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Arlington Sells High Plains Camping in Oakley, Kan.

December 9, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Mary Arlington

Mary Arlington has sold her High Plains Camping campground in Oakley, Kan., to Jim and Jessie DesRoches.

Arlington, a former board member of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC),  resigned her positions this week as president and treasurer of the Kansas Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (KARVC).

Arlington and her husband (now deceased) bought the park 10 years ago. The park today is in the top 8% of all parks in the country with its 5W-rating by Woodalls for its facilities. The park now is also one of just 12 nationwide which have achieved the GuestRated “A” Award every year since its inception in 2008 (including the most recent one given last week at the ARVC conference in Savannah, Ga.).

In a Dec. 7 letter to KARVC members, new president Carolyn Fenn had this to say:

Today the Kansas Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (KARVC) had mixed emotions over our need to accept the resignation of Mary Arlington as president and treasurer and as a member of our group. We’re excited for her as she moves on from owning High Plains Camping (Oakley) but we will miss her endless enthusiasm and energy that she provided to our organization for nearly a decade.

The Board of Directors elected me, Carolyn Fenn, of Four Seasons RV Acres (Abilene) to her seats of president and treasurer, and I look forward to serving our members until next we meet in February when we’ll fill the board vacancy and elect the officers. Mary has graciously offered to assist me in the transition, and she’s already transferred the bank funds to me.

With Mary’s departure, we’ll be looking forward to having your help as we fill the roles that Mary has carried for us. Please make it a point to be at our general membership meeting. It’s set for February 28 and Natalie Donges is hosting it at her park (Deer Grove RV Park).

KARVC’s board approved the acceptance of membership for the new owners of High Plains Camping, and we welcome them to the group. Jim and Jessie DesRoches took ownership today, and we wish them a warm welcome, even if it is a very chilly December day. If you’re driving near Oakley, please stop in and introduce yourself to them.

If you wish to remain in touch with Mary, you’ll need to email her at MaryArlington@gmail.com.

If you’re interested in reading a bit more about the sale of the park, Mary posted 2 blogs relating to her departure:

http://highplainscamping.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/is-it-farewell-or-is-it-merely-until-next-we-meet/

http://highplainscamping.wordpress.com/2011/12/07/a-letter-of-appreciation-and-of-welcoming/

Mary Arlington ‘Carries Sunshine in Her Pocket’

October 3, 2011 by · Comments Off on Mary Arlington ‘Carries Sunshine in Her Pocket’ 

Mary Arlington

Editor’s Note: The following story was written by Cheryl Unruh and appeared in The Emporia (Kan.) Gazette. “Flyover People” is online at www.flyoverpeople.net. Cheryl Unruh can be reached at cheryl@flyoverpeople.net.

When we began planning our Boulder vacation, I told Dave that I wanted to stop in Oakley (Kan.) to meet Mary Arlington.

Mary owns High Plains Camping, an overnight RV park located at Exit 70 on I-70.

She and I have been Facebook friends for about a year and she’s delightful. Slender and energetic, Mary carries sunshine in her pocket.

During the warm months, she seldom leaves her RV park. She’s the desk clerk, bookkeeper, janitor, and she works on renovations, all without losing sight of her mission: to provide an oasis for guests.

So over the past year I’ve followed Mary and High Plains Camping on the Internet. Last winter, she showed photos of snow creeping up the ankles of a yellow giraffe, the park’s climbing feature for kids. In the springtime, I saw pictures of her newly painted merry-go-round.

Most of her guests are overnighters, RV travelers or tent-campers, on their way to someplace else. But the goal Mary and John Arlington set out to accomplish when they bought the park nine years ago was to make that traveler’s night-along-the-way an optimal and memorable experience.

While scouting for a park to purchase, Mary and John, who had been living in Ohio, spent a year traveling the country in an RV themselves. In 2002, they bought the property in Oakley.

“He wanted to buy an RV park,” Mary said of her husband. “It had been his early-retirement dream.” They considered various types of RV parks: destination, lakeside and overnight campgrounds. “And what we felt were underserved were the overnight parks. Overnight camping lacked personality and character and we wanted to create a park to make the whole trip enjoyable.”

When Dave and I stopped in Oakley, Mary gave us a tour. Restrooms and showers were spacious and sparkling. The laundry room was pleasant and clean and had a jigsaw puzzle in progress on a table.

As we walked across the 18-hole miniature golf course which was updated this spring, Mary pointed out the soccer net and water-spray stations for kids, and three hot tubs for the grown-ups. For four-legged guests, a large and grassy fenced-in dog space is available.

During her ownership, a barn on the property has been straightened and painted. Campers can hang out in the barn on rainy or windy days. “The park has Wi-Fi,” she said, “and they can bring their laptops in here.”

The park’s U-pick organic garden is in its third season and has been a big hit with the guests. In the well-stocked store, guests can purchase a variety of items a traveler might need or want. DVDs may be borrowed; a book-swap shelf is available.

In addition to the time commitment and physical labor involved in maintaining the park, Mary has faced numerous and heartbreaking challenges since she came to Kansas. A year after they purchased the park and began renovations, her beloved husband died of a fast-spreading cancer.

“If that trial wasn’t enough, the trials ahead of me were beyond any I could have predicted,” Mary wrote in an e-mail last winter. “Had I known then what I know now, I’d have thrown in the towel on the day he died, but I also would’ve missed God’s most glorious work.”

“I’ve suffered several significant illnesses, massive financial strains, enormous (and repeated) hail damage, lightning strikes, chauvinism, damaging winds, intense droughts, blizzards that brought about three weeks of hell, and structure-moving microbursts.”

But Mary persevered and has turned her place into an award-winning camping resort. High Plains Camping has an A+ rating from guestrated.com. In 2010, she affiliated with Best Parks in America which invites only the highest-rated campgrounds to join. Online reviews are very kind and they rave about Mary’s hospitality, the well-planned park and its cleanliness, the organic garden, the store.

“There’s so much to (a park owner’s) life that the customers don’t see,” Mary said. “The amount of work is something else, but the reward of their rejuvenation is worth it. And the way they reward me, by thanking me and by their praise, the weariness just rolls off of me and I can go to bed with a ‘wow.’”

Aerial view of High Plains Camping, Oakley, Kan.

Kansas ARVC Issues Mid-Summer Report

July 28, 2011 by · Comments Off on Kansas ARVC Issues Mid-Summer Report 

Mary Arlington, Kansas ARVC president

RV park owners in Kansas have faced many hurdles during this camping season.

“Road construction, floods, drought and of course the unrelenting heat have added burdens to Kansas RV parks and have caused some RVers to adjust or even cancel their summer vacation plans, but the mid-summer reports from many of our park owners look mighty fine, all things considered,” Mary Arlington, president of the Kansas Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (KARVC), stated in a news release.

Park owners had these comments.

Capital City KOA (Topeka) reports overnight traffic is up 20%. This June was their best month ever. Charlie Reaser, owner, said he is also seeing good results from local advertising. He said, “In the last year we have added cable TV and finished our floors in the bath house and barn. The addition of cable TV has been well worth it. I believe it is now the second most sought-after amenity, next to Wi-Fi.”

Brenda Harris, owner of Rutlader Outpost (Louisburg), reports a busy summer, and 2011 will be one of their best years. They opened in 2001. This year they’re seeing a considerable increase in the monthly and weekly stays. She also reported that, although RV club rallies are down, there are a few huge rallies scheduled for the fall.

Greg Wright, a partner with Walnut Grove RV Park (Merriam), says, “The year has just been great” with occupancy being up every month of the year.

Some campgrounds reported slightly lower occupancy over last year, but not as much as was feared when media reports were projecting fuel prices to be $5 per gallon.

Sheila Wagner, USI RV Park (Wichita), reports a slight dip from last year. She said she’s heard “very few comments on fuel prices, mostly on the heat!” Wichita has repeatedly broken record highs this summer. This year her park, which is accustomed to RVers staying for a while, is now seeing customers staying longer or they stay for just a day or two. She added that Wichita is hosting the National Junior Track & Field Meet. The event is bringing in people, including RVers, from all the country. Sheila’s reservations’ books are looking good.

She also commented that some of her guests have been traveling in new RVs. The owners have said, “The price was right.”

Arlington, owner of High Plains Camping (Oakley), is relieved fuel prices didn’t climb as high since most of her customers stop for just one night on their long (often cross-country) trips. She braced for a spike by renovating her 18-hole miniature-golf course and by packing the store with new types of merchandise. Her goal was to grow ancillary revenue in case RV traffic was down. She also focused marketing efforts across Kansas and in surrounding states. She reports, “The winter months were downright horrible, but fortunately our summer traffic is improving and the year could turn out to be very good. Last year was our best since buying the park in 2002.”

Karen Weber, owner of Mid-America Camp Inn (Goodland), sees an increase in people with rental RVs who aren’t properly trained in RV “do’s and don’ts.” She says, and many others will probably agree, that the rental companies need to provide more education before leasing the units. Aside from the basic instructions, she feels these RVers need to be trained on dumping tanks without leaving a mess, and taught about essential RV etiquette so they don’t disrupt the enjoyment of others (not letting their children run through other campsites and not running generators at a private park, to name a few).

As for her park’s occupancy, she noted, “Some days are up, some days are down.”

Natalie Donges owns Deer Grove RV Park (El Dorado) and she is seeing an increase in overnight traffic but a decrease in long-stays. She added that they’re seeing more large motorhomes and fifth-wheels than other years.

Speaking for KARVC, Arlington added, “Not all parks are so fortunate. A few of our members are truly uneasy about the season, but they haven’t yet given up on 2011. I remain hopeful they’ll see a turn-around very soon. For example, Kansas City Jellystone Park is still recovering from last year’s change in name and management, and the interstate road construction hasn’t helped their situation. The park’s team is working hard to catch up, and with the array of special events they have scheduled for July and August, including an open-house and barbecue, I’m remaining very hopeful about their turn-around.”

Reaser summed it up best when he said, “I hope the trend (he’s seeing at Capital City KOA) continues well into the fall season because, like a lot of other parks, the last three years have been difficult.”

Ashdown to Address Virginia Meeting

September 16, 2010 by · Comments Off on Ashdown to Address Virginia Meeting 


Blake Ashdown

The Virginia Campground Marketing Conference, sponsored by the Virginia Campground Association (VCA),  will be held Oct. 18-20 at American Heritage RV Resort in Willliamsburg, Va.

The 2 1/2-day meeting will be entirely devoted to discussing marketing tools and techniques for the 21st century, according to a news release. As the park industry continues to enjoy significant growth and public interest, the industry is becoming increasingly competitive and marketing is considered the key to success for individual parks.

The major speaker at the conference will Blake Ashdown, one of the park industry’s most successful entrepreneurs.

Blake has started 15 businesses over the past 30 years, including 10 RV resorts and campgrounds. He received the “Professional of the Year Award” from the American Resort and Development Association and is a Registered Resort Professional. Ashdown was one of the creators of the Encore brand of RV parks and was the architect of its successful marketing and branding program. His most well-known RV park project is Tropical Palms Fun Resort in Orlando.

For the past four years Ashdown has been a professor at the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University where he taught Marketing and Business Strategy. He is a frequent speaker at industry conventions, conferences and business meetings.

He is the president of SureVista Solutions, a marketing research firm that provides new marketing tools designed to increase revenues.

“Blake has an incredible appreciation for what it takes to market an RV park in today’s rapidly changing world,” said David Gorin, VCA executive. “We’re thrilled to have him as the featured speaker at this first-ever VCA marketing conference. VCA parks have had a good 2010 camping season and parks are improving their game significantly. Staying in the game with great competitors in the Virginia market, requires a real understanding of marketing to today’s consumers. Blake will be a great inspiration and help to park owners who are ready to step up for success.”

In addition to Ashdown, special guests and speakers will include Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), who will share the lessons she’s learned about the park industry in her 40 years in the business. VCA will honor and recognize Profaizer’s long industry career as she prepares to retire at the end of the year.

Mary Arlington, owner of High Plains Camping in Kansas, will also be a special guest. Arlington has fine-tuned the use of social media to build her small campground into a powerhouse small business with national recognition. Affiliated with Best Parks in America, High Plains Camping has received a Guest Review A rating for two years running and is gaining RVer attention throughout Kansas and Middle America. She will discuss her successful social media campaign and how she’s used the cost effective outreach to grow her business.

John Rust and daughter Carol Rust, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park, Luray, Va., will also speak, addressing two marketing programs they created during 2010. One program offered a camping discount through Groupon, an Internet marketing program that is sweeping the country in some metropolitan areas. In addition, the Rusts launched a weekly e-mail newsletter to potential and past guests offering specials and most importantly advising on availability for the coming weekend and future weekends. Both of these programs, Groupon and e-mailing, will be part of a panel discussion on new marketing techniques and tools.

The conference is open to park owners throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. For information on program details and registration, please email tovca@aol.com or call David Gorin at (703) 448 6863. Camping is available at American Heritage RV Resort and hotel accommodations are available nearby.

Camping Community: A Natural for Social Media

July 29, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

After Robyn Chilson, owner of Brookdale Campground, Meadville, Pa., attended the International Association of Music Parks and Attractions and heard Peter Shankman one of the founding fathers of Google speak, she came home and started using social media, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“My followers grow every week and I’m getting new fans,” Chilson told Woodall’s Campground Management. “Because I’m putting our campground in all of these different mediums, it adds a lot of exposure.”

Chilson tweets specials and sales on Twitter and knows it’s working because people often come to her campground asking for the specials they learned about through Twitter.

Chilson also posts Brookdale’s site availability.

“For instance say we’re almost full for July 4,” she explained in early June. “I will send a message encouraging people to book now if they haven’t already. All of that free advertising just comes right back to the business. It provides you a direct connection to the customer at no cost. To me that is huge.”

Chilson is one of a small but growing number of RV park and campground owners and operators who are using social media to their advantage.

Of course, the camping and RVing community is one of America’s largest organic social networks, having naturally developed long before the invention of personal computers, laptops and smart phones, let alone fax machines and CD players. Now, many tech-savvy parks owners and operators are learning to Tweet their commercial messages.

The powerful new form of communication – now commonly referred to as “Twitter” — lets cell phone users send 140-character updates to their “followers.” Twitter is a mini-blog that asks the question: “What are you doing right now?” It’s essentially designed as a quick update on what is going on in real time. Twitters and Tweets are the actual posts.

Some may wonder – why on earth does anyone – other, perhaps, than one’s best friend — care that they’re getting ready to cook dinner, go shopping or play with their kids? For business people like campground operators, however, Twitter can be a powerful marketing tool.

In other words, Twitter is not just for tween-agers, or teen-agers. Take it from Evanne Schmarder, full-time RVer, professional speaker, writer, editor, foodie, WCM columnist and host of the RV Cooking Show.

Instead of simply answering the literal question about what one is doing, Schmarder, head of Roadabode Productions says businesses can use Twitter to spread useful information about their industry, their followers’ interests and their specific business. But only a small percentage of campground owners use Twitter to date, partly due to the fact there are so many online marketing tools vying for their attention.

“I encourage park owners to get involved in a conversation,” she said. “The conversation is happening whether or not they choose to join, so why not get in the mix of it and start to share some of your influence.”

In a business atmosphere campground owners will want to tell people things that are pertinent and valuable — things that will make a difference in their customers’ lives.

“The way you will attract followers is to tweet about park upgrades, amenities, discounts, theme weekends, events, anything the consumer will want to hear something about,” Schmarder said. “It’s important that the business owner includes a link to their web site in their Twitter post. If they don’t provide some place for the customer to go, then they probably won’t take that extra step to find them.”

But park owners need to look at this as a relationship platform, not a sales platform, she stressed. And she suggests that they Tweet frequently, but not too frequently, at least a couple of times a week. “Remember, people choose to follow (and unfollow) you,” she said. “No one wants running ad commentary. You’ve got to make it valuable to your followers. A pretty good ratio might be three relationship tweets to one sales tweet.”

Schmarder pointed out that it is easy to get lost in the stream the more people a follower is following. “If I follow 100 people,” she adds, “I have to look through all of their tweets and it’s easy to glaze over the ones that don’t provide any value, but I’ll stick to the ones that provide value to my life,” she said.

Schmarder: Taking the First Steps with Twitter

To get started using Twitter, visit www.Twitter.com and set up an account. Schmarder suggests that people consider choosing user names and passwords that are somehow relatable and catchy. Once set up, park owners can sit back and observe discussions.

“Use the search box and look for terms relevant to your business. Chances are those will be RV, RVing, RV parks, camping, campgrounds, etc.,” Schmarder said.

“Search for people you know, me for instance – “RV Cooking Show” or the highly popular Yosemite Pines RV, and take a look at their posts and follower/following lists. Select Tweople you’d like to follow and click on the “follow” button. You’ll begin seeing their updates on your home page. Chances are they’ll follow you back (and see your updates on their home page).”

Schmarder warns against looking to a teenage neighbor or intern since they more than likely understand the realm of Twitter. “Certainly I would let them help me set up my page, but this is a marketing message, this isn’t idle chat,” she said. “Just leaving it to a college kid is a mistake. Having them help you is wise, but having them run the program is not a successful strategy.”

If a park owner finds they cannot devote the time to Twitter, they can always turn to social media marketing professionals.

Here is a sample of what other parks are doing.

Ocean Lakes Family Campground

Ocean Lakes Family Campground, Myrtle Beach, S.C., embraces social media and all that it does for its business. The park has actively been involved in two of the popular social media sites — Twitter and Facebook — since 2009.

“In the beginning, we focused more on Facebook simply because it worked for our industry and our guests, and we were able to see the positive results from it,” explained Rachel Streets, marketing assistant and events coordinator. “Twitter, on the other hand, was freighting, and our tactics didn’t seem to be beneficial at first, that is until we learned the secrets.

“We were trying to use Twitter like we were using Facebook to start conversations and interactions with our guests, ultimately providing better customer service and positive PR for our company’s brand,” added Streets. “However, Twitter does not work like this. Twitter only allows you to use 140 characters to get your point across, however, so it is very difficult to carry on a conversation in only two sentences. We then learned that for our business, the best way to utilize Twitter is to use it to gather media attention and publicity.”

Ocean Lakes’ view: Since the media uses Twitter extensively to find stories to report on, may as well give them what they’re looking for.

“The key is to push out fun and interesting information about your campground so the media will see it and report about it,” she said. “We have seen where it has worked by tracking how many times we are mentioned on Twitter in a given week, which averages about 15 times per week. There may not necessarily be 15 stories about us a week, but the more your name is seen, the more likely it is remembered.”

Ocean Lakes also follows all of the major and local media sources.

“This is great because the more media you follow, the more likely they are to follow you, which means they are interested in your company and what it has to say,” Streets noted. “All and all, Twitter has really become a beneficial tool for generating more publicity for our campground, and, really, who couldn’t use more positive publicity?”

High Plains Camping Teaches Social Media

Mary Arlington, CPO, High Plains Camping, Oakley, Kan., teaches classes on social networking and has held the hands of many campground owners as she’s coached them through learning about it.

“Some refer to me affectionately as the ‘Queen of Social Networking’ while others call me their ‘Facebook Angel,’” she said. “For me, High Plains Camping can’t imagine life without these tools. Most seem to prefer Facebook, but I’ve actually achieved my highest ROI from Twitter. Between Facebook and Twitter, more RVers found the park on Twitter and then began checking out the information on Facebook, the blog and the main website.”

Has she made a million through social media?

“Heck no,” she says. “Far more still find me through all the traditional avenues, but my web stats show Twitter and Facebook to be in the top 10 for referrals,” she said. “My occupancy has skyrocketed and my prepaid, online reservations have doubled over last year, which was also off the charts compared to previous years.”

Arlington also commented on the “free-ness” of social media.

“I haven’t received any invoices but I’ve used an enormous amount of my computer background, a great deal of my marketing background, a whole lot of my love for my campers, and loads of my free time,” she said. “What is free time? The tiny snippets of time which exist between the RV’s pulling up the driveway, the phone ringing, the door opening, the employees coming in, and the emails flowing in, cleaning, admin, outdoors work, and all that we park owners do every day.

“I literally squeeze it in,” adds Arlington. “If you aren’t efficient with time, proficient with marketing, enthusiastic about people, and sufficiently skilled in Internet usage, Twitter and other forms of social networking might not be for you. For the rest of us, we’re happy to have the attention of the millions who use Twitter.”

Lake Rudolph Campground Is Fairly New to Twitter

Lake Rudolf Campground and RV Resort in Santa Claus, Ind., is fairly new to Twitter.

“We just started our account last year,” said Laura Barker, public relations/web media coordinator. “What I found is that it’s a great medium for us to get out behind-the-scenes information to our campers. It’s a good way to give them updates, even when we’re closed for the season. That is also something that generates interest. We’re only a little over 200 followers, but in the past month I’ve noticed more of our followers re-tweeting and also mentioning us when they’re here. That’s nice to see. We also use Twitter for our local media. It’s a great way for us to keep in touch with them.”

For more helpful advice visit www.campgroundsuccess.com If you’d like to read Evanne Schmarder’s tweets, visit twitter.com/rvcookingshow. For Ocean Lakes, visit twitter.com/oceanlakes. A few Twitter sites of interest include twitter.com/camping_usa, twitter.com/Camping Zone, wefollow.com/twitter/camping.

Retired Writer Transforms Kansas Campground

July 14, 2010 by · Comments Off on Retired Writer Transforms Kansas Campground 

Mary Arlington, owner of High Plains Camping, Oakley, Kan.

When Mary Arlington and her late husband, John, bought High Plains Camping in Oakley, Kan., eight years ago, the park was run down, with some buildings literally falling apart.

“There was a barn on the property and it leaned to one side,” Arlington recalled. “You could literally watch the sunset through the holes in the roof.”

The park also had a reputation of having access to illegal drugs. “Nobody told us about this until we closed the property purchase deal,” Arlington said in a news release.

But with years of TLC and about $350,000 worth of improvements, Arlington has transformed the park into a thriving business that provides welcome respite for RVers heading east or west on Interstate 70 or vacationers and snowbirds heading to or from the Canada and other northern states along U.S. 83.

The improvements include reconstruction of that leaning barn for a recreation hall, gutting and rebuilding of the laundry room, creation of a campground office and store, remodeling bathrooms and showers, adding roads and redesigning campsites. The pull-through sites with 30 and 50 amp electrical service accommodate big rigs and people traveling with boats or cars in tow. Other improvements include the addition of three hot tubs for people who want to relax, a dog run, and a Cool-Down Spray Zone for hot summer days, and the seasonal U-Pick Organic Garden.

.“We provide peaceful serenity, a place where people can get out of their car and walk down a quiet country road,” Arlington said. Other park amenities include a horseshoe pit and a challenging 18-hole miniature golf course.

And given its remote location half way between Kansas City and Denver, Arlington said High Plains Camping is a great place for stargazing and for photographers who want to capture a beautiful sunrise or sunset in the heart of America.

Managing a campground and marketing travel in Kansas is a big change for Arlington, who bought High Plains Camping in 2002 after retiring from a career as a technical writer.

She and her late husband, John, bought the park while they were traveling across the country. They had already sold their home and made a decision to purchase a campground, but they didn’t know where it would be. “We just knew we wanted to buy a small park,” she said.

But when they spent the night at High Plains Camping, even in its unrefined form, they knew it offered the kind of place they wanted to provide to their guests. And it turned out the park was for sale. “We wanted to offer more than a place to sleep,” Arlington said. “We wanted to be part of their journey, to rejuvenate their spirits before getting them back on the road.”

Arlington also tells her guests about many things to see and do in Kansas so that they don’t simply rush through the state on their way to another destination. “If they know what there is to do here, maybe they’ll stay another night or two,” she said.

“Every day of your journey should be enjoyable, not just the days at your destination,” Arlington says, adding that she often directs travelers to Abilene, the boyhood home of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and site of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. The town also has several mansions and fine restaurants. Another town, Salina, is known for its Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, a zoo and wildlife museum.

Kansas RV Park is Base Camp for Farm Workers

June 30, 2010 by · Comments Off on Kansas RV Park is Base Camp for Farm Workers 

High Plains Camping in Oakley, Kan.

Most of the time, Mary Arlington promotes her 55-site campground in Oakley, Kan.,  as a quiet place for weary travelers to unwind as they travel across the country.

But this week, there isn’t any campground in America that’s busier than High Plains Camping, a 55-site campground in the middle of nowhere, roughly half way between Kansas City and Denver, according to a news release.

The only difference is their clientele. Arlington’s guests are farm workers, young farm workers who travel across the country in RVs, harvesting America’s wheat. The harvesting companies are from Texas, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana and even Canada, and the crews are mostly from the same regions, but sometimes include young men and women from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“These guys not only bring their RVs, but they travel with combines, grain trucks and other farm equipment, which they leave in the farm fields,” she said. “They were in Oklahoma and Texas as couple of days ago. Now they’re in Kansas, and from here, they will fan out across the Midwest. Some will go to Nebraska. Others to the Dakotas and Colorado. Some of them will ultimately keep heading north into Canada as the wheat ripens.”

Mary Arlington

Arlington, a former Ohio resident who bought the campground in 2002, previously knew nothing about the wheat harvest or about the bands of farm workers who travel across the Midwest in RVs, harvesting the grain that will be used in countless food products, both here and overseas.

But she said she has developed a healthy respect for them and the work they do. “These are very hard working American boys,” she said. “They bust their butts so that you can have a loaf of bread.”

Arlington said seven crews are staying at High Plains Camping right now. They typically leave the campground by 9 a.m. and don’t return until after midnight, after their work for the day is done.

“I’m up until one in the morning myself, making sure everything is OK and that they have what they need,” she said.

While the visiting farm workers usually do their own cooking in camp, they also fill the seats at the restaurant next to Arlington’s campground and patronize other businesses in the neighboring town of Oakley, population 1,800.

Arlington said she gets a kick of the reaction of vacationers who call her remote campground thinking they won’t have any trouble finding a space, only to find that the entire park is booked. “Walk-ins take a real chance of being disappointed,” she said.

These farm workers, of course, are not Arlington’s usual clientele, who normally consist of RVers heading east or west on Interstate 70 or snowbirds heading to or from Canada and other northern states along U.S. 83. “In another week, the farm workers will have moved on to another campground or RV park in the Midwest and I’ll have my usual clientele once again,” Arlington said.

High Plains Camping features 55 pull-through sites with 30- and 50-amp service, free Wi-Fi, propane service, bathrooms and showers, three hot tubs, a recreation hall, an organic garden, a miniature golf course and a large campground store. More information is available at www.highplainscamping.com.

High Plains Camping is affiliated with Best Parks in America and is also a member of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), which represents privately owned and operated campgrounds, RV parks and resorts across the country.

High Plains Camping Joins Best Parks Network

May 5, 2010 by · Comments Off on High Plains Camping Joins Best Parks Network 

Aerial view of High Plains Camping in Oakley, Kan.

High Plains Camping located near Oakley, Kan., has been designated as one of the Best Parks in America. The resort is one of the newest affiliates of Best Parks, a national network of the top 10% of America’s RV parks and campgrounds as rated by the industry’s rating companies and consumers.

High Plains Camping is owned by Mary Arlington and is entering its ninth summer serving the RVing and camping public under this name. The park offers guests its friendly resort-like treatment as RVers make their way to their vacation destination. They’re open all year, offering something for everyone: adults, children, and pets. Last year they added their highly anticipated and well loved U-Pick Organic Garden for those staying at their facility during the summer and fall seasons.

“For eight years we have been renovating this established park while we strived to provide exceptional vacation experiences, exceeding expectations of guests with amenities, friendliness and cleanliness. Affiliating with Best Parks in America is a crowning achievement,” said Arlington.

Best Parks in America currently has a network of over 50 of the nation’s highest rated parks located in more than 22 states and new parks are becoming part of the expanding network each week. The network’s website, www.BestParks.com, allows RVers and campers to easily and quickly identify the very best places to stay. Best Parks will be publishing an annual print directory that will appear for the first time in 2010. The organization is headquartered in McLean, Va.

“We are delighted to welcome High Plains Camping as one of the newest Best Parks in America and congratulate Mary on this achievement,” said network president David Gorin. “The park truly represents the best of the RV park and campground industry and we’re delighted to have this park as an affiliate. Achieving the high ratings required to be part of Best Parks is no easy task and Mary is to be commended on delivering such high quality to her guests.”

High Plains Camping is located on U.S. 83 at Interstate 70 in northwest Kansas. Learn more about the park at www.HighPlainsCamping.com. Reservations can be made by calling (888) 446-3507 or emailing office@HighPlainsCamping.com.

RV Campgrounds Roll Out On-site Dining

August 31, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

beefeaters200Jim King and his traveling companion, both of Daytona Beach, Fla., were hot, tired and grubby from a long day of sightseeing in and around St. Louis, Mo. When they returned to their 40-foot motorhome at Sundermeier RV Park in St. Charles, Mo., they didn’t feel like fixing dinner, nor did they feel like cleaning up to go out to eat.

So dinner came to them.

We just had hamburgers and fries, but the restaurant delivered as quickly as if we were sitting right there, and they came right to our site,” said King, 66.

King and his friend could just as easily have had prime rib, a New York strip steak or award-winning clam chowder delivered right to their site from Beef Eaters, the campground restaurant, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Forget the weenies on a stick, toasted marshmallows and s’mores that are staples of outdoor getaways. Campgrounds are going gourmet.

“Parks are finding operating a restaurant on-site is indeed a convenience for guests as much or more than a grocery store,” said Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.

The organization represents 3,800 privately owned campgrounds in the United States, and roughly 130 have a full-service restaurant on-site. Profaizer believes this is a trend that has gained momentum in the last two or three years.

Beef Eaters was added to the offerings at Sundermeier RV Park in 1999, one of the earliest campgrounds in the association’s membership to operate a restaurant. The decision to open Beef Eaters was primarily as a resource for the RVers, according to manager Joe Zieger. The restaurant soon earned a reputation for great steaks throughout St. Charles and the St. Louis area. Today, only about 20% of Beef Eaters’ business comes from within the RV park.

Such statistics are no surprise to Jack and Susan Evans, owners of the Palms RV Park in Dickinson, Texas, on Interstate 45 about halfway between Houston and Galveston. Guests at the 64-site park, many of whom are long-term campers working at area plants, often ask about dining options in the area, especially for breakfast.

“There just isn’t much around here,” said Jack Evans, who is friends with Harold Backe, father of Houston Astros pitcher Brandon Backe. The idea of opening a sports-themed restaurant at the park formed while the friends were in Chicago watching Brandon pitch at Wrigley Field.

Construction is under way on Backe’s Bullpen, which should be open in time for the World Series in late October. Boasting a sports theme and a number of autographed baseball items, the restaurant will seat about 80 people inside and about that many more on outdoor patios.

“I had an acre of land that needed something on it, so it just makes sense,” said Evans, who is also adding 10 more cabins to the park.

“We know we can’t rely entirely on the customer base of the campground, but it’s a great location for all of us,” said the elder Backe, who expects his son to be beside him in the off-season, flipping burgers and waiting tables.

It isn’t just privately owned RV parks that recognize the customer-service value of having on-site dining at a campground. Of 52 parks operated by the state of Arkansas, five have on-site, full-service restaurants.

“In general, breakfast is the most popular meal for people staying in the parks,” said Arkansas parks spokesman Joe Jacobs. “It’s just a convenience for campers, but it’s also a convenience for day-use guests for lunch and dinner.”

Just across the state line in southwest Missouri, Roaring River State Park near Cassville built a lodge and dining area in 1998, in part to serve campers but also to encourage locals to get out and explore the park. Roaring River is known as a great trout-fishing river, so that’s the specialty on the menu. As a special service to those who catch and clean their own trout, the kitchen staff will cook it to their specifications for dinner.

But for those who still prefer to prepare their own meals, Mary Arlington at High Plains Camping in Oakley, Kan., provides fresh ingredients for free. While looking for new ways to make guests feel at home, Arlington added a pick-it-yourself organic garden this season. Campers are told about the garden upon check-in.

“The most common response we get from our guests is, ‘Is this for real?’ ” said Arlington, who has operated this campground at the intersection of Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 83 in western Kansas for eight years.

The 2,100-square-foot garden offers tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, beans, beets, radishes, cantaloupe, squash and more. Although there’s no charge to guests, a donation box is often stuffed with $5 and $10 bills along with thank-you notes. One guest gave Arlington a gift in appreciation for the fresh produce. Another guest made vegetable soup and shared with others.

“We’re already planning on a bigger garden next year,” she said. “Our only problem has been the rabbits, but it’s also fun for guests to watch them frolicking in the garden.”

Arlington enjoys watching parents and grandparents with children in the garden, teaching them how to pick, what is ripe and telling stories from their gardening experiences.

In addition to free produce, High Plains Camping offers free coffee and tea in the office each morning, featuring local roasts.

Kansas RV Park Owner Goes ‘Green’ for Guests

April 28, 2009 by · Comments Off on Kansas RV Park Owner Goes ‘Green’ for Guests 

Mary Arlington Mary Arlington, left, owner of High Plains Camping in Oakley, Kan., has come up with a unique way to  differentiate her RV park from any other, according to TheExaminer.com.
 This year Arlington has created and planted a garden, where the produce is produced for her guests. Here  are quotes from her blog:

 Organic produce. Vegetables and fruits for your meal. Stay at High Plains Camping this summer or fall  and pick from the garden. The campground owner has a farmer friend who will plant this garden for  the guests at the RV park. He loves farming and hopes the guests will appreciate his produce. This is the first year so we’ll learn as we go with this program. We’ll provide 2 pots where people can donate to show their appreciation to David The Farmer. There will be large variety of produce. As the plants are planted I’ll update this posting to give you the full list.
APRIL 25, 2009: The farmer was back today to till again, and to begin planting. The onions are in the ground!

Like many of the more progressive RV campgrounds, Arlington and High Plains Camping may be followed on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/highplainscamp.

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