On Campgrounds: Unique Park Sports a Driving Range and ‘Airstrip’
Bob Ashley is a veteran newspaper writer based in central Indiana who specializes in coverage of the RV and campground industries.
You’re not likely to find too many golf driving ranges at RV parks and campgrounds. Nor are you generally going to see a field set aside to fly radio-controlled airplanes.
That is, unless you check out Buck Creek RV Park in Marion, N.C.
”I’ve got a driving range and I don’t play golf; I own a campground and I don’t camp. But flying RC airplanes is my hobby, so I’ve got a field set up,” said Danny Watson, who has owned Buck Creek for 18 years.
But the draw at Buck Creek isn’t so much the driving range or the RC field.
”What makes Buck Creek so sweet is we are at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” said Watson. ”It’s a beautiful location.”
The 74-site park on 48 acres 10 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway features a half-mile of frontage on Buck Creek, which allowed Watson to construct 50 RV sites on the water, a big attraction.
The summer season started off slowly, Watson reported. ”But right now, things are pretty much normal,” he said in mid-August. ”We get overnighters, but most of our people are regulars who come from two hours or so away. I have a high-repeat customer base.”
Even with that, Watson said he’s seen a distinct change in the RVers who have checked into Buck Creek during the last two years. ”We’re not seeing a lot of new faces,” he said. ”Since I don’t have a swimming pool and things like that, we attract a lot of retired people who have been hurt by the economy and gas prices.”
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Forty miles south of the Canadian border in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, Heidi and James Boraski have been busy renovating Blue Lake RV Park since they bought the 40-site campground in 2008.
”The campground was really popular in the ’60s and ’70s, but the sites were really close together and they only had 20-amp electric service,” Heidi Boraski said.
Since they bought the park, the couple has made sites larger to accommodate big rigs and added 50-amp service. ”We took out one out of every two sites,” she said, adding that interior roads also were widened and reconfigured.
Recently the Idaho Department of Transportation declared Blue Lake to be Idaho’s first ”Big Rig Friendly” park and added Blue Lake to informational signs on I-95.
”One of the rules is that big rigs have to be able to pull in and turn around without backing up,” Boraski said. ”It’s so hard for big rigs sometimes when they pull into these campgrounds and they can’t turn around.”
The spring weather in Idaho was lousy like much of the U.S., which kept campers away, she said. ”But we’re making it up right now because the weather is really good,” Boraski said.
Like many other campgrounds, Blue Lake recently has been attracting RVers who live nearby. ”What we are finding out is that people are staying longer and not going as far from home,” she said. Highway traffic definitely is down.”
Besides reconfiguring the park to accommodate large motorhomes, the Boraskis have been busy. They’ve added an indoor pavilion with a full kitchen, a rustic camping cabin and a bath house. They’ve also constructed swimming and fishing docks on three-acre Blue Lake, installed Wi-Fi, and built an 18-hole mini-golf layout and added a jumbo chess set for entertainment.
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One of Duck Creek RV Park’s most popular attractions is a large dog park equipped with a washing station.
”There are a lot of people coming through who have pets and we are pet lovers,” said Virginia Vessels, who owns Duck Creek in Paducah, Ky., with her husband, Michael. ”We thought a dog park would be a plus, and it’s become very popular.”
Duck Creek, which opened in 1999, has 100 sites and is handicapped friendly. ”My husband is in a wheelchair and he has to go everywhere, so there are no steps here,” she said. ”And seating areas that we have around the park are all equipped with ramps. We don’t get people who are handicapped everyday, but we do get some.”
The couple added six sites to the park last year.
Located about halfway between Nashville and St. Louis, Duck Creek is a popular stopping place. ”And we are close to Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley,” she said, adding that business this season ”has been pretty good, considering what the economy is doing.”
” Our overnighters,” she added, ”are affected by the price of fuel and they aren’t what they were last year.”
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Deborah Sweatt, co-owner of Turquoise Trail Campground and RV Park in Cedar Crest, N.M., is looking for the upcoming Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Oct. 1-9 to cap an already successful summer season.
”Things are going great,” said Sweatt, owner with her husband, Bradley Bowman, of the 57-site RV park with three cabins and 30 tents sites. ”2011 is going to be our best year in the 17 years since we’ve owned the park.”
Sweatt is not sure what to attribute the park’s good fortune to this summer. ”It’s certainly not the economy,” she said. ”We keep the park up and in good repair and it’s a beautiful setting. You couldn’t ask for a nicer place to park if you like mountains.”
In the foothills of the Sandia Mountains at an elevation of 7,200 feet 10 miles east of Albuquerque, Turquoise Trail is populated with Ponderosa pines and cedar trees and other conifers. The park also draws repeat business from the Albuquerque area.
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In the Lakes Region of New Hampshire surrounded by the White Mountains, Ames Brook Campground in Ashland is having a better season this year than last.
”Actually, we are up 5 1/2% over last year,” said Barbara Marion, owner for 26 years of the 82-site park with her husband, Vernon. ”I think it’s because our rates are lower than a number of campgrounds in the area,” she said, reporting that owners of two local parks told her they were down 35% and 50%, respectively.
That’s not to say that the park hasn’t felt the effects of the economic uncertainty that was evident in the country this summer. ”The campground store is way down,” Marion said. ”They are coming but they’re not spending any money.”
Even with check-ins up over last year, the Brooks said reservations from tour companies who visit the area for the fall colors have fallen, likely because of rising fuel costs. ”We’re down from 24 last year to 12 this year, and some have been coming here for four years.”
”Our fall business will tell more about gas prices. I’ve already got cancellations for the fall, and that’s when we get the big rigs in here for the color.”