Packards Celebrate Pine Acres' 50th Anniversary

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July 14, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Randy and Denise Packard, owners of Pine Acres Resort, Oakham, Mass., celebrate the campground's 50th anniversary this year.

In the past half century, Randy Packard has seen many changes in Worcester County, Mass.

Not just growth, of course, but the disappearance of numerous independently owned and operated restaurants, hardware stores, clothing stores, pharmacies and other businesses.

Mirroring a trend that has taken place in cities across America, most of the independently owned and operated businesses in central Massachusetts have been either bought up or replaced by corporate chains.

But not Pine Acres Resort. The 350-site campground in Oakham, which Packard bought from his parents in 1989, celebrates its 50th anniversary on Aug. 7, with a reception and a weekend full of special activities for three generations of guests, local dignitaries and campground industry officials.

Prospective buyers keep calling him, however. “We get offers all the time to sell out to these large investment groups,” said Packard, 58. “But, to be honest with you, I’m not interested. The campground business is a calling for those who are serious about it.”

This may partly explain why most of America’s private campground owners have resisted the urge to sell out to investment groups or join national campground or RV resort chains.

Indeed, while there are roughly 8,000 privately owned campgrounds in the United States, the largest campground chain, Kampgrounds of America (KOA), with 475 parks, accounts for less than 1/16th of the campground business, while the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort chain has only 70 parks.

“Our members are fiercely independent,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds in Larkspur, Colo. “In many respects, the campground industry is one of America’s last frontiers for husband and wife teams and families who want to work together in the Great Outdoors. Farming is now largely controlled by corporate interests. But in the campground business, it’s still common to see husband and wife teams and even several generations of family members working together to run the business.”

Packard, for his part, runs Pine Acres as a family business with his wife, Denise, and assistance from his daughters, Tessa and Jaclyn, son, Corey, and son-in-law, Ben. And they continue to nourish their business year after by year by making constant improvements to their park.

Packard traces Pine Acres’ roots to 1957, when his parents, Frank and Grace Packard, purchased 200 acres of undeveloped, forested land next to Lake Dean. Frank was a contractor who had his own bulldozer and would build roads for people in the backcountry. He initially planned to sell lakefront lots, and sold a few for that purpose.

“Then my parents went camping one weekend and their friends said, ‘Why don’t you make a campground instead of selling house lots?’”

The idea took hold, and the elder Packard bought back the lots he had sold and opened the campground with seven sites in 1960. He operated the campground as a side business for several years while he continued to do bulldozing work for developers, but the family spent their summers at the campground.

Randy Packard has fond memories of that period. “My friends were going to Maine or New Hampshire,” he recalled. “But I realized that where I lived in the summer was where most people were going. I realized I had the best of both worlds.”

For a few years in the late 60s, his parents even operated a ski resort at the campground, taking advantage of a nearby hill. “We put up three rope tows and hired a ski instructor. People would come and ski all day and snowmobile and have a campfire at night,” he said.

He also remembers how careful his dad was about preserving the trees, rocks and natural setting along Lake Dean, which is popular for bass and perch fishing. “I remember how my mother and dad went in with chain saws and cut trees and brush to make the campsites. But my dad had a vision. He tried to take out as few trees as possible and he left the bigger rocks alone. So when you come into our park, it looks very natural.”

He added that his dad was very protective of the trees, which include pines, hemlocks, white oaks, birches and maples. “When I was in my early twenties, we used to joke that my dad would come back whenever he was away from the park for a while and count the trees.”

After attending college, Randy Packard operated his own building contracting business, but he kept his hand in the family campground business. “I would work at night to help my dad and mom. Then I’d travel all day, constructing homes, checking on carpenters,” he said.

About the time his parents decided to retire in 1989, they held a family meeting to discuss the future of the campground. Packard and his wife, Denise, who was an elementary school teacher, decided to purchase the business.

Packard said he immediately set about making improvements.

“When I took over, the park was more of a seasonal park. Many of the roads were gravel. The utilities were strung through the trees. That’s how utilities were done in the 60s.”

But Packard gradually started paving the roads and moving utilities underground. He also improved the campsites and has invested in rental RVs, cabins and park models, which he rents out to people who don’t have their own RV.

Packard’s Keys to Success

Hard work and commitment are essential to making Pine Acres Resort a success. But it also helps to provide personal service to his guests.

“One of the biggest problems in American business is corporations that take away the personal touch,” Packard said. “Some retailers have greeters, yet there’s nobody to help you once you get past them.”

In addition to having a personal touch and having family members available to assist park guests, Packard said Pine Acres has been successful because his family reinvests their net profits into the park each year, so their guests always have something to look forward to. Their latest improvements include a new swimming pool complex and a spraypad. Their next project involves adding a water slide. After that, the Packards plan to build a 12,000-square foot, two-story lodge with a theatre room upstairs and a restaurant overlooking the pool.

“We want to create a ‘wow’ factor,” Randy Packard said, adding that it’s better for campgrounds to make their improvements little by little rather than all at once. This also enables campgrounds to avoid taking out loans or having to rely on banks for financing. This is precisely why many campgrounds across the country continue to make improvements to their businesses each year, even though available bank financing is virtually non-existent.

The Packards have also built a 42- by 60-foot maintenance building, which enables his maintenance crew to continue working through the winter, regardless of weather conditions.

Another factor in the Packards’ favor is the resiliency of the campground business itself.

“The camping industry goes the opposite direction in tough economic times,” he said. “People are going to take a vacation. They want family time. They want to get away. It may not be a Disney trip or a cruise. But if you can offer amenities and affordable accommodations, they’ll come. We saw it in the last recession and we see it this time. Our business is actually up.”

Looking to the future, Randy Packard sees himself continuing to work as long as he is able and keeping the business in the family. “I want to pass this on to my family and continue to protect the property as the natural asset that it is,” he said, adding, “I would also like to see this lake preserved forever, so that people can bike and fish and camp here forever.”

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