Brattleboro North KOA Marks 40th Anniversary
Brattleboro North KOA marks its 40th anniversary this year. This event coincides with the 50th anniversary of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), of which the Dummerston, Vt., location is a franchisee.
Coincidentally, campground owners are also celebrating the 70th anniversary of the opening of the gift shop on the site that started the enterprise, the Commonsonline.com, Windham County, reported.
Beverly and Ernie Kenney own the property, which they purchased in 2007.
“We’ve been seeing the Baby Boomers getting back into camping; they retire and buy large motorhomes or small tow-behinds to travel locally,” Beverly Kenney said. “That’s why I thought it was a good investment. They also want to go camping with their grandkids, like they did as kids.”
She said she sees many groups — some of families, some of friends — returning every year to the same campground.
“People love the atmosphere of a vintage campground like this one,” Beverly Kenney said. “It has that Vermont feel to it. Everything is kept-up and clean, and people respect one another. We really try to create an experience of family and of good neighbors.”
The campground has a rich history. In 1942, founders Ralph and Mabel Churchill purchased eight acres of property off the recently reconstructed U.S. Route 5. At that time, the business was called the Coolidge Highway Gift Shop, selling high-quality Vermont souvenirs to travelers on what was then the main route between New Haven, Conn., and the Canadian border.
Gas rationing and travel restrictions during World War II put the tourism industry on hold. After the war, as Americans’ love for and ability to travel continued to grow, so did business on the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Highway, the formal name for the Windham County section of Route 5.
The Churchills built their first cabins in 1949 as the volume of travelers increased in the postwar economic boom. By 1955, the Churchills had retired and their daughter Lovisa and her husband Richard Willard purchased the property. They installed more comfortable cabins and a small circular railroad on the site.
Louisa and Richard started expanding their campground right at the moment that the biggest public works project in the history of the United States — the construction of the Interstate Highway System — was just beginning. When the segment of Interstate 91 between Brattleboro and Putney opened to traffic in December 1961, traffic — and business — fell sharply along Route 5.
The Willards continued to keep their business afloat, but they no longer felt the need to expand their facilities.
But the highway that had initially caused the Willards’ business to diminish ended up giving it a second life in the early 1970s. As RV camping came into vogue, the Willards constructed a campground on part of their property, as a franchisee of the KOA.
“The KOA has a national presence that is incredibly useful,” Beverly Kenney said. “People commuting to Maine or Niagara Falls really need a place to stop. That’s where being a KOA really pays off, ” adding that KOA sites have a reputation for being near interstates and adhering to stringent standards of cleanliness and amenities — making them the perfect stop-off for weary, road-worn travelers.
Since then, the Willards and subsequent owners of the property have been able to harness the traffic of the interstate and make the Dummerston site amenable to travelers, whether the campground is a layover or a destination. Additions in the past 40 years have included a swimming pool, dog park, log cabin and various weekend activities for whole-family participation.
Social Media a ‘Huge Boon’
KOA continues to help its franchisees take advantage of new innovations, these days in the form of an Internet presence. While KOA provides each campground with a web page of its own, Beverly says that “social media is a huge boon for us. We’re trying to get up more on Facebook and Pinterest to really reach out to people who would be interested.”
Social media has helped to harness and direct the trend of “glamping,” or glamorous camping. Young women who feel nostalgic for the 1950s and 1960s have taken to restoring vintage campers.
This year, the Kenneys intend to grab a hold of this market, and devotees of restored campers in general, by holding their first vintage camper rally the weekend of July 20. Mariah Coz, who created a mobile classroom called the COMET Camper project to demonstrate sustainable restoration practices, will participate in the rally.
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