September 28, 2010 by   - () Comments Off on ON CAMPGROUNDS

Bob Ashley

The weather was better this summer than last in northern Michigan. Hence, Tee Pee Campground in Mackinaw City, Mich., had a better summer season.

“Last year, the weather didn’t cooperate, but neither did the economy,” said Jo Cooley who has owned the 100-site park with her husband, Gene, for 40 years.

”This year, our summer was good. The weather cooperated, and we saw more families and people stayed longer. Either the economy is getting better or people just got tired of staying home.”

To encourage longer stays, the park offered a free night for every four nights booked.

About 50 of the park’s sites are beachfront on Lake Huron with a dramatic view of the Straights of Mackinac, Mackinaw Bridge and the ferry boats and lake-going ships that ply the waters.

The park stages a nightly beach bonfire for guests. ”There’s a nice sitting area and a grassy picnic area down there,” she said.

Last spring, the Cooley’s revamped the campstore to brighten it up and added Mackinac Island souvenirs and more kids’ goods. ”We are trying to be a smaller and friendlier campground,” Cooley said. ”Last year, we saw a lot of retired people.”

The Labor Day weekend turned into a problem when bad weather finally came in. ”We had a couple of sites we couldn’t use because of rain,” she said. ”But we weren’t overbooked, so it worked out.”

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Business at Rose Valley RV Ranch in Silver City, N.M., began to drop off after Labor Day, but nonetheless owner Kim Hopwood expects more than 20 of the high-desert park’s 69 RV sites and five cabins to be occupied during the winter.

“We get overnighters and a couple of nights when people are going somewhere else,” she said. ”But we also get people from colder climates like Alaska and Michigan.”

Situated at 6,000 feet elevation, Rose Valley, a one-time dairy farm, sits on 33 acres in an area known for birding and rock hunting, with western ghost towns and the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument nearby.

Hopwood purchased the seven-year-old park in a rustic, semi-western setting four years ago. Each sites is separated from the next by ”green space” and a privacy fence. ”People can sit out and enjoy their cookout and not have to see their neighbors’ rigs,” she said.

Without a pool or childrens’ playground, Rose Valley RV Ranch was designed specifically to offer an adult option to the nearby family-oriented Kampground of America (KOA). ”We attract mostly full-timers and mature adults,” she said.

Business this past summer ”was OK, better than last year,” she said, noting that her customer mix changed this year compared to last. “We had more people in transition this year,” she said. ”Last year, people were staying longer because they weren’t moving often. This year we had more people but they were moving more often.”

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The summer season was a good one at St. Cloud/Clearwater RV Park in Clearwater, Minn.

“Our revenue is going to be up 8% incomewise from last year,” said Leslie Nelson, owner of the 106-site park, a former KOA facility. ”Basically, we are a get-away,” said Nelson, who has owned the park for nine years, the first five under the KOA banner. ”Our clientele is families that come from about a 75-mile radius.”

Nelson said he dropped the KOA franchise for financial reasons, which, in his case, didn’t have a marked effect. ”Dropping KOA didn’t make any difference,” he said. ”They didn’t bring in enough campers to justify the cost.”

Minnesota winters are too harsh to do any work around the campground that’s about an hour north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Nelson plans to spend part of the winter in the South. ”We’re not in position to do any work around here in the wintertime,” he said. ”We put in a satellite bathroom last fall. Everything else is pretty much up to snuff.”

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All 250 sites at Riverdale Farm Campsite in Clinton, Conn., were full on weekends between June and Labor Day.

”I would say that considering the way things are going in the country, it was a good summer,” said Mark Weiss, who has owned the park founded in 1964 on his parents’ dairy farm for 20 years.

”The summer started light, but August was really good. It’s usually the other way around, but we saw quite a bit of overnight traffic — eight, 10, 12 a night sometimes.”

Weiss said summer business ”was on par” with 2009, despite state tourism being down 12% after the state tourism department’s budget was cut from $12 million a year to a single buck. That meant no advertising or promotional brochure.

The park escaped the Labor Day weekend pretty much unscathed, although Hurricane Earl passed at sea nearby causing the state to close some of its parks and campgrounds, ”Business was a little light on Friday, but picked up on Saturday morning and we were full for the weekend,” he said.

Before the season, Weiss repaved about 2,000 feet of interior roads. ”We’ve also done a lot of painting and regrading of site, which were labor intensive, but don’t cost a fortune.”

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Just 36 miles south of the Canadian border, Blue Lake RV Resort in Naples, Idaho, is shaping up to have a green existence.

”We put in a new laundry house and bath facility with a hydronic heating system and on-demand showers with water-savers in the bathhouse,” said James Borski, who bought the 55-site park on 20 acres prior to the 2009 summer season.

Borski said the park mostly had been closed for seven years before he bought it.

”It was basically ‘drop $20 in a box and find a spot,”’ he said. ”There’s was not any water, no manager and barely any power.”

Borski also built a new clubhouse that will seat about 50 people overlooking a small lake. He set up a recycling center and installed 50-amp electric service on 15 sites.

”We’ve turned the place upside down,” he said.

Popular attractions are a 12-foot by 14-foot canvas tent with a 4-foot deck with a mini-fridge, microwave and coffee pot and a whimsical two-foot-high chess set he installed on the beach. ”Surprisingly, that’s been very popular,” he said.

The Borskis also resurrected a grape vineyard from which they took 80 pounds of grapes last year and bottled wine for themselves. ”Eventually, we’d like to have our own label and sell it,” he said.

Business has been good, too.

“For our second season, we are doing awesome,” Borski said. ”We’ve almost doubled occupancy from last year. People are traveling. In a single day, we had people from Nevada, Michigan, Minnesota, California and Florida. It’s great to see East Coasters and Midwesterners coming this direction.”


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