Illinois Campground Packed for 2012, Even Without Marketing
Fulton County officials in west-central Illinois like to call their campground "a hidden gem."
County administrator Mike Hays was the first, when in mid-February he discussed the appointment of Fulton County Camping and Recreation Area Superintendent Mitch Strode.
"Nobody knows about it," Hays said. "We don't market it."
Actually, even without marketing, the gem is not exactly hidden, the Peoria Journal Star reported. Although the campground has only been open since March 1, slightly more than 97 percent of its seasonal campsites – 228 out of 235 – are sold out for 2012. On the other hand, more than half of those sites have been claimed by people who live in other counties, according to the new superintendent.
"Pekin, Peoria, Chillicothe, Havana …" Strode said. "Unfortunately, it seems the people who live in this county don't know we exist."
If Strode has his way, that will change. Barely a month on the job, Strode has yet to take a day off when he paused to give a reporter a tour. Just that morning, he had to have the shower houses professionally cleaned and a hot-water heater replaced. Even a break for a 90-minute tour could be attributed to his long-range plan to spread the word.
"Eventually, I'd like to get our own website up," he said.
The Fulton County campground is a unique beast. For decades, the county has operated nearly 450 acres on a $1-a-year lease from Chicago Metropolitan Sanitary District. MSD used to barge sludge down the Illinois River to Fulton County, and still owns thousands of acres here. The campground includes four large lakes and a number of small ones.
County officials say they'd like to purchase the property, but at the moment the lease remains a year-to-year deal.
In some ways, that creates a challenge. Grants are difficult to get when someone else owns the land. In other ways it's an opportunity. The campground's budget is separate and self-sustaining. Prices are cheap – a seasonal site with electricity where you can camp from March through October is $750 – which may be one reason out-of-towners flock to the area. Under his new management, Strode hopes the first-come-first-served overnight camping will regain local interest.