Arizona Campground Opens Micro Brewery, Expects to Add Up to 40 Additional Sites in Coming Years
The new owners of Turquoise Hills Golf and RV in Benson, Ariz., 30 miles south of Tucson, have come up with a novel way to increase business.
They opened a micro brewery in the kitchen of the full-service Triple Green Cafe to draw local customers to the small, six-site park that is undergoing renovations with plans to add as many as 40 more sites over the next several years.
"One of the greens keepers is a brewmaster and one of the new owners asked if he was interested in starting a micro brewery," said employee Sharon Andrews in early October. "We just opened the Triple Green Cafe this week."
The first Monday the restaurant was open NFL quarterback legend Brett Favre played his first game in a Minnesota Vikings uniform against his old team, the Green Bay Packers. "We had quite a crowd," Andrews said.
Cody Sexon, the park's brewmaster, is currently making about 60 gallons of beer a week — the first offering being a light amber brew.
According to the park's website, the new RV sites will be developed in two or three phases, depending on city approval and cash flow from the existing sites, an 18-hole par 58 executive golf course and the new restaurant.
Although the RV park currently has no showers or laundry service, tenants are invited to use the facilities at the nearby Cochise Terrace RV resort which is owned by Art Bale, general manager of Turquoise Hills and one of the new owners.
Business at Holiday Park Campground in Greensboro, Md., was off more than 7% during the summer — a large part of the decline due to a dramatic drop in campstore sales.
"Retail in my store is down 79%," said Russ Yates, owner of the 200-site park on the Choptank River 20 miles west of Dover, Del. "Even stuff like ice cream is off and we're not selling nearly as many clothes."
With that, Yates made some adjustments over the summer. "Usually we have four or five full-time employees — youngsters from around the area. This year, I hired only one. That's what helped keep about even."
Yates built the park in 1971 and it remains family-owned today.
"I've tried to put my finger on what's going on," he said. "For the last two years, I've wondered whether it's a fear thing or whether it's a money thing. I'm beginning to think it's a money thing. A number of my customers that I talk to, their businesses are way down."
Yates said he had some success with an "anniversary weekend" in early October in which he offered two nights camping for the price of one. "We were booked," he said. "Yet the week before was the NASCAR weekend in Dover when we would normally be booked and we were quiet."
Yates said that even with the down year, he plans to rebuild the miniature golf course at the park after it closes Nov. 15.
While most campgrounds in the U.S. experienced a moderately successful summer season, business at 94-site Gun Smoke Trav-L-Park in Dodge City, Kan., bucked the trend.
"Summer was great," said Dale Gay who, with his wife Ruth, has owned the 30-year-old park for 10 years. "We were up 40% over last year and last year was our best year."
Gay said he is unable to explain why the park boomed in the tourist community famous for its Boot Hill cemetery where many early Western gunslingers are buried. "We give our 10% to God like we are supposed to," he said, simply.
The park has been for sale for over a year. `It's time to retire," said Gay, who intends to become full-time RVer in his Itasca Sunflyer motorhome.
"We've got four people who say they are interested, and one of them told his boy to find him a bank," he said.
And the park's boom times are likely to continue, Gay predicted, because a casino is scheduled to open this winter adjacent to the campground.
In Roselawn, Ind., about 70 miles southeast of Chicago, Oak Lake Family Campground had a strong summer after new owners Alan and Laura Grayson took over in June.
"We think it's phenomenal," said Laura Grayson. "We are getting quite a bit of traffic. I've not run the numbers, but I sense that business was better this summer than it was last summer."
The 300-site park has about 200 seasonal campers who have responded "overwhelmingly" to the new owners, Grayson said. "They were thrilled that new owners took over and word-of-mouth has been like wildfire. I didn't expect that."
The couple already has ordered three new traditional log cabins to complement the one already in place that "rented well" during the summer, Grayson said.
"We've already got bookings for the new cabins for next year," she added.
The park is a change of pace for the couple.
"We didn't want to go back to corporate America," said Grayson, a native of Texas, whose husband is a New Zealander. She added sardonically, "We thought it would be fun to have a campground and work our butts off."
During the summer, the Graysons brought in a bulldozer to level roads inside the park, added a water trampoline to a small lake on the property, renovated the bathhouses and recreation hall and installed wireless Internet. "The former owners barely had a calculator let alone a computer," Grayson said.
The couple is cognizant of everything that still needs to be done after Oak Lake closes at the end of October. "Now I'm getting ready for the hard work to be done," she said.
In semi-arid Santa Rosa, N.M., travelers this summer were few and far between at La Loma (The Hills) RV Park.
“We were down 20% from last year to this," said Santiago Campos, who built the 25-site park in 2004. "The snowbird part is steady, but the number of travelers has dipped down. We've seen the reality of the bad economy."
Campos got into the campground business to fulfill his father's dream. "He was an RVer and he wanted to open an RV park but he never got around to it," Campos said. "After he died, I did a little research and decided to build the RV park."
The Campos family also owns a Laundromat and hotel next to the campground in downtown Santa Rosa, a community of about 2,800 people 115 miles east of Albuquerque.
"The best thing about our park is the location," Campos said. "We are on I-40 and there are two restaurants right nearby and both of them have bars where some people like to go for their evening cocktail."
The town is one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for scuba divers who visit the Blue Hole of Santa Rosa, an 80-foot-deep vertical cave in a nearby lake that is remarkably clear, Campos said.
"We get a lot of divers coming into the park to dive in the Blue Hole," Campos said. "People come from all over to get certified as deep-sea divers."
Bob Ashley is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer/editor and a 25-year newspaper veteran.