New Owners Revive Once Struggling Campground

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July 19, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Four years ago, Mike Browder's biggest fear was that the Grass Lake All Seasons Resort near Jackson, Mich., was going to be scooped up by some developer with big plans.

His suspicions were dead on, but what the co-manager of the Holiday RV Campground didn't consider was that those plans involved reviving the campground through major renovations and an entirely new business model, the Jackson Citizen Patriot reported.

Yearly upgrades at Holiday have become the norm, it has switched from a private membership campground to a campground open to the general public, and more than 1,500 reservations have been made.

Local businessmen Ed Machnik and Phil Willis bought the campground for $825,000 in 2006. The campground had gone bankrupt and owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jackson County in back taxes.

Machnik said he got a campground that needed a major cleanup and upgrades to become competitive again, and the proprietors of Holiday are annually investing in its future.

Fresh concrete has replaced overgrown wildflowers at the pool entrance, air-conditioning systems have been installed in several buildings and a free wireless Internet connection is available camp-wide.

Holiday is now home to 14 sites with 50-amp service to accommodate the most powerful, modern RVs. Its septic system has undergone an overhaul, and everything from picnic tables to the country store to the community center have fresh coats of paint.

"There was a whole lot of painting and touching up right away around here," said Browder, whose wife Robin and son Larry also help manage the campground. "Paint wasn't peeling off when (Holiday Campground LLC) took over. It was falling off."

What has transformed Holiday was the ownership's decision to open the entire 150-acre facility to the public.

Browder, who has been managing the camp since 2002, said the California-based owners of Grass Lake All Seasons let him open 20 sites to the public in 2004, but making the entire campground public has driven new reservations and created a better sense of community.

"There's more people than ever before around here, and it's great. I remember when you could probably take a 12-gauge and take a shot and the bullet wouldn't graze anything important," he said. "Things have changed, and we have a lot more seasonal campers than a few years ago."

Seasonal campers pay $1,200, plus electric, for rights to a site May 1 to Oct. 1, and Machnik said the new blueprint of the business has brought in much different patrons.

"It's improved, and the clientele is more upscale," he said. "(Seasonal guests) can put decks on and they have little storage sheds, and it's more of a permanent cottage kind of thing, so to say."

Machnik made it clear he is interested in customers who see Holiday's sign on the freeway and need a place to camp for a night or two (at $16 to 26 per night), but it is the seasonal campers who have a special fraternity.

Robby Loomis sold his lake house four years ago after his wife died and his kids headed to college. Now, he spends half the year at Holiday and the other half with family members or at his cottage in Everett.

Loomis was born in Jackson but lived all over the state and as far away as Arizona before returning for a job as a machinist in Dexter. In 2007, he decided Holiday would be a good place to check out. He commuted to work until he was laid off last year.

His first RV site was toward the park's entrance and he said he loved "the secluded living and waking up with a bunch of wild turkeys running around," but he has since traded that in for a location right in the middle of everything.

He said it is great to be part of an "open-gate" community where visitors don't have to sign in and out all the time or pay to visit, and the Browders treat him like family.

Mary Himich, a secretary for the University of Michigan's epidemiology department who is in her second year as a seasonal guest, echoed Loomis' sentiments.

She has been an avid camper much of her life and said some campgrounds might have more luxuries available and activities planned, but Holiday is a good value for the money.

"I just love it. It's a very nice community, everyone is friendly. It's like a small family out here," she said. "Some nights, if it's too hot at home this summer, it's only 20 minutes (from my house), so if I want to come out and go swimming, I can."

The management team approaches guests like Himich on a first-name basis, and Robin Browder said a genial attitude comes naturally.

"There was this older, single guy who was living here a few years ago," she said. "And we would help him with stuff, we would take him to doctor's appointment and we would contact people, all the way up until he died.

"You treat them like family and that's because they are family to you."

Machnik said business has steadily been rising 10% to 20% per season since he and Willis bought the camp, but there is plenty of work to still be done.

"We're working to fill it up," he said. "We have 144 sites there, and we want it full all summer long. That's our goal."

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