Rehabilitating Campgrounds: Improving the Campground's Income Stream

Rehabilitating campgrounds and RV parks to make them smooth running and profitable is specialized campground work. It requires RV workers who aren't afraid of making decisions or changes, and who love a challenge.

Campground Rehabilitation and Makeovers

Rehabilitating campgrounds takes place after there have been management problems. To help you have a better idea of what we do, I will give a few examples of how we help RV parks recover.

Out of respect for the owners, I won't mention the names of the campgrounds that we have renovated.

One campground we regenerated was a repossession by the bank. The borrowers' son was the manager. We were contacted to see if we would be interested in rehabilitating this campground. The bad had moved in; the good was no longer coming or staying. The income stream diminished to result in the repossession.

We went there as though we were normal campers, with no one knowing why, or who we were. We wanted to look like we were just another camping couple coming to enjoy the park.

It didn't take us long to see what the problem was and how it resulted in the downhill slide. The borrowers' son was using the rec room / banquet room to host parties with his friends. Sometimes clean-up was left to the next day. These same friends camped for free and took over the facilities as a party place. The campground's reputation plummeted.

It was repossessed by the bank. We were there almost a week before the man in the nice suit showed up and the borrowers' son was asked to leave and remove his camper. This was not a smooth event for his friends showed up and there was no party place.

The campground was almost empty, with maybe four or five remaining campers. There was a lot of cleanup work. The rec room reeked of beer and whiskey; it had to be totally repainted and cleaned. We cleaned the grounds and repainted the sign out front, as the bank was interviewing new possible owners or lessees.

As it was cleaned and the word got out, the campers started trickling back in. Sherman and I welcomed the new owner-managers to their nice clean park that was all ready to be a functional campground and not a party pad. To date, this campground is running at almost full capacity with a lot of snow birds coming back each year and reservations on the books, which means new money coming in once again.

Another example of a campground we regenerated has a different scenario. This small town in Illinois located right off the interstate had a campground in its city park. Campers coming in off the interstate to get fuel or looking for a place to rest were directed to the city campground right up the road. They would pull in there for the night (or two or three) and use the city's water, electric, and facilities all at the cost of this small town.

By rehabilitating this campground, we changed it from a money drain to a healthy income stream. Sherman and I arranged with the mayor to attend a board meeting to share our ideas on how to improve the park.

The situation was accessed and discovered some nights there were seven to ten campers there. They all had been directed up the road from the friendly gas station down by the interstate. There was no blue sign with the little camper symbol that indicates there is a campground at this exit.

We made our proposals and after a few town hall meetings. Sherman and I were placed at the park, close to the showers and laundry rooms. We watched as the traffic pulled in and we would go over and introduced ourselves with the receipt book. In just three months of our doing this, we generated quite an income for this little town.

We got with the State of Illinois and had a camping sign installed on the interstate to direct campers to the exit. At the end of the exit ramp, we installed a nicely painted sign pointing to the city park campground. Today, this city park has a regular campground host, as Sherman and I moved on. Money keeps coming in as this little campground is still generating revenue for the city.

Of all the rehabilitating campgrounds that we have done, this one that was the hardest and biggest challenge. The manager knew he was about to get caught. He left during the night, taking the computer, receipt books, banking information, and everything he thought of to cover up his deception. Sherman and I were once again called in to the job to fix things. We had nothing to go by, not even knowing who was in the park, who had paid, or when their lot rent was due.

Sherman door knocked everyone. Some had receipts and some did not. After weeks of book work, I had a spreadsheet of facts to present to the owners.

The monthly rate was $350. Their manager had been charging $400 and pocketing $50 from each site rented. Their utilities had been paid just enough to keep them from being shut off; same with the cable and wifi. As I audited the books with what copies of bank statements the owners could provide, I had the grand job of telling them they were over $16,000 in arrears; that included catching all utility payments up to date.

The grounds were a mess when we arrived. Sherman worked for weeks on the lawn care and tree trimming as he found some electric meters were held up with bungee cords. He worked the outside, while I sat inside and worked long hours on the books.

 We were there six months at this one, as we helped interview new managers. My Excel spreadsheet I developed on the new computer was kept in place and taught to the new manager. We trained and worked another month with the new manager and still get great reports when we talk to the owners from time to time. This campground is still up and running today with great revenues and reservations, again, with new money coming in.

I don't want to make all work camping sound like it is a lot of work, a lot of trouble, and lots of agonizing labor for it is not. I haven't mentioned the other 30-something campgrounds we have worked in that have ran as smooth as silk. We enjoyed the pools, hot tubs, activities, met great people, and really enjoyed our work camping experience.

Rehabilitating campgrounds is a lot of work. It takes time and effort. These results of rehabilitating campgrounds are not accomplished in a few weeks; some take months. Over time, we have acquired some useful skills that make that transition easier. Sherman and I choose to take on the rehabilitations and improving the income stream of campgrounds. The rewards are everlasting when we hear and sometimes revisit and see the fruit of our labors.

Work camping comes from the heart. We love what we do. It is not all about getting a free sight in exchange for a few hours work. For us, it is the love of mother nature, the old fashioned camping with campfires, the fellowship, and the s'mores.

It is a wonderful world work camping. It gives the opportunity to travel and see places we have never seen and meet people of all walks of life and life styles. Sherman and I enjoy rehabilitating campgrounds. We love the challenges, for no two campgrounds are operated the same. We always learn from each one we have worked at. It is nice when it all goes like clockwork; when we know our job duties, our work schedules, and how the owner/manager prefers his campground to be operated; and the atmosphere he likes to create. But, sometimes, things are not always that way, and that is the part that Sherman and I have found as our ultimate learning experiences.


This article, Rehabilitating Campgrounds: Improving the Campground's Income Streamis a guest article written by Patti Hyatt.

Sherman Hilborn and Patti Hyatt starting working in campgrounds in 2002. They loved what they did, especially the challenge of rehabilitating campgrounds. Patti says, "The rest just comes with it, like having a new front yard anywhere we want, whether it is by a river, an ocean, the mountains, or the foothills of Kentucky. You get out of work camping what you put into it - and that is your heart." Sherman and Patti are originally from southern Illinois.

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