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Ashley: New Owners Kept Park’s Original name

August 17, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Bob Ashley

”Jim and Mary retired,” said Jennifer Graves, owner with Judy and Wal Luebek of the 70-site, 12-acre park. “Jim and Mary had a fabulous reputation and a lot of customers. We didn’t want to confuse people, so we didn’t’ change the name.”

A trio of friends who bought Jim and Mary’s RV Park in Missoula, Mont., 12 years ago knew the importance of branding.

”Jim and Mary retired,” said Jennifer Graves, owner with Judy and Wal Luebek of the 70-site, 12-acre park. “Jim and Mary had a fabulous reputation and a lot of customers. We didn’t want to confuse people, so we didn’t’ change the name. Every once in a while people come in looking for them.”

This year, a couple of greenhouses and several gardens were added to enhance the ambiance of the park, located about 140 miles south of the West entrance of Glacier National Park. ”We worked really hard on that this year,” Graves said.

With moderate temperatures in the Rocky Mountain valley community of Missoula, the park is open year-round and gets a major spike in occupancy from University of Montana home football games. ”We get a lot of people in for different reasons,” Graves said. ”Not so much the tourists, but a lot more Montanans and a lot of people from Idaho who aren’t afraid of the cold.”

Business picked up this year as the season progressed, rebounding from earlier flooding and massive late-melting snowfall. Neither affected Jim and Mary’s directly, but the fact that Glacier’s Going-to-the-Sun Road didn’t reopen until the second week in July kept campers away. ”We are a perfect stopover before Glacier,’’ Grave said. ”Around the first of July, things started jamming and the weather got better.”

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At Circle CG Farm in Bellingham, Mass., business this year has been about on par with last year. “We had a couple of rough weeks; it was cold until late June,” said Rob Daley, who owns the park with his wife, Linda. Her father opened the ”farm” 43 years ago.

“I was hoping for a little more business, but with the economy and the price of gas, you take what you can get,” Daley said.

And yes, the 150-site park about 40 miles south of Boston is, in fact, a farm, of sorts. ”We have animals – a mule, horse, three mini-horses, a sheep and two burros,” said Daley. ”It’s more for the kids, but the adults enjoy the animals as much.”

Some of Daley’s customers say that rising fuel prices this spring put a damper on their vacation plans and that they are staying closer to home, particularly those who are new to the RV lifestyle. ”They are discovering their own backyard,” Daley said.

Before the summer season arrived, Daily installed 50-amp electrical service on five larger sites, and will add more power to five others this fall — economy permitting.

Although RV manufacturers are touting smaller, more fuel-efficient designs for towable and motorized RVs, Daley said not many downsized units have shown up at his park. ”I haven’t seen that trend yet,” he said.

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Todd Larson, owner of Country View Campground in Ogallala, Neb., attributes business ”being off a little bit” this spring to reports of flooding along the Missouri River.

”People heard there was flooding out this way, but we didn’t have any for 150 miles,” Larson said. ”We’ve had a wet year, but no flooding, that’s for sure.”

Larson has owned the 50-site park in western Nebraska, 50 miles west of North Platte, for seven years. He cites the virtues of fishing for walleye in nearby Lake C.W. McConaughy for bringing a good number of customers to Country View.

”There’s a big walleye tournament this weekend (July 16-17),” Larson said. ”There’s one tournament guy who’s been here two weeks to ‘pre-fish.’ These guys are really serious. They know how to fish.”

Larson said that local campers balanced out some of the business that he lost this spring. ”But it’s not made up for all of it,” he said. ”Instead of one night, they’re staying two or three, and we’ve got a couple of people from Denver (200 miles north) who park their RVs and come down on weekends.”

Having added nine sites two seasons ago, Larson is prepared to expand the park further when the economy improves. ”We’ve added trees for new sites, but we’re not going to implement that until business comes back around,” he said. “You’re going to have good years and you’re going to have bad years. This isn’t a good year.”

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Were it not for the boom-and-bust cycle of building oil and natural gas pipelines – and an adjacent mobile home park – David Harper, owner for 30 years of Nanabe Creek Campground in Meridian, Miss., isn’t sure he’d stay in the campground business.

”We are struggling to get by, but we are still going,” Harper said. ”We get enough to make a living.”

Harper said the potential for a new nearby natural gas pipeline and assorted local clean-air initiatives could bring business back to Nanabe Creek soon.

”I had 100% occupancy when two other pipelines were being built three or four years ago,” he said, reporting that occupancy this summer is only about 10% following a winter when only about 20% of his sites were full. ”I get travelers, but only one or two or a half-dozen a night,” he said. ”There’s just really nothing here to attract anybody.”

He’s particularly aggravated by government-run state and local parks. ”They are direct competition to the campground industry,” Harper said. ”That, along with the high price of energy, is certainly not helping us any.”

Harper said he recently created a website for the campground. ”The hope is that will help us down the line,” he said

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RV Village Resort in West Richland, Wash., has ”been very fortunate,” in the words of Kevin Davey, a partner in Kim LLC, owner of the 99-site campground in east Washington’s Tri-City area.

”We have been full for the last two years,” Davey said. ”People are coming and going and going and coming and others are staying with us while they are buying houses,” he said. ”Plus, we have our travelers.”

Located in the desert plains of eastern Washington in the Columbia Basin Valley, RV Village has benefited by the region having avoided much of the housing crisis while unemployment has remained low. ”The area is booming,” he said. ”The housing market and job market have never been a problem here,” he said.

Kim LLC acquired the existing park – then four years old – in 2003.

”We have a nice view of Red Mountain and Rattlesnake Mountain, and we’re about a mile outside the city, so it’s very serene here,” Davey said.

RV Village has a heated pool, and when the company bought the park, an unused woodshop was turned into a fitness center, and a small store was added.

While things have been good in recent years, Davey said he sees some changes on the horizon. ”A lot of our snowbird customers who are on fixed incomes who come here from Arizona or Nevada in the summer to escape the heat talk about not being able to make the trip anymore because of gas prices,” Davey said. ”I think that will affect a lot of the snowbirds who come to our area.”

He said he’s also noted that while the mix of towable and motorized RVs has stayed about the same, he’s seen fewer diesel-pushers in the park recently. “We had one diesel owner who used to stay with us three or four times a summer who said it cost him $800 to fill it up,” Davey said. ”He said he just couldn’t keep doing that.”

Bob Ashley is a veteran newspaper writer based in central Indiana who specializes in coverage of the RV and campground industries.

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