Montana RV Park Owners are Community Boosters
After spending some time visiting Montana and liking what they saw, Larry and Karla Fowler knew Columbia Falls, located just 15 miles southwest of Glacier National Park, was the next spot for them to settle down.
They had sold their truck stop and convenience store in Moses Lake, Wash. After a few years traveling around by RV out of a home in Spokane, Wash., they bought the Columbia Falls RV Park from Dick Mitch and Ray Murphy in June 2009 just in time for the summer tourist season, the Hungry Horse News, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, reported.
"Larry wanted to own an RV park for several years," Karla said.
They went right to work on the place, fencing the perimeter, redoing the signs out on U.S. 2, putting in new lawns and new gravel on roadways, and completely remodeling the apartment above the office.
They also purchased another acre of land, bumping the property up to about five acres, and changed the park's layout. Installing new city water and sewer, electrical power and cable TV services underground, they increased the number of full-hookup sites to 56 and the number of "super tent sites," with water and power, to 10.
The Fowlers have been married about 20 years. Karla hails from Yakima, Wash., and Larry grew up in Toledo, Wash. ( "That's right – Toledo, Wash.," he says). But they first met in Las Vegas.
"Larry's daughter was my best friend," Karla said.
This year marked their third season in Columbia Falls, and while business started out slowly with cold, wet weather, the park was filled in July and August.
"We were up 22% those months," Larry said.
Most of their guests are destination travelers heading for Glacier National Park, Karla said. They promote the park and take reservations while wintering in Surprise, Ariz. A lot of guests are repeat visitors.
"It's like one big family," she said. "They get to be your friends."
RV travelers come from around the world, Larry said – Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany and Quebec. Many fly in to Seattle or Calgary and rent RVs. Larry recounted the story of neighboring RVs with a police officer from South Dakota and a SWAT team officer from Switzerland.
"It was something to hear them compare police stories from different countries," he said.
Karla says she doles out lots of travel advice and hands out brochures to their guests and then listens to them gush about what they'd seen when they return. Her favorite places are Two Medicine, Many Glacier, Lake McDonald Lodge and the Izaak Walton Inn.
Larry, however, has never been to Glacier Park – not once.
"I never get out of town, unless it's to go to Kalispell for shopping," he said.
Larry just can't seem to take it easy. Or maybe all the work he takes on is what he enjoys most in life. Over the years, he's built more than 400 full-service stations and convenience stores across Washington. He owned 40 of them at one time.
With some plans in mind for improving the RV park, Larry says he's been in talks with the city about zoning code changes. The city's ordinances are out of date, he said, noting that RVs are limited in the code to eight feet wide when many RVs today are 10 feet wide. RVs also are not allowed to park at one location year-round, he said, but many cities and towns around the U.S. allow lots with small permanent cabins where RVs can be parked year-round.
"That's where my future lies," Larry said, saying he'd like to build a few cabins for those types of customers.
The Fowlers are big fans of Columbia Falls. They own the only RV park inside the city limits, meaning shopping and dining is within walking distance. Larry and Karla advise all their guests to get everything they need right here in town. Larry says he's surveyed his guests and has a good idea how much money they've spent in Columbia Falls.
Larry and Karla also put their own money in the community. When they wanted to donate to the local DARE program, as they did in Washington, they found out the drug education program no longer exists in Montana. Instead, they donated $1,000 to the Columbia Falls' Shop With A Cop program. They also regularly donate $500 to the local firemen's association.
The couple will shut down the RV park and head south on Oct. 10, five days earlier this year. They'll be back April 1.
"Most of the work's done," Larry said about the improvements. "It'll only take me six hours to get the place up and running."
For more information about the Columbia Falls RV Park, visit online at www.columbiafallsrvpark.com or call (406) 892-1122 or toll free (800) 401-7268.