When Lori Severson bought the Champions Riverside Resort in Galesville, Wis., three months ago, she had her work cut her for her.
According to a press release, not only was the parking lot full of weeds, but there were potholes in the roadways and big piles of debris that needed to be hauled away.
“The park was literally stripped at the time of sale,” Severson said. “There wasn’t even a rake. The only piece of equipment to come with the park was the pump truck.”
But Severson, who has spent the past eight years working as executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), got a helping hand from her colleagues in the campground business.
In fact, 22 campground operators from throughout Wisconsin recently took time away from their businesses and descended on Severson’s park with dump trucks, tractors and gravel and got to work fixing the campground’s roadways, parking lot and landscaping needs as well as cleaning up the campground kitchen and bathroom.
Some park operators even gave her their washers and dryers, set her business up on QuickBooks and helped organize her park’s storage areas.
“It was like an early Christmas present,” Severson said, adding, “They took care of the very visible disasters.”
One of the volunteers was Bud Styer, who owns and operates Wisconsin campgrounds in Baraboo, Lodi, Merrimac and Tilleda. Styer said he viewed other campground operators as competitors when he got into the campground business 33 years ago. Now, he sees his peers in the industry as friends who are working toward a common goal: providing families with places to share fun times and build memories to last a lifetime.
“As you grow older,” Styer said, “there’s no better feeling than when you can help somebody else. And that’s what we do in campgrounds. We create experiences every day for people.”
And when it comes to Severson’s campground, Styer said he and other park operators are committed to helping her turn what had been a neglected park into an attractive camping destination.
“We took care of a lot of the immediate aesthetics,” Styer said. “We wanted to make a statement to the locals that things are going to get better.”
Many other Wisconsin park operators helped out as well, with brains, brawn and know-how.
Pattie and Darrell Larson, who recently sold their campground, drove four hours to steam-clean the kitchen, and set up a QuickBooks program for Severson’s park.
Jim Button from Evergreen Campsites and Resort in Wild Rose delivered grading equipment, while Scott Kollock from Vista Royalle Campground in Bancroft provided a lawn mower.
Randy and Connie Sondalle from Pineland Campground in Arkdale spent two days reviewing and organizing the campground’s bar. “They went over ordering, food vendors to use, who and where to get the best pricing, what items should and should not be on your menu for the first year. They also shared lessons they learned in their first year in the bar business,” Severson said.
Janet and Hale Evans from Great River Harbor Campground in Alma also spent time reviewing bar operations, what works and what doesn’t in a bar.
Dawn and Pat from Merri Mac Campground in Merrimac also e-mailed Severson copies of their rules and information on a reservation system. “Dawn personally is training my staff on a reservation system and worked us through scenarios of reservation type questions,” Severson said.
Severson said she is grateful to have so much support from campground operators across the state. Working side by side with park operators accelerated her learning curve as she works to transition Champions Riverside Resort from a neglected park to an attractive destination where people want to stay.
“They went through a list with us and helped us prioritize 30-day, 60-day, one-year and five-year improvements,” she said. “That kind of mentorship, that kind of opportunity to not make the big mistakes is invaluable.”
Severson added, “It is so very humbling to work with people who have the value systems and forward thinking like this group does. I marvel every day how lucky I was the day I stumbled into this organization. These folks are truly amazing.”
Severson said she is planning to make additional improvements to the park before it re-opens for the season April 1. Additional information about the park is available at www.championsriversideresort.com.