We have lived very comfortably in our state furnished park housing for about 6 years now. It's a great perk of the job to have free housing provided, especially with such low pay. Being on call 24-7 for the public is the main reason for living on site. Even though you have the occasional bewildered guest stop by the house to ask for directions, or those emergency phone calls in the middle of the night (like somebody in the cabins is out of toilet paper), it is still worth it.
Unfortunately, all of that is getting ready to change. The current administration has been slowly chipping away at what has made our parks the number one in the nation for many years - its rangers. Rangers are expensive. They're expensive to train, expensive to house..... and this administration wants to look like it is saving you (the taxpayer) more money and bringing more revenue in for the state. At what cost?
Last year we were informed that we would have to start paying rent. However they gave the rangers a pay raise that covered those costs, so it had little immediate effect. It just looked better on paper I guess. However it made us all suspicious.
This week they dropped the big bomb on us - without any adjustment in pay, we are now required to pay for utilities and propane. To the average citizen this doesn't seem like such a big deal: "I have to pay my bills, why shouldn't they?"
First of all, as I've mentioned in previous posts, these are not fine dwellings. Poorly constructed, poorly insulated (or not at all). Infested with brown recluse spiders, outdated wiring inside walls where countless rodents scramble and gnaw. And we've got a pretty decent house compared to a lot of them throughout the state. Some are infested with black mold, and others have huge gaping holes in floors and walls. The state almost NEVER spends a dime on fixing these problems. Just last year we were all promised new windows. Then they changed their minds and were only going to replace the rotten ones (there are a lot of those). Then the money just "disappeared." (This little disappearing act seems to happen a lot where government officials are concerned.)
So now we are expected to take on the burden of the astronomic heating and cooling costs, and all the while the administration is singing their praises for how "green conscious" they have become. "See? Look how little the state is paying for energy!" Meanwhile rangers and their families struggle on 2 or 3 incomes, forced to rely on food stamps and other government assistance.
The whole reason park housing was established in the first place was for YOUR safety. If you fall and break and ankle on the trail, you don't want to wait for over a 1/2 hour for EMS to arrive at the park (in a lot of parks they're even further away). And you are really lucky if they can even find you. They are not trained for that. Rangers are. Not only are they only a few minutes away, they usually have no trouble finding your exact location.
Or maybe it's 2am and you're in the campground. Some crazy, intoxicated person is threatening you and your family with a baseball bat. Good luck getting the police department there in time to save you.
Rangers also used to receive a stipend for living off the park, if no park housing was available. Guess what? Gone. So most of us are stuck in limbo. Can't afford to stay, and can't afford to leave. Many of the most passionate and accomplished rangers are beginning to look for other jobs. Young people considering this as a career will really think twice. It's a great way to get rid of those pesky expensive rangers. Just think of all the money we could save if they all just went away. We are heading that direction, my friends.
Our amazing state parks are circling the drain. While rangers struggle and fall by the wayside, the powers that be are creating new useless positions ("look at all these jobs we've created!") that pay 3 times our salary.
It's a sad, sad situation.
Granted, we knew we couldn't stay here forever. We periodically look around at houses and land for sale in our area. But for the first time, we are serious. While we know we would be paying even more in the way of utilities and living expenses, at least it would be an investment with a return. Of course, the real problem is being able to save enough for a down payment.
It is very important to me that I stay home with my son as long as possible (a year, if possible). Now that we are facing more bills and less pay, I feel burdened to return to the work force sooner than I had hoped.
Mark insists that we can still make it work, and continue to pursue raising more of our own food. So we shall see.
This change has spurned an interesting discussion between us though. And gave us a [kind of crazy] idea. Why not live in a yurt?
My parents have a farm not too far away that they are willing to us. We've talked about building there before, but now we are seriously considering it. A yurt is a much cheaper option than building a house from the ground up. And they are just so darn beautiful! So the discussion continues. At least we have a goal to save towards. I really relish the freedom of 40 acres to improve and run livestock on......
For now we dream, and wait for the pain and anguish of writing that first paycheck that we were never meant to pay.