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.
A suspect national economy had little tangible effect on the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners’ (WACO) Spring Convention March 18-22 at the Holiday Inn Convention Center in Stevens Point, Wis.
The event drew 650 campground owners, staff members and trades people. The campground count was 127, up from 106 last year. And the trade show featured 178 vendor booths, up from 150 a year ago. Furniture was removed from the convention center lobby to make room for the additional booths, WACO staffer Ruth Jaszewski reported to RVBusiness. The meeting is routinely the largest gathering of campground owners from a single state in the year.
She called it “a very positive convention,” both in terms of attendance and campground owner morale. “They (campground owners) feel the camping industry will not be that affected (this year). People won’t travel as far but will still come to the campgrounds that are closer. And reservations are up from last year,” Jaszewski said.
Among the guest speakers were Mark Anderson, chairman of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), and Beverly Gruber, executive director of the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association (PCOA).
Kathi Kilgore, WACO’s lobbyist, outlined key legislative matters affecting the campground industry this year. The two major issues facing campgrounds deal with the mandatory start of public school and with raising the minimum wage, she told RVB.
WACO helped draft the existing Uniform School Start Date legislation, passed in 2001, which mandated public schools could not start before Sept. 1.
“This year, we are seeing an effort to repeal that law,” Kilgore said. “That is a big threat I am very nervous about. We are seeing organizations that were dormant or neutral before becoming more active.
“The other challenge is there is a majority of legislators who have not dealt with this issue before. We will now have to educate the new legislators and re-educate the folks that were here before,” she said.
The start date will be a bargaining issue, she said. “As a tourism industry, we would like to see Labor Day but a compromise (in the present law) was Sept. 1,” she said. Some schools formerly started as early as Aug. 18.
Such an early start date last year would have been harmful to the state’s campgrounds last summer, she noted, as the weather the last two weeks of August was “fabulous” and owners made up for a lot of business they lost earlier in the season due to the extensive flooding across the state.
The minimum wage hike would be to $7.60 an hour and indexed to the Consumer Price Index, she explained. She fears the legislation will “open the door to other HR issues like mandatory sick leave and to bigger precedents,” she said.
She encouraged WACO members to lobby their state legislators on the two issues.
WACO will hold its 2010 convention the third week in March and most likely return to the Stevens Point site, Jaszewski said.