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Collecting stories at the campground

Metzler Park hosts strive to make all guests feel welcome

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: LEROY GIBSON - Leroy Gibson, a camp host at Metzler Park, says one of the highlight of his job is meeting people, such as this young girl when she decided to join him in his golf cart.

Leroy Gibson sums up the best part of his job with one anecdote.

“I was sitting in my golf cart, and all of a sudden a little girl smiles and sits down next to me,” he said. “And I got to meet her and her family. Moments like that are why I do this.”

Gibson is one of three hosts at Metzler Park in Estacada, who welcome guests to the tree-nestled campsites and ensure they have everything they need during their stay.

Gibson is joined in his work by Allan and Cathy Luna. The trio live at Metzler Park during camping season from May to September. In exchange for their services, they receive a free campsite for the duration of the season.

All three agree that the job requires a passion for people.

“We really try to get to know the campers and take care of them,” Allan Luna said. “It’s more than just checking people in and out of the campground.”

Gibson believes that the job is valuable because “there’s a certain element of trust involved.”

“When people come, they trust they’ll have a good time,” he said. “It’s our job to make that happen.”

Repeat campers at Metzler, he said, are like extended family.

“Our campers are more than just strangers,” he said. “So many of them have been coming here for so many years. They’re the reason I come back here.”

Gibson describes a lot of the work he shares with the Lunas as “collecting stories.”

“We meet people and they tell us about themselves,” he said. “We learn about why they’re here.”

For example, Gibson recalls meeting a camper who was just about to be baptized in the section of Clear Creek that runs through the campground, following in the footsteps of several family members.

“It was their tradition,” he said.ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Cathy and Allan Luna enjoy a day off from their duties as camp hosts at Metzler Park. The Lunas are passionate about camping, which is why the sign near their trailer says 'A bad day camping is a lot better than working.'

For Gibson, camping is a way of life.

He and his late wife, Elizabeth, began camping together when they were 14 years old and had just started dating.

“There’s a photo that my mother-in-law took of her sleeping inside the tent, and me sleeping outside of the tent, and we were holding hands,” he said.

As the years went on, the pair made a tradition of taking a break from their lives in Gresham and camping for at least one week every summer.

When they discovered Metzler Park in 1993, its tranquility and proximity to nature immediately spoke to them.

“It’s not like a commercial campground,” Gibson said. “It’s like you’re going out into the forest.”

Gibson decided he wanted to be a camp host in 1936. He and a friend who both worked for the Highway Department were taking a break from their work on the Marquam Bridge in Portland.

“My friend told me about being a camp host, and it sounded like the best thing ever, so we planned our retirements,” he said. “We planned them right there under the Marquam Bridge.”

Gibson fulfilled this goal after retiring in 2001, at which point he and Elizabeth split their time between Arizona and Metzler Park. Several years later, he suggested the Lunas join him. He met them while attending church in Arizona and thought they would be a good fit for the job.

“You have to like people to do this job,” Gibson said. “It’s more than just a free trailer space. If you don’t like crowded busses or restaurants, don’t look into camp hosting.”

Cathy Luna said the position is a good fit for her and her husband since they love being outdoors and with other people.

“There’s really nothing like being here,” she said. “We love it.”

One of Gibson’s goals is to ensure that campers experience Estacada’s small town hospitality, whether they’re new to the area or live locally.

“Estacada really has an essence of familiarity and comfort, and Metzler is a part of the Estacada community,” he said. “I want to make sure all of our campers feel welcome. It’s a labor of love.”

Camping at Metzler Park

The park, located at 24526 S. Metzler Park Road, has 75 campsites for tent and RV use. Tent sites are $21 per night, and sites with water and electrical hookups are $26 per night. To make a reservation, call 503-742-4414.

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