Campground Owners Installing Upgrades in 2009 in Anticipation of a Strong Summer Camping Season
"Reservations are excellent," said Durango Riverside Resort Manager Kelly Scott, whose 103-site Colorado park has 24 cabins and 20 tent sites. "If you didn't watch TV or read a newspaper or magazine, you wouldn't know about how bad the U.S. economy is doing right now…"
Even during the economic downturn, more than a few campgrounds nationwide spent the winter rehabbing and upgrading their properties. With the spring shoulder season upon us, this month's On Campgrounds takes a look at a few of those parks – large and small – with regard to those 2009 upgrades.
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In the "Down East" region of Maine, Michelle and Joe Letts added 13 sites this year at rustic Balsam Cove Campground in Ormand for a total of 77.
The couple has owned the 44-year-old, 7-acre park with 800 feet of frontage on Toddy Pond for three years. Improvements have been ongoing as they've added full hookups throughout, installed new water lines and electric service and built a laundry room.
That's certainly a heady challenge for a Massachusetts couple who otherwise have full-time jobs – he's the owner of scallop boats and she's a medical practices manager. "We were trying to get out of the rat race and my husband has always wanted to own a campground," Michelle Letts said.
The irony: The couple just sold the two motorcycles that they hauled around in a 40-foot Forest River Wildwood Sport fifth-wheel. "We don't have time to ride anymore," she said. Still the Letts are pleased with their acquisition with occupancy last year averaging 75% during the summer camping season. "We thought it was pretty good," Michelle noted.
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Pismo Coast Village RV Resort, Pismo Beach, Calif., has created a profitable sideline to operating a 400-site RV park: off season storage. In early May, in fact, Pismo Coast was storing 1,500 travel trailers and fifth-wheels at various sites in the area, and now it's planning to develop 20 acres with capacity to hold another 1,000 towables by the end of the year.
"We also are in a long-term renovation process in the park," adds Charles Amian, park operations manager, adding that the resort's main electrical transformer was replaced this winter and 51 sites were upgraded to 50-amp electric service. That included installing underground wiring and plumbing. A total of 220 sites have been renovated in recent years.
"We're another four to five years down the road to completion," Amian said.
Pismo Coast's storage business is part of the strategy that keeps the park at an average of about 70% occupancy year-round.
The resort employs five drivers who retrieve RVs for people who have booked time at the park. As a courtesy, staff will also deliver units to other parks. "We see a growing market in luxury RV storage," Amian said.
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By the time Durango Riverside Resort in Durango, Colo., opened May 1 for the season, 48 of the park's 103 RV sites had been renovated during the winter with new concrete pads and water, electric and cable TV upgrades.
"Reservations are excellent," said manager Kelly Scott, who also oversees 24 cabins and 20 tent sites. "If you didn't watch TV or read a newspaper or magazine, you wouldn't know about how bad the U.S. economy is doing right now. We have been very pleasantly surprised. It's going to be very, very busy here."
Located in southwest Colorado's "Four State Region," the park has 17 sites fronting the Animas River that already have been reserved for July and August. Some of the park's renovated sites are positioned at an angle from the street to facilitate trailers backing in, Scott said.
With Durango doing as well as it has — and with the upgrades at the park scheduled to be finished next year – plans call for the park eventually to open year-round.
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In Lisbon, Ohio, Karen Anesi and her husband, Frank, owners of the heavily wooded Lock 30 Woodlands RV Resort Campground, are in the midst of a major upgrade focusing on the history of the area. "We are in the Western Reserve Historical District and we've found over the last couple of years that people that come to us are coming to learn about the history of the area," said Karen Anesi.
With 66 sites on 68 acres, Lock 30 Woodlands features a mile of frontage on Beaver Creek. Several red barns from the late 1800s have been restored which are used as the gatehouse and registration area, camp store and clubhouse. Colonial-style cupolas are also being installed on two of the barns while eight campsites have been redesigned so they have their own backyards.
"I don't want to jinx myself, but things are shaping up pretty well for the season," Anesi said. "We are seeing a lot of people who are new to camping coming to our park for their first time.
"And we are getting a substantial number of tent campers," he added. "We walk them through the park and we spend a lot of time with the newcomers because they might not know about the ins and outs of camping. We have changed our customer service components so that we do a lot of things that make them very comfortable with us on their first stay because we want them to come back."
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Although open all year, a month before Beaver Lake Campground's unofficial summer-season Memorial Day kickoff in Custer, S.D., 16 inches of snow fell on the park that is heavily wooded with ponderosa pines. "I had a half-a-dozen campers in here and they were thrilled," said Beaver Lake owner Max Hammer, who also is president of the South Dakota Campground Owners Association. "The trees were filled with snow. It was very beautiful."
Located in South Dakota's Black Hills, Hammer's park had two full-time employees working all winter installing a new water line and gutting and rehabbing the park store in the 81-site campground that also has eight cabins, three teepees and 11 tent sites.
Last year, Hammer added a solar-heating system for the Beaver Lake's pool and installed high-efficiency lighting throughout the park with low-voltage lighting along pathways. "Through April and May and September and October, we get Snowbird traffic and hunters," he said. "But business in April and May is really weather-related. Right now, we are on par with last year, which was up 5% over 2007.
"We get a lot of return from local traffic."
Bob Ashley is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer/editor and a 25-year newspaper veteran who freelances regularly in the recreation field.