Snowbirds Come to Demopolis to Roost

Published 3:27 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mack and Lennie Whatley are part of a growing trend among retired vacationers – Workamping. For the past year the Whatleys have been staying at Foscue Park in Demopolis while working as park attendants.

“We first heard about Foscue four years ago,” said Mack, who’s home is in Silver Hill, near Gulf Shores. “We tried camping here and loved it, so we would come back every year for at least two weeks.”

Last year they found out about a program through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who manage the Foscue Park, that allows people to bid on various park attendance and maintenance jobs at the Corps parks.

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“We decided to give it a try and completed the paperwork to submit the bid,” said Whatley. “We were selected for the position at Foscue and started last February. Since then, we have discovered what a great opportunity this has been for us. We work four days on and four off, plus we get to camp at Foscue for free and meet a lot of interesting campers from across the nation.”

“It is fascinating to meet all the different people who come here throughout the year,” said Lennie. “We never meet a stranger and love talking to them.”

The Whatleys said they have made some dear friends with other campers who come to Foscue Park periodically.

“We look for them during certain times of the year to come back and they look for us when they come,” said Mack. “We’ve met a lot of campers that way.”

While there are exceptions, most Corps park attendant contracts require a couple with no children to live in the recreation area and perform the duties to operate the campground or recreation area. Most contracts are from 4-7 months, beginning in April or May, and ending in September of October. An RV site with hookups is provided adjacent to the entrance station or gatehouse.

Most duties are for things like mowing, cleanup, major repairs, major maintenance, and park and gate services.

“It’s perfect for us,” said Whatley. “Since we retired we have found that we stay busier than when we were working on our careers. We’re not the type to just go home and sit on the porch. We want to keep active, as do a lot of other campers who sign up for the program.”

Mack said their duties generally include greeting visitors, collecting fees, using a computer, checking campers in, performing inspections, providing surveillance, opening and closing the gate and maintaining quiet hours.

Most “Workampers” enjoy traveling to and living in new places. As a result, Workampers may work in one location in the summer and a different location in the winter. Some Workampers return to their home for part of the year, while others have sold their homes and live on the road all year long. These types of Workampers are often called full-timers.

The Whatleys said they usually travel back to their home in Silver Hill once every month to take care of their house and see family.

“Our kids didn’t like us being gone so much at first,” said Lennie. “But I think they are starting to get used to it now. Before we retired, were always at home. Retirement has given us the chance to travel and see new places, as well as meet people and make new friends.”

The Whatleys said they have made a lifetime of fond memories while staying at Foscue this year.

“We have really enjoyed it here,” said Lennie. “It’s one of the best spots to camp because of its scenic location and the fact that it has sewer hookups. Demopolis has been a great city to get to know and one that we have completely fell in love with.”