Building an RV park from scratch: Why I sold my house to open an RV campground

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By Machelle James

When I met my husband more than 25 years ago, I never could have imagined how life would have changed as it has in the past year. Now that the children are adults and we are grandparents, we decided we did not want to work for corporate America anymore. So what do you do when you want to open a business that is fun and meaningful? You find what you and your spouse are passionate about and figure out a way to earn an income doing it.

My husband, AJ, is the one who introduced me to camping. I never really camped growing up as I was city girl and that was just something we did not do. That and the fact that my family was very poor and my parents worked so much we rarely had an opportunity to go anywhere. So when my husband said we were going to go camping, we borrowed a tent, a portable stove and sleeping bags, and packed an ice chest full of food.

For my first camping trip, AJ took me to the sand dunes of Glamis, California. It was not a very welcoming first camping experience! Not only did we pack a summer tent in the middle of winter, the portable stove caught fire, and all of the food we had was covered in sand and fire retardant. I thought for sure the children were going to freeze to death as the cold wind came through our vented tent. I vowed I would never camp again unless AJ bought me an RV.


We tried out a class A motorhome, but it didn’t have enough sleeping options. The class C motorhome was not an option as our daughter kept opening the doors as we were driving. When we rented a fifth wheel toy hauler, we knew we had found the best RV for our family.

What we eventually chose was a new 2006, 35-foot Fleetwood toy hauler. She is still going strong and is currently parked in our garage. We have been to Glamis, California, and the White Mountains in Arizona more times than I can count. However, we have come to realize that being in nature, in the trees, is what makes us the happiest.

WE HAVE CAMPED in state park campgrounds only a handful of times. We prefer not to be stuck so close to people we don’t know. You see, our daughter has developmental disabilities and we are fiercely protective of her. She is 22 years old, yet she is 13 years old mentally. She is so trusting and will just wander over and start talking to people. Some people are OK with that; others, not so much. However, we have noticed that she, like most children away from their electronics, comes alive in the trees.

Many times during the campfire cocktail hour we have said that we should open an RV park – a place with enough space so you can’t hear your neighbors. An area that has a cool happy hour meeting place, and with community events where we could have smoking BBQ smackdowns. A space for events like a wedding or a band to play. A camp where you can ride your off-road vehicle to the nearby trails. A place that would be welcoming to all kids, no matter what their abilities are.

After years of saying it, I started to truly research how to open an RV park.  It took us 10 months of searching properties and talking to different planning and zoning departments. We found several pieces of property that were beautiful and had great access to park an RV. However, there are so many rules about lawful entry from forest service roads, legal access from the highway, wrong zoning codes, no electricity options. We were getting frustrated that we couldn’t find the right piece of land.

Finally we found 15 acres in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona, that had everything we needed to open a campground. Our daughter was playing in the snow, throwing snowballs at me. She told us she loved the property and wanted to move there. We all knew that land was meant for us: water, electricity, septic, correct zoning and, most importantly, trees!

Our home is going on the market in a few days so we can make this happen. Are we crazy for giving up a 3,300-square-foot home to live in a 5th wheel on 15 acres with our daughter? Maybe. I can’t imagine doing this without the help and support of my husband, family and friends.

We plan to have our campground grand opening in the summer of 2020. Until then, I’d like to share with you the journey we are about to embark on. Please join us on the developments of AJ’s Getaway, Family RV Park.

Until then, see you in the trees. And, please leave a comment.

Follow us on Facebook @ AJ’s Getaway RV Park or on Instagram at ajsgetawayrvpark.


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JW
JW

Hi Machelle, sounds like a wonderful dream. My best advice, although late, would be to move to the community and live there first. You may find that it isn’t all that it’s cut out to be. I wish you the best and will follow your journey.

Gene Cheatham
Gene Cheatham

All the best on a long, tough, ultimately rewarding journey. We went through the entire process in 2003 to start a 200 site CG on 40 acres from scratch near St Louis, MO. We joined ARVC, met with our state’s CG owners board and were welcomed with open arms; had flown in a well respected industry expert for advice and information. The short of the long – the housing boom was in full swing and supply and demand laws came into play and we were competing with residential home developers for property and could not get the ROI we needed.… Read more »

Pat Greenwood
Pat Greenwood

So excited for you and for all of us who love to camp. Your new campground will definitely be a destination point for us! I’m sure you are living the dream that many of us have dreamed! Good luck with your dream! Will be following.

Gina Eggers
Gina Eggers

I am so excited for you! And me! I am looking forward to hearing about your progress. You have the right idea about the space between trailers. Thank you for thinking about privacy issues and a central fire pit. I will plan to visit you in the summer of 2020!

Charles Korte
Charles Korte

Would like to follow your updates. Clicked on the subscribe button but not sure it works. charleskorte@yahoo.com

steve
steve

It’s called living the dream – Bless you and your family and GOOD LUCK! We will watch for the opening bell. We will look to spend a few days with you down the road!

Peter
Peter

When we stay at a new campground, I always look around for revenue Streams. I want all campgrounds to succeed. I think wifi, showers and use of pools should be free. But I expect to pay for and appreciate when there is a well stocked Camp store, laundromat, coffee shop etc. A campstore isn’t Walmart, but items should be priced reasonably to discourage long drives to nearby towns for milk or ketchup. It’s a bonus when there are Tshirts with cool designs and or things made by local artists or artisans. Best of luck.

Machelle James

Thank you for the tips Peter! I agree with you about other streams of income. We will have an area for RV/boat storage as well. I agree with having cool swag for sale, coffee mugs, fun camp sayings on drink cups, hats, t-shirts. We also want an event area for weddings, cook offs, reunions. We’ll make it an efficient use of space to gather and make memories!

Jamie Shaver
Jamie Shaver

I am so excited you and AJ are going to be living your dream. Wish it was closer to us in Happy Jack, but we will have to come see it. If anyone can do this you two can. Love that you are keeping so much space between the spots and still having a group area. As I told you before that is one of the things we always wished was at some of the places we have stayed. LOL, I love to hang out for happy hour or dinner and then retreat to my own space for the night.… Read more »

Bill
Bill

Hey Machelle Very interesting article and will be curious to see how you progress. I wanted to make a note to you that the so-called “architecture“ of the campground I think is important. We discovered over many years that location of the activities can be really helpful to encouraging a community spirit. A good example is the sun n fun campground in Sarasota Florida where the check-in/checkout, pool, bar,cafe and other activities are all together and centered in the campground. This causes a general hubbub of activity because while any one of those things might be lightly attended all being… Read more »

Debbie Wilson
Debbie Wilson

So excited for your new adventure. I will try to follow as we would love to come visit your campground when it opens

Connie
Connie

I would love to be informed as to the progress of your campground; I used to live in Phoenix. My Facebook name is Sierra Carson, look me up if you are on there!

Ted Werner
Ted Werner

My wife, Jan and I came to Gila Bend, Arizona for a 3 day stopover in 2010. We stayed the winter and every winter since. The reason was [then] Augie’s RV Park (It is now the Gila Bend KOA). John and Donna built the park from the ground up after a year of traveling the country deciding what they liked/disliked about various campgrounds. The sites here are 75 feet apart, diagonally parked, and 80-100 feet long. The lack of trees in the “desert” is made up for with 360° views and a great group of people. We look forward to… Read more »

Machelle James

That’s great to hear! I do like camping on a diagonal as well. We are going up to the property this weekend and make a decision on parking. Drive thrus, back in, diagonal, side by side…we will have a team of family members in the construction industry to help us envision it as developed. Right now its overgrown trees, grass and shrubs!

Bill Austin

Machelle. Relative to my comment on layout earlier. Here is a picture of our favorite one Fun n Sun in Sarasota.

https://952ws4ayphb1pfk6hy8v3gfr-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Sun-N-Fun-rv-resort-site-plan-05292018.pdf

What I wanted you to see was how the “activities” are clustered centrally and in the front thus giving a sense of excitement to passersby while keeping the “sounds” contained and isolated from the quiet areas. As I’d mentioned, the bar/pool/snackbar area really gives those who are wanted social time a great place to go.

Bill

Randy Smith
Randy Smith

Hi my name is Randy. My wife and I just retired in November of 18 and bought 37ft 5th wheel and are living in Mohave Valley Az. I have experience in the construction field. I would like to help if possible.

Machelle James

Hi Randy! Congratulations on your retirement! I know we do need help in the area of fencing. Of course when we move up there, we will get a better handle of what else we need as well. I have a GC who is flexible about what we want to do to save costs and what we cannot do per the planning and zoning rules. Follow us on FB @ AJ’s Getaway RV Park and message me your information please. I really appreciate all the help we can get!

Jodie
Jodie

Hi Machelle, Congratulations for moving forward with that dream. When in the area I will plan to visit your park. One thought; I would have liked to have seen your name on the business as well.
See ya in a couple of years,
Jodie

Gerri Lilly
Gerri Lilly

So glad you are going to build your own campground. Last summer we stayed at Schoodic Woods Campground in Winter Harbor, Maine. It was built by an anonymous generous benefactor who saved the land from becoming a golf course. He, or she, designed , built and paid for a new campground and then donated it to the National Parks. Sites are spacious, wooded and gorgeous. Best of luck in your venture. Looking forward to staying with you.

Joe Brett
Joe Brett

I look forward to reading your blog on how your plans are proceeding. I hope and pray things work out for you!

Matty
Matty

Incredible. I cannot wait to follow your story.

Jeff Schwartz
Jeff Schwartz

I have wanted to do this for a few years now myself. I am very close to retirement and are disposing of all our personal stuff and tons of antiques we have collected over the years. The house is soon going up for sale and we are looking for property, as you did for an RV park.
I look forward to the follow up articles. I wish you and AJ the best and hope to meet you someday at your new RV park.
Best of luck to you, your husband and family.

Anne
Anne

What a great adventure. Please keep us up on your progress. Post pictures too.

Rod
Rod

We wish you great success in your dream. Please look into an automated method for booking your sites. Making people call only adds to your work(answering phones…) but makes it harder for people too. Sure you can have a phone number to call to book(which would basically just be you using the automated system for people that are not willing to DIY) as well but having an automated method over the internet makes things easier for most of the people these days.

Machelle James

Yes! We are already looking into which Reservation system is the most user friendly and owner friendly ! Good advice!

Barry Homer
Barry Homer

Not an adventure we would seek, but good luck following your dream.

FYI, we don’t like to park under trees and choose to not park where trees block our rooftop satellite TV antenna. We want access to Directv for recording and watching, so campground cable or off-air does not work for us.

Steve
Steve

I look forward to your adventure. I’m sure there will be trials but I love what you are going to do. Wish you the best.

sheryl bright

I think this is awesome that you are doing this as a couple. My husband and I full-timed in our new fifth wheel for 5 years and loved it. We always talked about what was wrong and what was right about all the various campgrounds and rv parks, and seeing the need for RV parks in our area of southern Oregon, we have talked of the possibility of building an RV park. So GOOD FOR YOU TWO!! I hope the adventure is enjoyable and a tremendous success!

Barry Homer
Barry Homer

read above separate posting

Connie
Connie

If you ever build an RV Park please let me know, I love southern Oregon camping! BTW, I am on Facebook as Sierra Carson.

John Fleming
John Fleming

Adding to the below folks — Congratulations ! ! You two are doing what most of us are afraid to think about. God bless and good luck through the construction.

Gregory Smith
Gregory Smith

I really think you guys made the best decision for the next chapter of your life. Thank you for taking that leap of faith to build this RV Park. I’m confident you’ll have quite a few new visitors to your RV Park and some may be regular, yearly visitors – I hope to be one of them. With respect, Gregory Smith, MSgt, USAF (Retired)

Machelle James

Thank you for your encouragement! Also, thank you for your service!

Steve De Baets
Steve De Baets

I’m so excited for you. Not many people have the guts to take the first step, good for you.
I’m looking forward to future post about the progress you are making. Best of luck to you. We’ll visit when you finish.

Sally Smith
Sally Smith

Thank you for having a place that welcomes special kids. We have been to COE parks and they are great. We have met some wonderful friends that have become life long friends. Our son is like your daughter. Stosh is 33 but will never be more than about 15. That is ok cause he is a great guy and I have found that most people love having him around. I always tell folks that if you don’t want him around all you have to say is I am going in or going somewhere so you need to go home. He… Read more »

Machelle James

Sally, that is so cool! Your son sounds so happy!! So many times I hear parents that are afraid to let their special kids out of the house. Whether it’s because of behaviors, wheelchair reasons, or the “hassle” of packing for a weekend getaway. I say, get them out to the trees! It is such a beautiful sight to watch kids who finally have a chance to be in a forest, to see a lake, to ride in an off road vehicle time. The smiles and joy it brings them will melt your heart!! I do hope you’ll visit someday!!

rick
rick

i visit that area a lot..i hope you will be open year around

Ed Craft
Ed Craft

Wish you the best in this endeavor, and would love to visit when your park is complete in 2020. Keep up the good work!

Cheryl Fair
Cheryl Fair

I’m excited for you and your family! We will definately be looking you up when you open! Best of luck!!!

Old Prospector
Old Prospector

Love your idea. America needs more campgrounds. – Please, Oh Please, Do Not become RV Snob’s and Make it into a RV campground which only accepts RV’s 10 years or less, or only those that are factory made. America already now has Too Many of those types, and the majority of the RVer’s and campers can’t stand them, and don’t want them ! ! ! – Anyway folks, Wish you the best of luck.

Laura A Waddle
Laura A Waddle

Congrats on living your dream. Love everything in Arizona we will be coming to your new RV park when finished. Love the vision you have of a community but with private space.

Doug
Doug

You are living my dream .I let life pass by dream . Best of luck If you need workcampr let me know

Machelle James

Hey Everyone! I am overwhelmed and humbled with your words or encouragement and support! I value your feedback and while I may not be able to reply to you all, I do read what you are saying. Please follow us here on rvtravel.com, on FB @ AJ’s Getaway RV Park or on IG at AJ’s Getaway RV Park.

Machelle James

OOOPS, search us on IG at ajsgetawayrvpark

Jude Trafficano
Jude Trafficano

Sounds very exciting. Wishing y’all the very best and just maybe we’ll be one of your campers. Good Luck !
Jude & Kathleen Trafficano
New Orleans

Kathy
Kathy

Kudos to you for living the dream….it won’t be easy……you just have to do your research and proceed with an open mind…..be creative and think outside of the box……remember that experience is our ability to recognize our mistakes…..you will make them….but don’t let them deter you……move forward…although no one knows for sure…..it took Edison thousands of times to invent the light bulb….but he never refered to each dashed attempt as a failure…..only a method that didn’t work…so move on…..and keep this in mind…..I can’t remember where the quote came from…..we all have an end to journey towards….but in the end… Read more »

Carl J
Carl J

Sorry, I havent read everyone of the replies here but in case no one else mentioned it, there is a large group of RV’ers called workcampers, who for the offset of a free campsite will provide free labor. Yiu might look into that as you build and staff your facility.
Look forwad to your progress reports.

Katalin H Heymann
Katalin H Heymann

Are you going to be RV snobs and limit the RVs to newer models? Too many RV parks wouldn’t accept my 1998 Fleetwood Wilderness or let me camp in my 2014 Toyota Sienna minivan equipped with a bed, porta-potti, 12 volt fridge and solar generator.

Erik Jensen
Erik Jensen

I think that you are very special people and I wish you all the success in the world. When my wife & I retire and get our own 5th wheel, you will be one of the first places we will want to stay. Good luck & God’s speed
Your new friend from Canada 🇨🇦
Erik

Machelle James

Thank you so much for your support! You can follow our progress and see photos on Facebook @ Aj’s Getaway RV Park! We would love to host you as well!!

kenneth serr
kenneth serr

I can’t wait to travel that way in 2020 when we retire. Look forward to all your posts on the campground.
Blessings Ken

Theresa Farone
Theresa Farone

So excited to camp in your campground! I am excited for you!

Janie
Janie

How inspiring! I can’t wait to hear more1 The best to you all!

David
David

Wonderful story, praying that this dream comes true for you all.

Lynn
Lynn

Beautiful area! Go for it guys! Campgrounds are a remarkable business to own if you have the energy to sustain you. Stay fit, get rest and eat well. Enjoy the journey. If you do it right, you can write off practically everything you do! God bless you and we’ll follow along, praying for greAt things!

Machelle James

Great advice here! Thank you for your support!! It really is such a lovely area up there!!!

Karin Callander
Karin Callander

Keep us posted, we PLAN to be in the area in 2020! We had many of the same discussions and even had a friend willing to buy the property and let us run it for a split, but we just never found the right piece of ground. Best of luck to you! Hope we can meet up!! In your wonderful new park!

Machelle James

Oh how exciting!! We just LOVE it there!!
Thank you so much for your support! You can follow our progress here as well as see photos on Facebook @ Aj’s Getaway RV Park!

Charles Wehland
Charles Wehland

It’s a great adventure that you are embarking on–Congratulations and best wishes. I noticed that you will have a dumping station but not sewage at the sites. This will undoubtedly cause hesitation by campers wanting a campground for more than a short stay since it is very cumbersome to move an RV just to empty the holding tanks. How have you worked this lack of an important amenity into your business plan? Also, do you have plans to provide WiFi and TV? Unfortunately, more and more RV’ers are looking for campgrounds that include these features. I don’t want to sound… Read more »

Rvgrandma
Rvgrandma

I would be one. I can live without tv and wi-fi for the surrounding and adventures they offer. More and more people use their phones for internet (I don’t but I know many who do). Providing internet is very costly. For tv, bring your dvd’s. If a person wants those then stay in the city. Q

Wolfe
Wolfe

It’s up to you if plumbing all the sites and transfer pumps make sense on your property, but otherwise I would recommend loaning “blueboys” or offering a honeypot service for those who want it as a more economical option. I’ll also say I would much rather see 2-3 dumpstations abreast than plumbed sites. Yes, based on my typically weekly stays, but a recurring big complaint is single or inline dumpstations for us tank-dwellers who get stuck in half-mile lines on “checkout day.”

Machelle James

Hi Charles. So this campground will be a seasonal campground from April- November. Most of our clients will be weekend warriors getting away from the Arizona heat. We will not be catering to long term residents, mostly people wanting to ride in the forest, take a break to recharge and go back home. As far as not having a sewer connection, it is a cost factor at the beginning as well as a test. We will have options for a honey wagon to come through for those who stay for a week or more. We also will have wifi and… Read more »

Barbara Abe
Barbara Abe

Thank you SO much for doing this! My husband and I have been full-timing since 2006 and have seen a real increase in the number of RVers out there. I’m sure owning a campground will be a lot of hard work, but I would think the rewards will be great! Good luck and I look forward to reading your future columns.

Alice A Beamer
Alice A Beamer

So happy for your project and pray it is a success! Taking care of your Daughter is what seems to make it so special!

Machelle James

Thank you! She will be the welcoming committee!!! We are putting her to work as well 😉

John Koenig
John Koenig

Machelle, I hope this succeeds beyond your wildest dreams and, I look forward to the time I can stay at your RV park. Best of luck!

Bob
Bob

Can’t wait for your next post.