Baker Kin Keep New Jersey Campground Thriving
A family-owned business often becomes the legacy of its founder. For Baker’s Acres Campground in New Jersey’s Little Egg Harbor Township, that sadly happened far too soon.
In 1977, just a dozen years after John “Reds” Baker had started the campground with his wife, Anne, he and three other firefighters from the Eagleswood Fire Company were killed battling a fire at Bass River State Forest, The Press of Atlantic City reported.
His wife, children and grandchildren are immersed in his memory at the campground, which they said has given them an unshakable resolve to make it a success.
“I always stuck with it through thick and thin,” said Jack Baker, 53, his son, the current owner along with his wife, Maureen, 49.
Reds and Anne Baker bought the land and moved to it in 1965 from Levittown, Pa., when he was laid off from a railroad job, Jack Baker said.
The couple built their small three-bedroom ranch house themselves and spent three years carving the campground from the forest while Reds Baker worked for Bass River State Forest, he said.
“He’d come home and work on the campground, sometimes under the lights from his truck,” Jack Baker said.
Monica Baker-Frazer, Jack’s daughter, remembers when the campground’s arcade was located in the basement of their house.
“The steps to it are still painted with ‘Watch Your Step,’” she said, though the game room has long since been relocated.
In the 42 years since it opened, Baker’s Acres has grown into a large, modern campground, 300 sites on 60 acres, with two swimming pools and many amenities.
This year, the Bakers extended cable TV service from half the sites to the rest of them, increased Wi-Fi service throughout the campground and upgraded the electric and water lines, Jack Baker said, a total reinvestment of about $80,000.
“It’s terrible because wire is so damn expensive. You dig a hole and never see it again, not like a playground you see every day,” he said. “But if you don’t have it, people go somewhere else.”
Roughing it has become less rough, and people expect to have many services from home in camp, he said.
“Even the tent campers now are sitting by the campfire with a laptop and connected to the Internet. It’s still hard to get used to seeing that,” Jack Baker said.
Families also expect lots of activities, so this month there will be a Dixieland celebration, a spaghetti dinner and karaoke night, hay rides and lots of movie nights and pool parties.
Baker-Frazer said regular campers are a big help with activities and become like part of the family.
“Even the newer campers will see the community we have and they want to be part of that and start volunteering,” she said.
The Baker children — Monica, 28; Johnny, 25; and Jason, 24, all of Little Egg Harbor Township like their parents — have been working as part of that community their whole lives.
“I started getting a paycheck when I was 16, but I’ve always been involved,” Baker-Frazer said. “Even when I was little, I baked cookies, built bird houses, did baby-sitting and dog-walking, whatever was needed of us.”
Jay Otto, co-executive director of the New Jersey Campground Owner’s Association, said that’s one reason campgrounds are great family businesses.
“Campground owners aren’t rich, but they make a good living and it’s a great place for kids to grow up,” Otto said. “They pitch in and help out and feel like they’re part of the business.”
Jack Baker went from being part of the business to owning it in 1991, buying it from his mom, Anne.
“She wanted to retire, but she still got the best price for it,” he said. “You can’t make it too easy on kids because otherwise they don’t appreciate it.”
Now, Jack Baker said, his kids are where he used to be, and he’s the one looking for time off. “Once we owned the campground, we stopped camping. We had no time to go on vacation after that,” he said.
This year, for the first time, Jack and Maureen Baker took two weeks off to visit Yellowstone National Park, leaving their children to run Baker’s Acres.
Jason Baker, who was away at college for a few years, came back in February. “That was good timing because now my parents want to take some time off,” he said.
Baker-Frazer said she and her brothers just picked up the pace a little, with her running the office.
Jack Baker said they handled it very well.
Baker’s Acres will probably become a third-generation business, which Otto said are pretty common among campgrounds given their family friendliness.
The Bakers said they can’t imagine a different future for the legacy of John “Reds” Baker.