Karl and Connie Knippling left behind a 3,000 square feet home in South Dakota so they could travel the country in an RV visiting their kids. Do they miss the comforts of their big home? Not one bit.

Gallatin Canyon camp hosts enjoy the Greek Creek life

Gallatin Canyon camp hosts enjoy the Greek Creek life
Camp hosts have a name for sly and cheap campers who sneak into spots at night and then slip out before the hosts come asking for the nightly fee. They’re known as “night crawlers.”

Sitting across from each other in their motorhome parked at Greek Creek Campground in the Gallatin Canyon, Karl and Connie Knippling seemed right at home on a Tuesday morning. Connie sipped a Pepsi while her husband reminisced about interesting people they’ve met while working as campground hosts, this being their fifth year on the job.

     For five months of the year, the Knipplings head to Big Sky—it’s where their daughter Jahnel lives, so it’s an opportunity to spend time with her. When October rolls around, they head back to South Dakota, “So I can hunt pheasants and we can see our doctors,” Karl explained. And then they’re off to Tennessee for the winter to be with their two sons and grandkids. April is spent fishing back in South Dakota, and then it’s time to return to Big Sky in May. 

     Looking to be closer to their daughter, and seeing the benefit of the cooler weather in the mountains (Connie has multiple sclerosis, and heat worsens its symptoms), the Knipplings checked out workamper.com where they found an opening for a camp host on Hebgen Lake. After that first summer they looked into finding a spot closer to Big Sky, and sure enough, there was one overseeing Greek Creek, Moose Creek and Swan Creek campgrounds, with 42 sites total.

     Karl’s daily tasks include checking trash cans, cleaning bathrooms and fire pits, plus making sure no campers came in overnight without paying.

     “The sneaky ones, that come in late at night after you’ve rounded the campground, and then leave before you round in the morning. My bosses call them ‘night crawlers’,” Karl explained. 

     Camp hosts are paid and given a free site to create a basecamp. The Knipplings have it better than some hosts. They’ve got a landline telephone, water, electricity, a bathroom and wifi. Karl needs the internet to check on daily booking reports, and twice a week he brings those reports to nearby Spire Rock Campground where the hosts live without electricity or wifi. 

     While there is quite a bit of work involved with keeping a campground running smoothly and looking good, there’s also plenty of time to interact with the many travelers coming and going. Now that they’ve been hosting for a number of years, they’re getting to know their “return customers.” One North Dakota man comes every year with his wife for a month to fly fish, and has been doing so since 1970. 

     “We’ve gotten really close to them,” Karl said. 

     Another notable camper that came to mind was an old man who showed up to Greek Creek in early July. He comes through every year, “And he’s bent over, can’t hardly shuffle along, with two big, huge duffel bags and he hitchhikes. He comes from New Mexico, stays here a few days, and heads north before coming back through here on his way south,” Karl said, impressed by the man’s tenacity. “It’s just all he can do to drag his bags to the road, and then he just sits on them until someone picks him up.” 

     Karl gave the man a roast beef sandwich and some potato salad the other day, “He was just so tickled to get a meal.”

     The Knipplings see campers coming from all over the U.S. and even the world, from England to Australia, Newfoundland, France and many more.

     Connie likes to hand out her homemade chocolate or carrot cake with cream cheese to the campers.

     “I spoil them,” she said. “I bake them, and he (Karl) can’t eat them, so I might as well give them away.” 

     Her secret to a great carrot cake? Jars of baby food carrots. 

     Karl also likes to help out where he can. This spring a man tied a rope around his favorite hatchet, handed his wife the end of the rope, and tossed the hatchet across a nearby stream to measure how wide it was. There wasn’t enough rope, though, and the hatchet ended up on the other side of an uncrossable swollen stream. 

     He came to Karl, “And said, ‘If you get around to it, go get it.’ So a couple nights ago I decided to do it,” Karl said, pointing to the hatchet wrapped in yellow rope and laying on the gravel next to his RV. “I took my shoes off, rolled up my pant legs. And I thought the rocks would be smooth, from all the water running over it, but they’re not. And my virgin little feet did not like that. I made it over there, but I had to use Connie’s cane, and I fell down twice in there, and lost her cane the second time, and had to go hands and knees the rest of the way back.”

     While he may have regretted the decision to retrieve the hatchet, Karl said he’ll be happy to get it back to the man when he returns one day.

     The couple sold their home in South Dakota seven years ago, leaving behind the 3,000 square foot residence for a motorhome of about 300 square feet. Prior to that, Karl was working as a registered nurse. After a back injury, Karl couldn’t work any longer, and Connie was dealing with MS, “So we just decided, ‘Let’s do it,’” Karl recalled. 

     “And with Jahnele in Big Sky it works out real well,” Connie added.

     They’re at the campground most of the time, but the Knipplings often head into Big Sky for some food—one of their favorites is Yeti Dogs (Karl gets the Cowpoke with hot peppers while Connie opts for the Texan). They’re partial to Olive B’s, too. That’s where their daughter works, so they make an effort to dine there whenever she’s waiting tables. They’re also fond of Buck’s T-4, where their daughter also works. Two Swan Creek campers recently gave them a $50 gift certificate to Buck’s, so they happily enjoyed a dinner there. 

     Do they miss their big home, horses and 10-acre yard back in South Dakota? Not a chance. 

     “No, that place was huge. When we were both working full-time, we had to have a cleaning lady, the house was so big,” said Connie, who jokingly calls the RV her “coffin.” 

     “I wish we had a cleaning lady here too, he doesn’t clean the bathroom,” added Connie. 

     Karl’s rebuttal was quick, “That’s because I’m cleaning all the other bathrooms.”

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