Campground Industry News


Doug Haag Describes Jellystone's Origins

Doug Haag stands to receive the LSI Founder's Award in November 2014.

Doug Haag stands to receive the LSI Founder's Award in November 2014.

Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort franchisees got an unexpected treat during Leisure Systems Inc.'s (LSI's) annual symposium — a surprise visit by Douglas Haag, the founder of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts network.

Haag, who is now 82, had not attended an LSI symposium since 2004. But from Nov. 11 to 13 he mingled with Jellystone Park franchisees from the U.S. and Canada who gathered for the annual symposium and tradeshow at the Embassy Suites and Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington, Ky.

“He was treated like a rock star,” said Michele Wisher, LSI’s director of marketing, in a written announcement about Haag's visit. Wisher addedg, “He brought copies of the original brochures from his first park in Door County, Wis., and autographed them for our franchisees.”

Haag was presented LSI’s “Founders Award” during the annual awards banquet.

In an interview, Haag said he was extremely pleased with the growth of the franchise network, its impact on the campground business and especially its impact on families.

“These parks were unique in the beginning because they were destination parks,” Haag said. “Now, we have second, third and fourth generation people staying at these parks because that’s what their parents did.”

As a child spending summers in Door County, which is widely known as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest” because of its exceptionally beautiful forests and beaches fronting Lake Michigan and Green Bay, Haag said he always figured he would go into the campground business someday.

But he didn’t do it right away.

In fact, by the time Haag got serious about having his own campground, he was in his late 20s and was in a totally different line of work running his own advertising company in Manitowoc, Wis.

While he hadn’t gone to college, Haag was naturally talented as an artist and he had a flair for marketing, both skills of which he further refined during a four-year stint with the U.S. Navy in San Diego during the Korean War.

“They had me develop instructional signs and posters for the Navy, and they had me work with a man who was a former Disney company artist who was in the Civil Service,” Haag recalled.

“The two of us ran this art shop for the Navy. We produced posters on drunken driving and other safety-related topics for instructors to use on ships. We also produced brochures and other instructional materials.”

The Navy art shop experience gave Haag the skills and confidence he needed to launch his own advertising company when he returned to Manitowoc in the 1960s.

Haag’s clients included Aluminum Specialty Co., a Manitowoc-based toy and cookware company. “They made miniature tea sets and bakeware for little girls so they could pretend they were moms. They were also the world’s largest producer of the aluminum Christmas tree, which was set up with a turning lighted colorwheel base,” he said, adding that he used his artistic skills to develop attractive packaging to market these and other toy products. He also developed names for the toys.

Haag’s other clients included the Manitowoc Ship Co., which had built 28 submarines during World War II.

But while his advertising business was thriving, Haag couldn’t let go of the idea of building a campground. In fact, he wanted to build a chain of campgrounds. But he initially struggled to find a name and marketing concept he thought would have nationwide appeal.

“Nothing really hit me,” he said, “until one day when I heard my kids listening to Yogi Bear on TV. I thought, ‘That’s it!’ And the Jellystone Park concept was born.”

Haag said his wife cautioned him that he would need to contact Hanna Barbera Productions to get their approval on the use of the Yogi Bear and Jellystone Park names, but he wasted no time in calling them and they suggested he come to New York to present his ideas to the senior executives at Screen Gems, an affiliated company which could license the marketing rights to the Yogi Bear cartoon characters.

Coincidentally, Aluminum Specialty Co. also needed Haag to fly to New York for meetings in connection with a big toy fair taking place in the Big Apple. So Haag was able to take care of his client business and meet with the Screen Gems executives during the same business trip.

“I was shaking in my boots,” Haag recalled. “When I walked in there, my knees were shaking. There were about three lawyers and myself.”

Almost immediately, one of the lawyers questioned the viability of Haag’s Jellystone Park concept idea, noting that someone else had tried launching a campground connected with the Flintstones cartoon and it flopped.

“The Flintstones don’t belong in a campground,” Haag replied. “Yogi belongs in a campground!”

That was a point they could not dispute and the Screen Gem executives decided to let Haag give his Yogi Bear campground concept a try. “We made the agreement on a handshake and drew up the documents that said Screen Gems would get 6% of the gross sales of each park,” Haag said.

It would be Haag’s responsibility, however, to develop the parks. So he immediately set about the task of raising investment capital.

Haag initially raised about $300,000 from friends and business associates in Manitowoc, but a barber friend arranged a meeting for him to present his idea to some of his clients from Milwaukee’s financial district.

“I arranged about $1.5 million or more in financing,” Haag recalled. “But they all made a point of telling me they wouldn’t touch this campground idea with a 10-foot pole if it wasn’t for the Yogi name.”

The first Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park opened July 4, 1969, in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. Billed as Door County’s “newest outdoor recreation facility,” the campground immediately drew twice as many families as it was designed for. Wisconsin Lt. Governor Jack B. Olsoncame for the grand opening along with an entourage of reporters.

Amenities included a Ranger Station with billiard and ping pong tables as well as a general store with a large variety of groceries, sundries, camping supplies and and Yogi Bear-themed gifts and souvenirs.

The park also featured an 18-hole miniature golf course and a heated swimming pool and wading pool for tots, plus a large sports area with tennis courts, basketball, shuffleboard, horse shoes, tetherball and volleyball. Then there was “Boo Boo’s Free Fishing Pond.”

“Sorry Dad,” the park brochure explained. “You must be under 12 to fish!”

The park even had an “Old Faceful Geyser,” and an outdoor theater which showed Yogi Bear cartoons on Saturday nights. Yogi himself got involved with the activities, and could be seen singing songs with families, or sitting with them around the campfire and looking at the stars. Boo Boo and Cindy Bear also joined in the festivities.

“The concept worked,” Haag said with a smile.

But while the grand opening marked the successful launch of the Jellystone Park network, it also signaled the launch of another major trend in campground business: Destination camping.

While state parks offered families the ability to camp in the woods, they did not offer organized family activities. They also didn’t have Yogi Bear, Ranger Smith and the other Jellystone Park characters, which were appealing to children and families across North America.

The earliest Jellystone Parks offered miniature golf and other activities because they were designed to encourage families to return to the same campground again and again. This was important, Haag explained, because by creating activities, you also created opportunities for family bonding, the creation of memories and the establishment of family camping traditions.

“There’s no question we inspired other parks to offer activities and to become destinations in themselves,” Haag said. But only Jellystone Parks have Yogi Bear, a cartoon character whose marketing appeal has endured for more than 50 years.

And while Yogi Bear cartoons are not as popular today as they were in the 1960s, they continue to be a staple on the Boomerang Channel, a division of the Cartoon Network. In 2010, Warner Bros., the current licensor of Yogi Bear, released “Yogi Bear,” a major motion picture voiced by Dan Aykroyd as Yogi and Justin Timberlake as Boo Boo. The characters have endured, and they continue to draw families to Jellystone Parks across the U.S. and Canada.

Haag said there is nothing more satisfying for him than to hear of families that have two, three and, in some cases, four generations of campers going back to the same Jellystone Park, year after year.

But the rapid growth and success of the Jellystone Park chain

eventually took its toll on Haag, who left the franchise network after six years of explosive growth.

“I sold 85 franchises,” he said. “I crisscrossed the country, going back and forth from the East Coast to the West Coast. It got to the point where I had three kids at home and I was gone all of the time.”

The task of creating venues for family members to bond with one another had ironically taken Haag away from his own family.

He finally left Jellystone Park network after a business trip with his son, Kevin. They had been in Vermont and were scheduled to fly to Boston, but Haag changed his mind at the last minute and decided to route their flight through Chicago instead.

It proved to be a fateful decision. The flight they originally planned to take crashed with 250 people on board. Haag felt the time for him to leave had come, and he did.

He subsequently developed a campground in Florida and then became a real estate developer in his native Wisconsin, where he focused on housing and summer cottages, condos and resorts. He also developed a shopping plaza and 50-room hotel.

Haag retired in 1979, but was honored by the Two Rivers City Council in 2007 as its “Artist in Residence.” But of the many awards and accolades Haag has received over the years, the one he most proud of is a recognition plaque he received at the Jellystone Park Symposium in 2004. “I have seen through the years what a positive impact Yogi Bear has made on family togetherness as well as the success of franchise owners,” he said, adding, “I am happy to have been a part of that!”



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