails and right next to a lake where I could swim or kayak whenever I wasn’t working.
I arrived pretty early in the season, so I got a little room to myself in the staff cabin. By late July, eight staff members lived there, but when I started it was just me and two others. As others began to arrive, the small cabin, with its six tiny bedrooms and common living space, did not seem to crowd, but to fill with life. My coworkers were the best part about the summer.
I had expected to meet some cool people this summer, but I didn’t expect the highlights of my days to be the laughs shared over staff lunches or the conversations about books around the fire. I thought the people would be a nice bonus to the beautiful landscape and ample adventure. On the contrary, while I did plenty of hiking, I found myself looking forward to board games and movie nights in the staff cabin, or simply setting up dinner service and listening to music with them. I was so lucky to work with this very unique and endlessly accepting group. Don’t get me wrong, there were days when it was hot and customers were annoying and we all wanted to scream at each other, but the vast majority of the time, they made work feel like goofing around with friends. Adult summer camp.
As for that work, most days consisted of simple chore-like tasks such as preparing and cleaning up from the buffet-style meals, cleaning cabins, fetching firewood, and working in the camp store. Some days we would sort and clean camping equipment or inspect the boats, or, the favorite task, hike around the lake to tidy up the backcountry camping sites. This essentially meant an hour long like with a few stops to check on platforms, bear boxes, and outhouses. Getting paid to hike is pretty sweet.
Typically, we all got two days in a row off each week, giving us time for camping trips or backpacking or to leave the park. In comparison to last summer, when I was working two jobs and an internship and constantly running into scheduling issues, this was a huge relief. I took a few trips into NYC and one to another AMC camp, but spent most of my days off enjoying the camp and surrounding areas. I was also able to invite some friends and family to visit me, as the staff guest policy is generous and free tent platforms are provided especially for this purpose.
The hardest thing about this job was leaving. I expected that I would like it there, but I hadn’t anticipated feeling so at home in that group of people that it hurt to go. The few times I went away for a couple of days, I found myself wondering what my friends back at camp were up to, and I knew the end of the summer would bring some difficult goodbyes.
This experience was such a genuinely fun and worthwhile one. It worked out far better than I could have asked for when I took the job. While some of this comes down to the wonderful coincidence of a staff that worked so well together and actually liked each other, I would recommend trying a job like this to anyone looking for something different to do for a few months. I think that with the right attitude you can make the best of any job like this. The advantages are abundant:
- Meet fun new people who likely share some of your values
- Experience a new place
- Have access to outdoor activities
- Spend days doing fun, simple work
- Save money
- Get some perspective on your “real life” by stepping away for a bit
However, if you’re not willing to put up with some minor inconveniences for a few months, this type of job may not be for you.
- Are you willing to be without AC during the hottest months of the year?
This was a big turn off for my sisters when they came to visit. For the most part, the temperature wasn’t too bad because of the shade and elevation, but there were definitely a few weeks were heat and humidity were inescapable.
- Can you disconnect?
We had wifi in the staff cabin, but very little phone signal. Many of the jobs I looked into had neither, so that’s definitely something to consider when deciding to spend four months somewhere. It was a hassle at times, but urged us to spend more time together, rather than tied to our phones. On a typical evening, you could find most of the staff gathered in the living room playing chess and guitar or out at the dock for a swim.
- Will you go crazy in a rural area?
If you don’t have a car, you may get bored spending all of your time in one place. Still, in places like this there is usually so much to do that it isn’t an issue, and if it is, people are (in my experience) typically willing to give you a lift.
- Are you willing to live very closely with people?
You’ll be sharing bathrooms and possibly bedrooms with people you’ve probably never met. You’ll have little to no privacy. You will likely see your coworkers and bosses whether you are working that day or not. It helps you to build friendships fast, but it can also be draining.
- Overall, are you willing to be a little uncomfortable?
Whether it’s with socializing, temperature, cleaning bathrooms, talking to guests, or the fact that you’ll probably have mosquito bites constantly, you may be stepping out of your comfort zone a bit in a job like this.
If these few factors don’t deter you, I highly recommend heading over to Coolworks.com for your next job. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, but you may find it to be more than worth it.