Happy campers

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Ohio friends find volunteering at Turtle Beach Campground far from a job

By Jane Bartnett

For two longtime Ohio friends, spending a few weeks at the Turtle Beach Campground is a cherished tradition.

Patricia Mugrage and Michelle Oberdier, both seasoned campers, began visiting the Siesta Key campground in 2014 with their children in tow. These days, when the pair crosses the bridge onto the island to complete their two-day journey, it’s just the two of them.

Murage’s spacious travel trailer becomes their home. They even set up an informal living room under an awning just outside the door, complete with an outdoor rug and decorations. Flowering plants and coastal signs create a welcoming space for the trailer that also serves as their office when they assume their Siesta Key volunteer job as campground hosts.

“My husband owns his own business,” said Oberdier.

“And my boyfriend has his own business too,” said Mugrage. “It’s peak season for them.”

Added Oberdier, with a nod of her head, “They’re not beach people” as both friends laughed.

“It’s perfect for us,” said Mugrage when asked about their short-term, beachside hospitality job. Serving as a Turtle Beach Campground host carries responsibility, patience and organizational skills, the pair explained. Both had plenty of practice in these areas during their long and fulfilling careers as school bus drivers for Warren Local Schools in Ohio.

The role of the campground host, they said, is to assist campers as they check in, offer ideas on where to go and what to do on the Key, check the grounds, and lend a hand to the campground manager.

Last summer, Sarasota County recognized the women for their exceptional service and commitment. Together, the two logged more than 1,900 volunteer hours over a four-year period. “A heartfelt appreciation goes out to Patricia and Michelle, two essential faces of Turtle Beach Campground,” read the official county statement. “We recognize that without people like them on our team, our campground wouldn’t offer the customer service experience we aim for.”

In return for their service, volunteer campground hosts receive a free stay at the site. Each year, between 8 and 12 adult volunteers serve as hosts.

“We’re very thankful to have Patty and Michelle helping us out,” said Sarasota County’s Greg Steinberg, the campground and permit program manager. “We need people to host in the summer months.”

Speaking about their role as camp hosts, both women agreed that the Turtle Beach Campground attracts very interesting people from around the world.

“Campers are some of the best people,” said Mugrage.

Added Oberdier, “We’ve heard the most interesting stories from people that we’ve met.”

She recalled a woman motorcyclist who had shipped her bike from Germany to Texas.

“She rode from Texas to Siesta Key and she’s coming here again soon,” Oberdier said.

And there are some yummy perks for making new friends.

“Sometimes people bring us international dishes to try,” said Mugrage. “I remember a delicious pork schnitzel recipe that a German camper shared with us.”

In addition to sharing recipes, the two award-winning hosts also share their knowledge of Siesta Key’s restaurants with fellow campers.

“Captain Curt’s clam chowder is the best,” said Mugrage.

Both agreed that the nearby Orange Octopus ice cream shop can’t be beat, either. When it comes to getting around, the two recommend the free trolley that’s only a short walk away. “Most of the people that we meet are wonderful,” said Oberdier. “We’re all here to have a good time.”

And the friends have shared some special experiences.

“One night on the beach, we watched a big turtle lay her eggs and cover them,” Oberdier said. “She slowly made her way back to the water. It took her four hours. We watched the whole thing.”

The hosts are not alone in their appreciation of this picturesque public camping space. Last month, the Florida and Alabama RV Park and Campground Association recognized the Turtle Beach Campground as the Small Park of the Year.

Tucked away off Midnight Pass Road, campers at the Turtle Beach Campground enjoy 44 sites, restrooms, WIFI, showers, a picnic area and laundry. Reservations can be made online at turtlebeachcampground.com.

Meanwhile, Mugrage and Oberdier plan to return this fall.

“We’ve always been here in the summer. That time of year will be new for us,” said Mugrage.

Jane Bartnett
Author: Jane Bartnett

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