French Creek Cove at Marion Reservoir is a Class C campsite. It has no hookups other than electricity, no showers, and no dump station. There are no gatekeepers, and reservations are unavailable.
However, at $10 a night ($5 for senior passes), it’s cheap, and it’s peaceful, according to camp hosts Bill and Suzy Maple.
The cove is self-serve. Campers select their site and pay their fees in provided envelopes, which are collected by park rangers. As hosts, the Maples record license tags and site numbers.
A playground and public restrooms are available. A few water hydrants are scattered throughout the cove.
Contract workers clean charcoal pits, pick up trash, clean bathrooms, and power-wash picnic tables.
Camped in their own RV, the Maples are responsible for maintaining the site, including mowing grass, painting, and watering young trees.
Bill Maple also helps rangers clear out trees and brush.
“I’m pretty good with a hoe, too,” he said.
This is the Maples’ first year as participants in a program for volunteers, established several years ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
They spent April and May at Cottonwood Point and June at Council Grove Reservoir. They started July 6 at French Creek Cove and plan to stay until Nov. 15.
“We always loved to camp and travel, and we decided to try this and see whether we could live this way all the time,” Suzy said.
The couple is required to work an average of 20 hours a week. With frequent rains in July, they put in almost 40 hours a week. When fall comes, they say, the work will slow down, and they may have days with not much to do.
“It seems like the cleaner we keep the park, the better the campers are at taking care of things,” Suzy Maple said.
Bill Maple calls the cove the “Ben-Gay Camp” because it is frequented mostly by senior citizens, many being permanent RVers.
“We have found that 99 percent of campers are the nicest people,” Bill said.
“The Corps provides all the tools and guidance we need. If a problem develops, we report it to rangers, and they take care of it.”
The couple will be involved this fall with the Muzzleloader Deer Hunt for disabled people, held every year at French Creek Cove.
“We enjoy helping people,” Bill Maple said.
In their spare time, they take their boat out on the lake and fish. In the evening, they walk or bicycle around the campsite, checking tags.
Bill Maple likes to cook, and sometimes they have camper friends over for a meal.
Both worked in the aircraft industry in Wichita for many years, and spent the past 15 years running their own custom-furniture business.
He is 55 and she is 49. They have no children.
“We worked hard at getting everything paid off early so we could live like this,” she said.
Her parents live on the home place. They collect the couple’s mail and watch over their home. They also have an RV and sometimes come to French Creek Cove to camp and fish.
The Maples enjoy wildlife at the lake. They often see deer, quail, and rabbits.
They also enjoy getting acquainted with the people who come to the camp. Overnight campers are allowed a 14-day stay. Other people use the cove free during the day to picnic, fish, walk, run, and ride bicycles.
The Maples say their volunteer work is paying off. Being able to camp for free saves them $4,000 a year. There are no fuel costs to get from home to a campsite and back, and costs at home are minimal in their absence.
Eventually, they plan to sell their country home at Danville, southwest of Wichita, to become full-time RVers, visiting federal campsites throughout the country.