Wisconsin Campground is Truly a Family Business
With camping a popular low-cost vacation for many during the summer, one of the new owners of O’Neil Creek Campground near Chippewa Falls, Wis., has been busily preparing for the rush.
“I’m excited but it’s been busy,” co-owner Geri Walter told the Chippewa Herald.
She and her husband, Joe Walter, bought the 370-site O’Neil Creek Campground in May, just before the busy Memorial Day camping weekend. Luckily, Geri and Joe have had help from their families and friends.
The Eau Claire, Wis., natives have been coming to this campground in west-central Wisconsin for years.
“We first camped here back when we were new parents about 18 years ago,” Geri said.
Geri, Joe and their children — Jake, 18, Claire, 11, and Jaret, 6 — set up a permanent camper at the site about three years ago, and spend most of their summers there.
“We fell in love with the site,” Joe said.
So when the camp’s owner, Brian Mitchell, called them in February about buying the campground, they were immediately interested.
Neither Geri nor Joe is new to running a business. Joe Walter owns Litho Specialists, Greendoor Graphics, Close Up Apparel and Locked and Loaded Storage, all located in Eau Claire. And Geri ran a hair salon out of their home for 23 years, retiring recently to spend more time at the campground.
“My husband always jokes that I get the fun jobs at the campsite,” she said.
After buying O’Neil Creek Campground, the couple immediately asked Geri’s sister and her husband, Caron and Kyle Schimmel, if they would like to help.
They also enlisted both of their parents to help out with work at the site, with Geri’s father actively employed at the camp.
A big goal for Geri and Joe is for the campground to be a good learning experience for their children as well as their niece and nephew, Isabel and Jack Schimmel.
“We’re hoping they can work here and build life skills,” Geri said. “They can learn about the business ‘hands-on.’”
Along with help from their family, Geri and Joe also get a hand from some campsite regulars. Geri said there is a definite sense of community among those with permanent sites, and that’s one of the things she loves about the camp.
Some of the changes so far to the campsite have been modest, such as landscaping, offering different family activities and renovating the main office and store. Geri said they will likely do more, but right now they’re focused on learning the ropes and keeping both new and regular campers happy. Their motto is “creating a lifetime of memories.”
So far, the response has been very positive.
“People coming in are so excited,” Geri said. “They say it’s like coming to a family reunion.”
In a way, the campers are right.