A home away from home
Campground hosts enjoy meeting people
By Greg Seubert
Hartman Creek State Park’s family campground was pretty quiet on a recent weekday.
Only a handful of the campground’s 100 sites were occupied, but campers with questions had a place to get answers.
Dave and Rosie Christensen of Appleton have been campground hosts at the park for five years, while Ron and Sherry Handrich of West Bloomfield have been hosts for more than a decade. Both families will spend plenty of time at the park this summer and are able to camp for free.
The park, located seven miles west of Waupaca, is marking a milestone Saturday, June 4, with its 50th anniversary celebration. Several events are planned from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A Wisconsin State Park vehicle admission sticker is not required in the park as part of Wisconsin’s Free Fun Weekend.
While Rosie spends the week working in Appleton, Dave and their dog, Scruffy, greet campground visitors.
“I’ve been camping here about 35 years,” he said. “My kids grew up camping here. It’s a nice area and it’s close to everything. You can run to town and get groceries. It’s just a friendly place to come.”
Besides answering campers’ questions, campground hosts help keep the area clean.
“I just like to get out and meet the people that come in,” Dave Christensen said. “The dog and I go out for walks and meet different ones. When they’re out walking, they’ll stop by and talk.
“You meet a lot of different people,” he added. “I was amazed the first year of all the questions people have. Where’s the best place for canoeing or kayaking? Where’s a good place to go out to eat? They have nice naturalist programs and they wonder what’s going on for the kids.”
“I like to shoot the breeze with all the campers,” Ron Handrich said.
The Handriches are also responsible for the park’s group camp, which is separate from the family campground.
“You always have the ones that try to get away with shooting off fireworks and college kids coming out and thinking they can have parties until 3 in the morning,” Christensen said. “That doesn’t happen in a state park, so that’s a fast exit.”
Hosts will contact the park office if there’s a problem, according to Ron.
“We’re not supposed to get into law enforcement,” he said. “You might have that once every two years.”
“I think I’ve had about four or five little ones that got lost and went a different way,” Christensen said. “Last year, I had one little girl come up crying. I asked her what kind of camper she had. She could explain to me that she was with her grandparents.”
Christensen was able to have a good idea of where the girl might be staying.
“I took her down there and sure enough, Grandpa was waiting for her and Grandma was out riding her bike looking for her,” he said. “Her brother got in trouble because they were coming back from the beach and he was supposed to be in charge. He went one way and let her go the other and that didn’t work out so good.”
Christensen arrived at the park in May, will head home in June and be back in July.
“You get to June and it’s pretty much full all the time,” he said. “Memorial Day weekend, that’s the big one. Your electrical sites are definitely gone. If you don’t make your reservations 11 months in advance, your chances for an electrical site are none.”
Rosie works in Appleton during the week and camps on the weekend.
“She comes up for the weekend and goes home on Sunday,” Christensen said. “I’ll go home to cut the lawn.”
Christensen has met campers from several Wisconsin communities and other states.
“Fox Valley, Wausau, Wisconsin Rapids,” he said. “Every so often, you get some from Minnesota and a couple from Illinois, but not too many. Last year, we had a bicycle rider that came from Eau Claire. He rode his bike here and all he had was a little backpack. From here, he was going to Green Bay and meeting a friend. He put on a lot of miles. He said he does it every year.”
The Handriches spend their winters in Arizona and are at Hartman Creek in May and June. They also serve as campground hosts in August and September at Lake Emily County Park near Amherst.
“We go to Arizona and usually get back around the first week of April,” Sherry said. “We go home and then we come out here. We’re at home maybe two months out of the year.”
“We go home to cut the grass and do laundry,” Ron said.
The couple and their dog, Louie, stay in a trailer, but they started camping together in a tent.
“Prange-Way in Waupaca had this tent on sale for $65,” Ron said. “I said, ‘I’m going to buy that tent.’ She said, ‘What do you want that for? You’ll never get me in there.’ First, I couldn’t get her in the tent. Now I can’t get her out of it.”
The Handriches enjoy the park’s hiking trails and wildlife.
“You hear a lot of different stuff at night,” Ron said. “One time we were out here in October and some wolves went through. They let out a howl and you could hear that all over.”
Christensen said he and his wife have no plans to give up their summer job.
“Your sites are not all jammed together and most of them here are private,” he said. “There’s nobody right next door to you. You go to a lot of private campgrounds and it’s one camper after another. That’s what I like about it here.”