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On Campgrounds: Breezy Hill Gets A New Life

January 31, 2017 by   - () Comments Off on On Campgrounds: Breezy Hill Gets A New Life

When Jon Wiltzius and his wife Jennifer four years ago decided to buy Breezy Hill Campground, a 110-site park on 60 acres in Fond du Lac, Wis., they knew there was a lot of work ahead.

“The campground needed attention,” Wiltzius said in a tone that indicated he was making an understatement.

Among the first things the couple did was leave a franchise system to establish Breezy Hill’s independence.

“When you buy into a franchise like that, they set the rules. We felt it was important that we have autonomy,” said Wiltzius, a retired high school principal whose wife still teaches.

“We feel it’s important for us to talk to our campers. For example, we don’t have an online reservation system. We want people to call us so we can answer their questions. And since 70% of our clientele comes from within a 60-mile radius, we felt we could enhance that ourselves.”

The strategy seems to have worked.

“When we bought the campground, there were six seasonal sites,” Wiltzius said. “Next year we already have 46 booked.”

That didn’t come without a lot of work.

Thirty-five new sites are scheduled to open in April and air conditioning has been added to eight rustic cabins that were onsite when they bought the park.

The couple also built a swimming pond with a sand beach — one of four ponds on the campground — rebuilt the park’s heated swimming pool and currently they’re building a road to connect two sections of the park to make it easier for big rigs to maneuver.

The list goes on.

The Wiltziuses RVed for 15 years in a fifth-wheel trailer before the family bought Breezy Hill. “We learned a lot about campgrounds, being RVers ourselves,” Wiltzius said. “We are learning the trade and we’ve got a lot of ideas. It’s a matter of time and resources.”

Jon Wiltzius’ sister Sara helps manage the park when Jon isn’t around.

With a typical spring-to-fall season the first three years, Breezy Hill will be open this winter for the first time, but with only eight sites available.

“We have an excavating company working on a pipeline nearby,” Wiltzius said. “We hope to have some of the workers stay here.”

Business at the park has grown steadily during the three seasons the Wiltziuses have owned Breezy Hill. “We took over in 2014, increased our numbers by 33% and this year we are 10% higher than that.”

To keep families busy, Breezy Hill schedules regular themed weekends and brings in entertainment such as bands and wood carvers; for Independence Day the park hosts its own fireworks show.

Last summer, Breezy Hill hosted a national barbecue contest that drew 30 participants, the proceeds of which went to a local charity that deals with sexual abuse.

And in December, the Wiltziuses decked up the park for Christmas and offered sleigh rides to the general public. “If there’s snow, we’ve got wagons that we can use,” he said.

It’s coincidental that the park has a stable where RVers can keep their horses, and Wiltzius has added an outdoor arena and a paddock.

“Among horse people, word travels,” Wiltzius said. “It’s very difficult if you are traveling with horses to find someplace to board them.”

It’s not coincidental that the Wiltziuses have horses for their children, Emma, 16, and Mya, 12. “Part of the deal with us buying the campground was that each of them would get their own horse,” he said. “They’ve being riding since they were 4.”

•••••

Although in early December business hadn’t picked up yet at Tropical Gardens RV Park in Bradenton, Fla., the winter season is shaping to be busy, according to Rita Johnson, who manages the campground with her husband Dale.

With 160 sites on 10 acres, the 40-and-over park 10 miles off the Gulf Coast is considered “small” by Florida standards.

“This time of year it’s a little slow,” Johnson said. “But we’ll be full January through March.”

Greeting those who arrived later in December was a free Christmas dinner with ham and side dishes.

About 90 residents stay at the park year-round in an assortment of park models, fifth-wheels and motorhomes, she reported. Tropical Gardens also will get a good number of seasonal residents.

During the 12 years she and her husband have managed the park, it’s been given a complete facelift. Johnson said. “They redid the bathroom, pool and rec hall,” she said. “It’s completely different.”

Next on the rehab front in the spring will be several sites now on grass that will be paved with concrete. “Eventually, they will all be concrete,” she reported.

Johnson said that price of sites — $800 a month — is among the things that draw people to Tropical Gardens.

“We are in the middle price range,” Johnson said. “Other parks closer to the beach get $2,000 a month.”

•••••

Thirty miles southeast of Mobile, Ala., Magnolia Farms RV Park in Foley is about to figuratively get “hot” even as winter temperatures cool down in southern Alabama.

“We don’t get much traffic in the summer — just a few people staying for a night or two,” said Magnolia Farms Manager Fred Maples. “It’s just too hot.”

That changed this month.

“We will be full in January, February and March when all the Northerners get tired of the cold,” Maples said.

The 50-site campground is 11 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, which is a primary reason that the park will fill up.

But what also brings RVers to the park, Maples said, is how quiet and peaceful it is — almost too quiet. “I couldn’t sleep for the first three nights I was here it was so quiet,” he said.

The park at one time was about twice its current size, but about a decade ago was split in two with one side remaining an overnight campground and the other becoming a condominium park.

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