Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains in the sleepy one-traffic-light town of Townsend, Tenn., lies a quiet, tidy 14-acre property owned and operated by Malcolm and Barbara Johnson and their son Greg Johnson. This is Big Meadow Family Campground, the newest winner of the Small Park of the Year award from the National Association of RV Parks and ampgrounds (ARVC).
According to a report by Woodall’s Campground Management, Big Meadow is actually part campground and part RV storage facility. According to Barbara Johnson, they found soon after its opening in 1995 that folks needed a place to keep their RVs. With ancillary income always a welcome boon for a new park, they started with three units and kept adding more. That, she said, was one of the most important decisions that led to their long-term success and “keeps us operating in the black year ‘round.” Today, 200 units are regularly stored on site.
“The fact that we store campers has always made us unique and different. That’s a separate business by itself,” Johnson explained. With a little notice, Big Meadow staff (60% of that “staff” is the Johnson family) can have a customer’s RV leveled and hooked up in a campsite when they arrive — even washed and visited by a mechanic for a tune-up or repairs, if so desired.
“We do a lot of the work ourselves,” she said. After all, “We’re a small park.”
While this kind of pre-arrival RV prep may not be unique, Big Meadow that is definitely a rarity. “Some of our customers camp in the national park, or they actually camp in other campgrounds here in Townsend, so we also offer a service where we will transport the camper for the customer into another park and set it up there for them,” reported Johnson.
If that sounds extreme, consider the necessity for Big Meadow to be distinctive and competitive: It’s located within two miles of six other commercial RV parks. Rather than being intimidated, Johnson thinks her competitor neighbors are “all very nice,” and while she said they are all larger and older than Big Meadow, that suits the Johnsons just fine.
“The other parks have always been so great in giving us their overflow. There are times that we cannot take care of all the campers that are here in our little town,” she said. “We each have different personalities. We’ve been very fortunate to find a niche here where we’re located.”
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The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) continued its state-by-state look at improvements in the nation’s privately owned RV parks and campgrounds with a look this week at the state of Tennessee. Among the investments were the following:
- Adventure Bound Camping Resort, Gatlinburg: This Great Smoky Mountains area-park, whose amenities include a 500-foot waterslide and 14 cabin rentals, is spending $70,000 in swimming pool, water heating and other improvements this year.
- Big Meadow Family Campground, Townsend: This 77-site park spent about $10,000 this year adding new playground equipment and landscaping the area around the park’s bathhouse. Other upgrades during the past two years include remodeling the bathhouse and adding deluxe supersites to better accommodate campers with big rigs.
- Caney Creek RV Resort, Harriman: This park has spent $200,000 on 20 new deluxe campsites in their own section, boosting the park to 178 sites. Each new campsite has cement pads and 50-amp electrical service.
- Deer Run RV Resort, Crossville: This 200-acre resort expects to invest about $45,000 in improvements this year. Major projects include resurfacing the resort’s swimming pool and tennis courts, installing new wood flooring in its park- model cabin rentals, expanding the park’s Wi-Fi service, upgrading electrical service in several areas and adding another pavilion to the chapel.
- Misty River Cabins & RV Resort LLC, Wallard: This park has recently invested $15,000 in various upgrades, including a new concession stand, and upgrades to its Wi-Fi system and safety improvements for its pool and hot tub.