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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Fred Kelley

God bless, way to go…

Sandie DeMarco-Sanchez

I can’t wait for opening day!!

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

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!!

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

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

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

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

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.

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. Great article too. Love you Machelle!

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 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

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

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

Matty

Incredible. I cannot wait to follow your story.

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.