New York Campground Sells Clay for Profit

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July 6, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Site map for Branches of Niagara Campground and Resort

It has been said that you have to spend money to make money. And sometimes you have to sell land to develop land. The four partners who in May opened the Branches of Niagara Campground and Resort on Grand Island in New York did all of that, with an unusual and lucrative twist, the Buffalo News reported.

First they bought some 90 acres of woodland on Whitehaven Road. Then they subdivided and sold lots along that main county road to help fund the original purchase and the development of the campground that was to take shape in the woods behind. Pretty straightforward so far.

Then came the real bonanza.

"Grand Island is made of clay," explained Elaine Pariso, one of the partners.

It's a kind of clay that can be very valuable to a few businesses, she said. It makes a good cover for toxic landfills, of which there are a few in the Niagara Falls area.

"We dug some test holes and prayed a lot," Pariso said. "It was a key part of our business plan to sell the clay to finance the project."

Then one day, their prayers were answered. Pariso left a crew from the mining firm to carry out their tests, and before she could make it back into town to meet her partners for lunch, her cell phone rang.

"It was the contractor saying, "We want your soil!'" Pariso said.

Some 20,000 truckloads of it were hauled away, leaving a hole that just happened to be the shape of the lake that now forms the center of the Branches of Niagara property.

The process provided Pariso and her partners — Tom McLaughlin, Don Benoit and Larry Stolzenburg — with cleared land, road bases and, most of all, the capital they needed to realize their vision of a high-quality, family-friendly campground.

It was a welcome development for the fledgling partnership, friends who depended on one another and a shared Christian faith to help them persevere through the more than four years required to meet all of the town, county and state zoning, licensing and environmental requirements, including a mandated, and ultimately fruitless, search for Native American artifacts.

The campground opened May 21, has done a good business since and was fully booked for the July 4th weekend. Most customers have found the facility by searching the Internet, moving its website from Google's page 32 up to page two in only a few weeks.

It has 12 cabins, 68 spots for campers in their tents, RVs, a lake now stocked with fish, a swimming pool, a laundry facility and a small convenience store. There are plans for an 8,000-square-foot lodge for parties, weddings and other events and lots of room to grow. It employs a dozen people.

The cabins have running water, electricity, small kitchens, ceiling fans, at least one bed and a loft where children can set out their air mattresses. Guests can bring their own boats or rent a canoe or a kayak. No motors are allowed on the lake.

"We want families to know what a family vacation is all about," Pariso said. "Quiet, together, with no TV."

Though there is, she added, a Wi-Fi network for guests to get on the Internet.

"You have to make some concessions, I guess."

The current season is set to end Oct. 15, though Benoit explained that he sees the possibilities of keeping the facility open well into the winter, with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and a Christmas store.

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