Ohio Campground Thrives on Local Vacationers
The economy's shaky, gas prices aren't what they used to be, and time somehow has become more limited.
So many people now are taking vacations and family outings closer to home. Among the businesses vying for their share of that pie are campgrounds.
"I do know we're up for local traffic," said Mark Kasper, who co-owns the Lazy River at Granville Campground near Granville, Ohio, with his wife, Kathy. "A lot of our customers are from within a 30- or 40-mile radius, and we've seen that since 2008 when gas went over $2 a gallon."
Until then, Mark Kasper said they got a lot of business from over-the-road traveling campers. They still get people from just about every state, "but we have seen a weakening in that segment of our market," he told the Newark Advocate.
Now they get a lot of customers from nearby Columbus, as well as smaller communities such as Groveport, Pickerington, Reynoldsburg and Lancaster — a lot from Lancaster — as well as Newark and Granville.
"One reason is the cost of traveling and the cost of gas, but we also really like the campground here," said Jeffrey Ross, a Columbus firefighter who lives in Westerville with his family. They come to Lazy River at least once or twice per year.
"It's got a little bit of everything because you're close to Newark," Ross said. "If you forget something or if it's rainy, you can head into town and see a movie or get supplies. But then when you come out here, you pretty much feel like you're away from the world. We have a nice stream running, and we're kind of secluded, so it's kind of the best of everything here."
Fellow campers Terry and Betty Barrick, of Coshocton, come often for the same reasons.
"It's a good place to get away from things," Terry said.
"The reason we come here, too, is because, with the gas prices and the economy, it's closer to home, and it's a nice place to come," Betty said. "Plus there aren't that many places you can dance with your grandkids."
Activities now are the name of the game. Private campgrounds, in particular, have morphed far beyond the old days of paying a fee and picking a spot to pitch your tent.
"Camping is a whole different experience when you go to a private park," Kasper said. "It's families doing something together; it's having crafts, structured games that we go out and play with the kids."
Lazy River does that with a variety of offerings, including a zip line, mini golf and a swimming pool. It also has themed weekends, a disc jockey "so the kids drag mom and dad out on the dance floor," an airbrush artist, a face painter, a ventriloquist, as well as jugglers and magicians.
"We try to get talented people who are really entertaining," Kasper said.
Then, of course, there's the "bug lady," Vicki Foutch, a Licking County resident who teaches campers about bugs several times in the summer.
"The kids really enjoy it," she said. "I've actually had people go out there and camp because they knew I was going to be there."
It all adds up to more locals staying closer to home.
"There are a lot more locals," said Jeaneen Kelley, of Newark, the activities director at Lazy River. "I taught preschool in the area for seven years, and especially in recent years, because of the economy, I recognize a lot more locals have been coming in."