Hoodoo Adds to Government Contracts
Hoodoo Recreation Services has been awarded a 10-year contract to manage the campgrounds of Deschutes National Forest in Oregon, and getting that agreement was a make-or-break deal, says Chuck Shepard, the company’s president, owner and CEO.
“If we hadn’t gotten it, we’d have been devastated,” said Shepard. “We’ve been working toward this for 10 years, so it’s monumental for us. It’s a big deal. It’s one of the biggest campground concessions in the country.”
When the 45-day period for potential appeals has ended, Hoodoo will be managing about 4,000 campsites and 170 campgrounds in Oregon and Washington. In addition to Deschutes National Forest, Shepard’s company manages all the campgrounds in Mount Baker National Forest from Mount Rainier north to the Canadian border, and the campgrounds in the McKenzie River and Middle Fork ranger districts of Willamette National Forest, according to the Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore.
Hoodoo was already managing about a third of the Deschutes National Forest Campgrounds.
“I’ve invested a lot of money into this operation, and if I don’t get the Deschutes, it would be a rejection of me and of Hoodoo itself,” Shepard said in the nail-biting days prior to the awarding of the contract. “And if we don’t get it, it’s going to mean the demise of Hoodoo.”
He was bidding against four companies, all much larger than Hoodoo, but all with headquarters outside Oregon.
“Now we’ll become the largest campground concessionaire in Oregon, the largest in the Northwest, and about the fifth largest in the country,” he said. “We’ve been a small company trying to do big-company things. We’ve been offering services that a small company can’t afford to do, and quite honestly, neither could we. So either we get bigger and spread out our overhead, or quit offering services. I wasn’t willing to stop offering services because I don’t want to be that kind of company. That meant we had to grow.”
Shepard, from his corporate headquarters in Coberg, Ore., says he spends about 95% of his time on Hoodoo, a company that’s yet to turn a profit any single year. He spends 5% of his time on Umbrella Properties, which owns and manages 1,700 rental units in the Eugene area.
“I make a lot of money in Umbrella Properties. I make virtually nothing on Hoodoo, yet I put all my efforts into Hoodoo because it’s my first love and I feel like I’m doing some good,” he said, in the week prior to awarding of the Deschutes contract. “So if they reject that, what’s the point?”
Contract to Help Feds Meet Maintenance Costs
Hoodoo’s contract is going to wind up being something of a pot of gold for the Deschutes. It will roughly double the amount of money each year that will go into maintenance and repairs at the 82 campgrounds in the forest.
Shepard said that Deschutes National Forest’s contract with three separate concessionaires over the past 10 years returned about $70,000 to $80,000 annually into the campgrounds. He anticipates his contract returning about $150,000 annually.
Mark Christiansen, campground administrator for the forest, confirmed those estimates. But the news gets better.
“The way Hoodoo did its proposal, they promised to put money in up front to do improvements, and that was a definite plus when we evaluated their proposal,” said John Allen, the forest supervisor. “They were willing to take on some of that maintenance right away and get it done rather than getting a little bit done over a 10-year period. Addressing the backlog of repairs strengthen Chuck’s proposal and certainly was one of the factors we looked at.”
In years past the forest service managed its own campgrounds with its own rangers, offering low-cost or free camping. The average fee in Deschutes is now $14 a night.
“It used to be our taxes paid for that, but they no longer do,” Shepard said. “Now people pay for their own camping. It’s a back-handed way of taxing.”
Allen said a lot of people don’t understand why the forest service hires concessionaires.
“There’s two things going on,” he said. “The cost of doing business has gone up significantly – maintaining and replacing infrastructures such as water systems is expensive and has increased dramatically. And the other factor is that the recreation budgets that we get allocated have gone down significantly. With those two factors in play, going with a concessionaire is the best alternative for us.”
Allen added: “If the world was the same at it was 20 years ago, you’d probably still see our rangers out there doing all that work. We don’t have very many paid rangers left.”