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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235 Comments
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Len
8 months ago

I tried AJ’s Getaway Family RV Park on Facebook without success.

Machelle James
8 months ago
Reply to  Len

We are there Len! Type in AJ’s Getaway RV Park. That should work!

Mike
8 months ago

I wish you great success. Yours is a great story. Thank you for sharing.

Machelle James
8 months ago
Reply to  Mike

Hi Mike! Thank you for taking the time to comment. We truly appreciate the support we’ve been recieving and we know we are going in the right direction. Some days are better than others, most people are so nice, some people hurtful. We just keep moving on as we know what the end result will be. We can’t wait to share the site plans with everyone once they are approved!

Dexter Smith
8 months ago

You made your dreams come true now live them, hope to come visit your place someday…

Machelle James
8 months ago
Reply to  Dexter Smith

Hi Dexter! Yes we are following our dreams. That is THE hardest thing to do. Once you make up your mind, make a game plan and then act on it, it’s so freeing. Also kinda scary and exciting at the same time. Hopefully you can make it this way and visit us! We’d love to meet you!

Monty Torres
8 months ago

I’ve been in the restaurant business hospitality for 40 yrs so if you decide to open a small snack bar on your RV park call me I can help you get it started 702 917 4218

Machelle James
8 months ago
Reply to  Monty Torres

Well thank you Monty! I wouldn’t say no to a snack shack! Let us get opened and see where we are. I think that’s a great idea for our guests! We need an income first, then we can expand!

Rocky top river ranch
9 months ago

I’ve owned a rv park 15 sites, with cabins. 6 Motel rooms and cafe in Colorado For 3 years. I’ve been in the real estate business for 20 years and looked at this business as individual rental properties. However. It’s not the same at all. I live on site and it’s like having 25 roommates. No privacy. And dealing with customers can be exhausting. It’s amazing how much tp people need for a weekend stay! Not to mention snaking out plumbing lines on the regular due to people putting whatever they feel down the drains. Picking up a lot of dog crap. You have to have a manager on site and a maintenance person or you will go insane. It’s a never ending battle. You will become excellent in plumbing, rv repair, electrical, water testing, (required by state law to test and send in samples) and paying someone is expensive. Septic systems are a disaster and very expensive. Must be pumped all the time and the smell!!
Watch out for rvs running over drains and bumping into your electrical pedestals. Yes, I’m on a river. I get to fish and raft a lot. If I didn’t get to do that. I would definitely sell! Haha. It’s definitely fun to have your friends and your regular customers come visit. I do have bands play and working on a hotel liquor license. That would definitely help me! But long story short. You’re in a customer service industry. If you don’t have patience with people. This may not be the best business to be in. Best of luck! http://Www.rockytopriverranch.com

Machelle James
8 months ago

Hey Rocky Top! Well that is definitely something we will have to get used to. Luckily AJ is the handiest person I know and he can fix anything. And yes we will definitely have to have help with cleaning, and so much more. ALSO a whole checklist of things to NOT put in a septic system. We will only be open 6-7 months out of the year so we hope to recharge and be ready for our spring and summer campers. Thank you for your feedback and I’ll check out your campground!

Fred Kelley
10 months ago

God bless, way to go…

Machelle James
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred Kelley

Thank You Fred! Your support means alot to us!

Machelle James
10 months ago
Reply to  Fred Kelley

Thank you Fred! We truly appreciate your support and kind words!

Sandie DeMarco-Sanchez
1 year ago

I can’t wait for opening day!!

Machelle James
1 year ago

Thank you Sandie! We will have networking in the trees!! Please come visit us!!

JW
1 year ago

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.

Machelle James
1 year ago
Reply to  JW

Hi JW. We have been living there part time for a couple months and have made really good connections. We also have met a couple of the neighbors who have voiced their concerns. Change is hard we understand. But so far the town officials are super excited to have us there!

Gene Cheatham
1 year ago

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. Approaching retirement with fulltime RV’ing in mind, we hope we can find our way out to see you! All the best!!

Machelle James
1 year ago
Reply to  Gene Cheatham

Hi Gene! That is where we are. Building from scratch. Its so sad that you couldn’t get your ROI back then. It’s even more expensive now to build. That is why we are so thankful for our family and friends. They are lending a helping hand wherever they can and that definitely helps with keeping costs down.
We hope you make it out our way as well when you retire!

Pat Greenwood
1 year ago

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.

Machelle James
1 year ago
Reply to  Pat Greenwood

Thank you for your support Pat! Hope to meet you next summer!!

Gina Eggers
1 year ago

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!

Machelle James
1 year ago
Reply to  Gina Eggers

Hi Gina! Yes! We agree about the spacing. We love our privacy when camping and we know most others do as well. I like the communal firepit as it lets us all come together, talk about life or whatever the topic is over a cocktail or two! See you next summer and keep following our journey for updates!

Charles Korte
1 year ago

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

Machelle James
1 year ago
Reply to  Charles Korte

Hi Charles, sorry about the sign up error. If you have Facebook, follow us there as well. AJ’s Getaway RV. I update articles there as well! Thank you for following our journey!

steve
1 year ago

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!

Machelle James
1 year ago
Reply to  steve

Thank you Steve! Keep reading for updates and when we will be officially open!

Peter
1 year ago

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
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter

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
1 year ago

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. Great article too. Love you Machelle!

Machelle James
2 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Shaver

Hi Jamie! I just realized I didn’t reply to you! I’m sorry!! We would love to have you and your family come visit and offer your professional advice. We value your friendship and see you next time, in the trees!!

Bill
1 year ago

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 together give this a real sense of enthusiasm. Plus any noise is contained.

The activity is readily apparent when you check in and when you are in one venue you are drawn to the activity in the other. Plus it’s great to grab a drink, watch television, watch the kids in the pool, etc. all at the same time.

Get back to us if you want more.

Bill n Jenny

Machelle James
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Thank you Bill n Jenny! I really like your perspective on how the campground flows when activities are centralized. We will be doing something similar and keeping the activities to one area if we can!!

Debbie Wilson
1 year ago

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

Connie
1 year ago

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
1 year ago

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 the trip from New Hampshire every year. Scott bought the Park 3 years ago, changed it to a KOA (award winning, I might add), and made improvements. Best wishes to you both. Now I need to look up Heber-Overgaard.

Machelle James
1 year ago
Reply to  Ted Werner

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
1 year ago
Reply to  Machelle James

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
1 year ago

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
1 year ago
Reply to  Randy Smith

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!