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Mark and Jodi Zimmerman refuse to be "futzers,'' Jodi's word for those who roll through retirement doing a little of this and a little of that.

Mind you, the Zimmermans hold nothing against the futzing types, they just want a shade more towards adventure in retirement. Heck, Mark will tell you it's OK to break daily to watch the Chicago Cubs and an episode of "Jeopardy."

Yet they wanted more.

What the Moliners got was a jolt, taking volunteer jobs with the National Park Service as camp hosts at California's Redwood National Park.

According to the National Parks website, campground hosts play a major role in the National Park Service's Volunteer-in-Parks (VIP) Program. They assist staff with campground operations and provide a variety of information to visitors including: campground and food storage regulations; safety advisories concerning visitation while in bear and mountain lion country; backcountry camping, hiking and fishing; National Park and concession facilities; interpretive programs; road conditions; park natural resources and other points of interest.

Hosts are seen as the "eyes and ears" of campgrounds. They provide supervisors and rangers with information regarding campground facilities, visitor use, wildlife sightings, and safety concerns, but do not take direct action involving law enforcement situations.

"We are huge fans of the National Park system,'' Jodi Zimmerman said in an email response, answering for her and Mark. "It is not being respected or funded as it should be, and we wanted to give back by volunteering in the parks.''

Mark Zimmerman enjoyed a lengthy career with the Illinois Department of Corrections and Jodi taught psychology, U.S. History, and U.S. Government, for three-plus decades at Davenport West High School.

She also held adjunct professor positions at St. Ambrose University and Scott Community College. She started Camp West Adventure, taking high school students annually to the Boundary Waters, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Three dogs and a cat share the trailer they call home until returning to Moline in October.

"We have serious wanderlust,'' Jodi Zimmerman said. "Summers off for me gave me time to explore and I noticed that many parents did not have the opportunity to get out with their kids. People won't work to conserve nature if they have never connected with it so I took it upon myself and occasionally recruited Mark to get kids outdoors.''

The Zimmermans have a grasp on how short life is and that bodies eventually give out. If they didn't act and chase this particular adventure, there might never be a perfect time. Playing camp host, they say, is far more adventure than work.

"Frankly, Moline in the summer is not my favorite,'' Zimmerman said. "This gig ends Oct. 1, and we have a family wedding. My daughters also expressed interest in me making Thanksgiving dinner this year, meaning they don't have to make it. It's quiet here and no corn humidity."

"Three years ago we were out here on our 'tour of things dying' and I was at the visitor center asking questions when a party came up asking for help,'' Zimmerman added. "The ranger was alone at that time and couldn't leave the counter.''

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Ever-the-teacher, Zimmerman stepped up. She answered a tent question, fixed a tent issue and shared a map with a third camper in need. The ranger then asked if she/they would someday like to be camp hosts. The offer only fueled Zimmerman's no futzing plans.

"I looked at my watch and said I would love to in three years,'' Zimmerman said. "I couldn't retire until then. He (the ranger) said to look him up. He was at a different park but the people in charge of hosts liked my email of inquiry and my history of camping. Mark's past was helpful as well. We both are used to correcting people. I like explaining things, but I admit to getting tired of explaining to adults why poisoning the air by burning plastic in their fire pits is bad.''

The Zimmermans got a late start to their camp-hosting gig because Jodi's school year was extended, thanks to the harsh winter of 2018-2019. With the park ranger's blessing, the two are living out a dream and saving a few dollars.

And life - in a fifth-wheel (camper) — with three dogs and a cat - really does suit them.

"We started camping in a tent back before we had kids and followed the progression to pop-up, travel trailer and now a fifth wheel,'' Jodi said. "I am not a fan of hotels and when the girls were in sports (traveling) the campers often served as a base camp. We have the biggest rig in the park. Midwestern rigs tend to be big. The park here was laid out in the 1920s, so sites are not able to take a 40-foot 5th wheel with five sides. Everyone else is in smaller rigs or tents. No power so it keeps the park quieter and more in line with camping goals.''

Zimmerman says they have encountered some wonderful people during their stay, though enforcing camp rules can be trying at times.

"We have met some amazing people here and enjoy the conversations very much,'' she said. "I always start nice if I need to request a correction. Some really can get snotty about having to keep dogs on a six-foot leash or not hanging stuff from the trees, but most are camping types because they enjoy the woods and are not actively trying to destroy them. I love ranger talks and I get them nightly.''

Jodi says she even met a family from just up the river.

"She (the mom) was looking for her site and could not remember the number and her teen son got out of the car and walked over to us wearing a Clinton (Iowa) baseball sweatshirt,'' she said. "I took one look and said you guys you are in site 90. They were thrown off for a minute. I explained I was sorting incoming data yesterday and saw that someone from Clinton was coming in. I made a mental note to stop by 90 to say 'Hi.' And maybe to complain about how bad the Pizza is out here. Seriously bad.''

The Zimmermans know that Oct. 1 is just around the corner, but they plan to enjoy their camp-hosting tenure as long as possible.

"Not for us, but for some in this job it is permanent,'' Zimmerman said. "Mark plows (snow) part time for the state and I need to be around for (sister-in-law) Joanna to complain about (brother) Brad. I'm hitting some bucket list items on the way home. Jerome, Ariz., to taste wine; and Austin, Texas, to experience the Congress Bridge bat exodus. Then a wedding and family stuff, and then hopefully we will know our next gig.''

No matter where they go or what gig they take adventure is sure to be on the itinerary.

And no futzing.

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Columnist/Reporter

John is a columnist and reporter for Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com.

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