Family & Friends
By Bob Lavoie, F154933
When my wife, Linda, and I arrived at Three Lakes RV Resort in Hudson, Florida, in November 2003, the new corner lot we had purchased was filled with sand and weeds. Being a bricklayer by trade and having owned my own custom construction business, I decided to get busy and make our site homey. We figured that since we’d be living there for six months of the year, it should look nice.
The first phase of the project was to spruce up the streetside corner of the lot adjacent to our converted MCI coach. We began by adding a brick walkway around the corner of the street and then filled in the remaining triangular area with a palm tree, decorative stone, and lights. During this phase we also added a 3-foot-wide, 100-foot-long brick walkway along the driver’s side of the coach for easier access to the service areas and storage bays.
Once we finished the first phase of the project, we set our sights on the driver’s side and rear areas next to the coach. Our plan was to create a courtyard that would give the site a beautiful resort feel, yet still be low-maintenance. We began by building a 120-foot-long angled brick wall, with the angle in the middle pointed away from the coach. In this corner we added a four-step waterfall that flows into a 17-foot brook, then empties into a 10-foot-diameter pond. More paver bricks were used to create a back patio as well as a walkway around the pond, which includes a small wooden bridge across the brook. A pair of palm trees, more decorative stone, and lights helped tie the two phases of the project together.
The wall is just 19 inches high, accented with 40-inch columns. It is not intended for privacy; rather, it was built as a place where a person could sit comfortably while socializing or to watch the waterfall or fish in the pond. The placement of the waterfall was no accident, either. The view from the large window on the driver’s side of our coach overlooks the waterfall and pond, and at night, when we leave the bedroom windows open, we can hear the waterfall running.
The only problem we encountered during the entire project was when we started digging the pond and found water and sewer lines running right through the middle of the ditch. In the Northeast, where we are from, these pipes are buried below the frost line, usually 36 inches, which would have been deep enough for the pond I planned. With the water and sewer line so close to the surface, I had to create some shelves in the pond to support them.
While it may look like a big job, it took us just 30 days of work (spread over a two-month period) from start to finish, and we couldn’t be happier with the result. I believe that anyone who is going to be in an area long-term should consider doing something like this that they can call “home.” Thanks to Alan at Three Lakes RV Resort for developing a park we all can enjoy.
Bob and Merrilee Simonton: Seasoned Camp Hosts
By Steve and Gail Ault, F106024
More and more people are opting out of the workforce at an early age for various reasons, well before those monthly retirement checks arrive. If you are among this group of fortunate folks, the biggest question is, how do you stretch your income or shrink your outgo when you step off the treadmill, or are pushed off with a golden handshake? Some motorhomers solve the problem by volunteering as campground hosts. Since free or low-cost RV sites typically are given to volunteers, it’s an inexpensive approach that allows retirees to contribute their skills to society while enjoying the RV lifestyle.
Bob and Merrilee Simonton, F142235, took this step, seizing upon an opportunity that came about through a chance meeting in a restaurant near their Littleton, Colorado, home. Clyde and Elva Slonaker, from Fort Collins, Colorado, full-timers and FMCA members for a number of years, told them about San Mateo Campground at San Onofre State Beach near San Clemente, California, where they had become winter hosts. The Slonakers worked at the campground for one season before it officially opened and continued working there for several winters, paving the way for more volunteers. In January 1992, during a break in work, the Simontons visited the Slonakers in San Clemente. Then in 1994 the Simontons took the plunge and left the work world behind. Bob was 52 at the time. He and Merrilee began heading south each winter to volunteer as grounds hosts, first as assistants and later replacing the Slonakers, who moved into a home in Alpine, California. The Slonakers had witnessed the effects of nature and man on the park during their six-year watch and kept in contact with the Simontons, occasionally offering suggestions. We began working at the park in the fall of 1996 as the Simontons’ assistants.
The state park employees were initially skeptical of the value of volunteers as grounds workers. Previously, volunteers were used exclusively for less physical duties such as visitor services, which included greeting people, manning museums, conducting campground checks, etc. But youth was on the Simontons’ side and they weren’t strangers to hard work, so digging, planting, trimming, and mowing were taken in stride.
Initially the campground was a barren landscape with hardly a tree or bush more than 5 feet tall. The weather is typically dry, so when it did rain, the unplanted ground and sun-scorched new plants would wash away. Great care was needed to protect plantings from hungry rabbits or the trampling feet of younger patrons. So, Bob made cages and placed them around the young plants to give them a chance at survival. Today mature trees droop over streets and parking sites at San Mateo Campground. Bob’s careful and controlled trimming of these trees keeps them from damaging today’s taller, fancier RVs with slideouts. Volunteer plants pop up all over the place, which Bob and Merrilee dig up and move into pots to transfer to neighboring parks or to irrigated rings where they can thrive until they’re needed as replacements.
There are some disadvantages to the Simontons’ annual six-month stint at San Mateo Campground. The distance from family is an obstacle. Both Bob and Merrilee have mothers in their 80s, and worry about their health. Being away from kids and grandkids during important occasions also is hard on the couple. But phone calls and e-mail help. Initially, the Simontons trenched and installed their own phone line at the campground; now they use cell phones. Visits by car for Christmas and an early plane ride back home to Colorado for Merrilee each year ease the burden of transacting business across the many miles. Southern California is a wonderful place to visit, and the grandkids (and their parents) schedule time with “nana and pops” each season. The ever-optimistic Merrilee said that moms need to wean themselves from their kids, and volunteering this far from home has helped her in that regard. She remarked how lucky they are to enjoy this lifestyle, which has brought them closer together “” and not just because of the confines of the motorhome. They are collecting many wonderful shared memories.
It’s been a win-win deal for both the Simontons and the campground. San Clemente is a beautiful community and has a wonderful climate at the ocean’s edge, but with prices running $600 and more per month for a full-hookup site in some Southern California parks, the rates are a bit high for many people. Bob and Merrilee have planned their finances to span the time from when the paychecks have stopped to when the pension checks will begin, and this state park has gained a loyal, self-disciplined couple to pamper its vegetation.
It will soon be 15 years since San Mateo Campground was opened, and the careful manicuring and nurturing of plants have transformed it into one of the most attractive RV parks in Southern California, with vegetation separating large, spacious campsites. If you are traveling in Southern California, be sure to check it out. San Onofre State Beach is located approximately 3 miles south of San Clemente, and the San Mateo campground is 1 mile east of Interstate 5 on Cristianitos Road. If you visit San Mateo Campground or see the Simontons on the road, give them a thumbs-up for a job well done.