The great outdoors is her ‘home sweet home’
Karau reports difficult customers, but still loves what she does
Denise Karau’s unique vocation offers scenic views from the comfort of her home, a rotating variety of travelers as neighbors, and the option to roast as many s’mores as she’d like. She is the host at the Blue Earth City Campground, and she loves it.
Karau landed the gig in April of 2020, and officially began her duties later that June. She heard about the opening via a family connection.
“It’s Chuck’s fault,” she says, referencing Chuck Hunt, editor of the Faribault County Register. “Chuck is my brother-in-law, and they (the Register) got the ad from the city saying they were looking for a camp host.”
Karau admits, “I had never thought of it before. I didn’t know it existed.” However, it was exactly the kind of opportunity Karau had been searching for.
“I am a mission volunteer with a group called NOMADS, which is part of the Methodist church,” explains Karau. “I had just gotten off the road because of COVID; we all got sent home.”
The opening for a campground host in Blue Earth proved a perfect job opportunity for Karau following her brief hiatus from NOMADS. However, she fully intends to return to the program when it re-opens this fall.
“It’s the best-kept secret of the Methodist church,” shares Karau.
The NOMADS mission statement declares their purpose is to “Use our hands to do Christ’s work.”
They elaborate, “NOMADS is a mission outreach ministry of United Methodists. The NOMADS program is specific to individuals and couples with RVs wishing to be involved in Christian service.”
The services NOMADS provides for communities take a variety of forms, according to Karau. “The service depends on what program you go under,” she explains. “There are church camps, churches, all have to be under the United Methodist Church.”
She also mentions a one-week disaster rebuild program which NOMADS is affiliated with.
Karau explains she found the program during one of her previous careers as Director of Discipleship Ministries in Rochester.
“One of the areas I worked with was senior adult ministries,” she relates. “Retirees were always looking to do something that wasn’t nothing. I found that program, and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.'”
As the program provides volunteer opportunities in southern states during the colder winter months, Karau’s gig as a campground host throughout the summer is the perfect compliment to her NOMADS schedule.
However, the job is not without its challenges. A Blue Earth City Council meeting on Monday, Aug. 2, brought to light some difficult behavior Karau has had to contend with.
In a report submitted to the council, Karau recounts pushback she has received when asking people from the community to leash their dogs and avoid driving on back camping sites.
In the report, Karau shares a response she commonly receives from citizens is, “I’m a taxpayer.”
She explains citizens interpret this to mean, “They own the campground,” and “they can drive in here anytime and anywhere they please.”
Karau wants to emphasize why this reasoning is faulty. “Being a taxpayer doesn’t equal special privileges,” she says, “or that you own the campground. The city does.”
Nonetheless, Karau estimates she sees 18-20 non-camper drive-ins daily, and sometimes double that number on weekends.
Other issues she observes include people photographing and videoing visiting campers from their cars, and people assuming they can camp, use the dump station, and get wood free of charge.
“There are campground rules and regulations, and I give them to everybody who comes in,” shares Karau. She distributes the pamphlets diligently so visitors are aware of expectations at the campground.
Nonetheless, Karau often receives negative responses to her requests. She has been called names and threatened by upset community members.
She admits one response does bother her more than most. “The one thing I have a hard time hearing is, ‘You’re not from here, so you don’t know what we do here,'” admits Karau.
But in general, Karau maintains a ‘live and let live’ attitude in response to the backlash.
“It’s just a part of life,” she says. “It’s not fun, but I don’t take it personally. It’s people who don’t like change. They’re digging their heels in because it’s not what they want, and I get that.”
The campground’s rules do represent a departure from the practices of years past, when payment occurred according to an honors system and expectations were much looser.
Karau’s hiring represents Blue Earth’s intent to take the campground in a different direction, however.
“When I came aboard, it was like a blank slate,” says Karau. “We spent a lot of time updating the website, deciding rules, signage. We just had to start from scratch.”
Karau and her superiors hope the implementation of new guidelines will pay off via a beautiful, safe campsite which travelers will enjoy visiting.
“We have wonderful reviews of the campground,” says Karau. “I think it’s because when people come to me about their concerns, I try to smooth it over. I try to relieve their anxieties.”
Despite dealing with some strife, Karau maintains most of the people she meets at the campground are a joy to converse with.
“It’s just that few that make it uncomfortable for campers,” she explains. “Most people are easy to be with. You always have that one percent that you want to leave, but 99 percent are just wonderful.”
She insists she is very happy with her position. “This is like a vacation to me,” she says, “with as much work as I want splashed in.”
Karau simply hopes community members will be cognizant of keeping the campground an enjoyable destination for citizens and out-of-towners alike.
“The main thing I want people to know is, we’re all in this together. If there’s an ordinance for one, there’s an ordinance for all. We’re all treated equally,” says Karau.