At 72, Jan Fraiser is experiencing what she calls the best years of her life.
The U.S. Forest Service docent lives on Mt. Graham in the summertime and at Roper Lake State Park in the wintertime.
When on Mt. Graham, Fraiser volunteers at Columbine Visitor’s Center and lives behind the building in her 1969 camper trailer. The retired occupational therapist said she is living what she has always wanted. Each day she opens the visitor center roughly two hours away from Safford and spends her days talking to visitors, answering questions and discussing the mountain and the wildlife.
Inside the center there are maps, history books on Mt. Graham and a kids’ corner where youngsters can learn about animal skat and color Smokey the Bear papers.
“My personal goal has been...to introduce people to the outdoors,” Fraiser said.
As a camp host she enjoys watching families share nature with their youngsters.
Living off the path
“I’ve always loved the outdoors and nature, but haven’t had the opportunity to do that in my career,” she said. “When I retired I found myself living in an R.V. in Safford and it was boring.”
In exchange for keeping camp porta potties clean, picking up trash and helping campers, Fraiser said she is living better than she could ever imagine in the great outdoors. She can park her trailer at the camp hookups at no charge.
In her spare time she reads murder mysteries and spends time with her cat, who also likes the outdoors, she said. Fraiser also loves to bird watch and paint in her spare time. She travels down to Safford to pick up supplies twice a week.
“I couldn’t pay enough to live in a place as beautiful as this,” she said. “Even though I’m not getting paid, I’m still saving about $400 a month in camping fees.”
She initially came to Graham County a decade ago and worked as a caregiver for the elderly. Previously, she lived on her property in Wisconsin, which she sold. While her two adult children live out of state, her cat keeps her company.
Becoming a volunteer
Four years ago Fraiser became interested in being a camp host on Mt. Graham and signed up to host for the Riggs Lake campground. She’s also been a camp host for Chiricahua Park.
When she first began volunteering, she had to undergo several hours of online training, she said.
“The camp hosts keep the bathrooms clean, garbage in check, and teach people how to be safe,” she said.
Frasier answers camper questions and assists visitors with using a radio to contact emergency services. Not all camp hosts have electricity, Fraiser said. Some hosts have to rely on propane or solar for their power.
“Volunteering as a camp host is perfect for people who are retired,” she said. “You’re outside, you’re doing something, and you’re not stuck inside watching a television screen.”
To volunteer as a camp host, the community can contact the Safford Ranger District Office.