Building an RV park: I went to Campground Management School!

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By Machelle James
This week I’m in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for ARVC’s (the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds) Campground Management School. This organization is for people like me who want to build a campground and for those who already have built a campground. They are advocates for our industry and keep us informed on changes, new rules and regulations, trends and insights in the campground world. They are definitely an organization you want to help guide you as you learn your way to becoming a successful campground owner or manager.

My head is spinning from this crash course in how to run a campground, run a successful camp store, how commercial insurance works, how to be a great camp host, how to have a plan or policy in place for every detail on how to run our business. Of course there is tons more we learned, I just don’t have the space here to explain it all to you.

Learning the business!

I will say that what I took to heart the most is our insurance. Commercial insurance is not like homeowner’s insurance. Did you know that slip, trip and falls are the #1 way campground owners are sued? Injuries can occur from having broken equipment that can scratch you, tree roots that you trip over in a roadway, tree limbs falling on a car or RV. Or even more severe events like drowning in a pool or lake, car accidents on your property, a horse kick to the face. Serious injuries can happen if we don’t have policies and procedures in place, written down and executed.

Campgrounds also need to be ADA compliant in the near future. This includes a formula for how many RV spaces need to be ADA compliant based on how many sites you have total. Doing this means making sure the RV pads are wide enough, the tank hookups are low enough, the BBQ grills are set lower, the picnic table needs to be one that is wheelchair friendly and the ground covering needs to be of a material for a wheelchair to move through.

You also will need your restroom/shower area, camp store and connecting pathways to these locations to be ADA compliant as well. Don’t forget ramps. All these areas will need ramp options to access these locations as well. Since we are a new campground, we can incorporate these items into our campground from the beginning. For an existing campground, this can be downright expensive. As long as a written plan is in motion, they can remodel their campground to be compliant over 15-20 years. It must be written down as a plan of action as work is being done, a little at a time, so you don’t get sued.

This brings me to my next concern. Raising camping fees. With all the new regulations going into effect, overnight stays will become more expensive. Insurance costs have skyrocketed, material costs have gone up and so has minimum wage. Fighting frivolous lawsuits is expensive, yet it happens all the time from someone wanting to get free money.

ARVC is working hard to pass the Inherent Risk Waiver Form. This regards situations that make the person who is injured their own responsibility. As in, I fell from my bike because I drank too much alcohol and was speeding, or I hit a parked car and broke my arm at your campground. You would be responsible for your own hospital bills and to pay for any damages to the car yourself.

Of course there is much more to it; this is just an example. Was the speed limit posted? What did the witnesses see? Did management know of your drinking and speeding before the crash? People just do not want to take responsibility for their own behaviors anymore. So this would protect us campground owners from frivolous lawsuits.

When you turn your thinking from, ”Hey, this looks like fun to jump off this cliff,” to “What would my attorney or insurance carrier say?” – it changes your mindset just a bit. Now remember, I am not an attorney. I am passing on what I learned and how to try and protect our investment and livelihood.

The soil digger

On happier notes to report, we had our soil perc test and it passed with flying colors! The company we used to test the soil said our soil was the best he has seen in our town for a traditional commercial septic system! He took soil 11 feet down and in three different spots. We do not need to use an alternative system – which means we save money!

We also may have our loan secured in the next couple of weeks! Our bank needed some more information, which we provided and the answer wasn’t a NO. So we patiently wait. This means, when approved, we can start underground work and shrub removal ASAP!

Our new T-shirt

We also made our first T-shirts for me to wear to school this week. This was a great idea, as we can now see minor changes we need to make to our design before we go all in! I love wearing it as I get stopped all the time now asking about this “Off-road friendly campground.”

With all the confirmed data on 2019 RV shipments, trends and insights for our industry, I KNOW we are headed in the right direction.

I cannot wait to share that day with you when we open!

Until then, thank you for following our journey and see you in the trees! Also, please leave a comment.

Read previous articles here.

Machelle James and her husband, AJ, are building, from the ground up, a 15-acre RV park in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona, in the beautiful White Mountains 140 miles from Phoenix. Follow them on Facebook @ AJ’s Getaway RV Park or on Instagram at ajsgetawayrvpark.

##RVT937

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Grandmotherbear
6 months ago

I have slept with a lawyer for 34 years (actually he was a very experienced legal researcher for the first 10) and he says that the waivers are not worth the paper they are written on. For example if you are a lawyer, and you hire a lawyer to do work for you,( because the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer) and you sign a waiver you won’t sue him for legal malpractice (yes! there is such a thing!) and he messes up your case bigtime, you can still sue him for legal malpractice. The only thing a waiver is good for is maybe making someone think twice before doing something, although I think a lot of people actually take a look and go Gee! I didn’t know you even could sue for that! However, you may be required by your insurer or CPA to get waivers signed. Just be aware you can’t always depend on them to work.

Machelle James
6 months ago

I hear what you are saying Grandmotherbear! Yes our Insurance Company is requiring waivers for all campers and guests who enter as visitors. Of course we have to document any incidents, accidents, witness accounts, and all other occurrences. This school was a real eye opener!!

David Purvis
6 months ago

Very interesting, I have given thought to the idea of building a RV park, so your article brings up great information. As a former code official and “expert” on entitlements I have some background that would help, combined with my construction and landlord experience. Very helpful to have your insights. Thanks

Machelle James
6 months ago
Reply to  David Purvis

Thank you David! There is also a Prospective Buyers Campground School through ARVC as well. That answers most of the questions one would have. Laws, vendors, type of Campground and so much more! It’s in May, check it out on ARVC’s website!

Will
6 months ago

Machelle, you have me laughing at a couple of points. “Campgrounds also need to be ADA compliant in the near future.” Well not really, in general, campgrounds must be ADA (Or Title 24 in Calif) compliant yesterday, as in when the ADA law was passed. There are exceptions, but you’ll find that exceptions and grey areas are what get fought over in court with you as the defendant.

And you know how ADA enforcement is done? The victim, not the government sues you! That’s right. And there are legions of ADA lawyers who do drive-bys of RV parks, then send a letter of intent to sue. But you can “settle” they say for something like $10,000. And your local building official is not an ADA expert and s/he can’t certify that you are 100% ADA compliant. Hire an ADA expert to verify that your park is ADA compliant. I know that’s expensive, but a lawsuit is more expensive!

Don’t shortcut on the ADA, it’s serious.

And a sidenote, after taking a five week midwinter trip to Yellowstone and back, you which campgrounds were the worst ADA offenders??? Yep, state and federal campgrounds.

Second, this quote: “ We do not need to use an alternative system – which means we save money!”

Saving money? Just like a sale at Nordstroms is saving money??? Hahahaaaa!

No, you’re not saving money, you’re spending less money. But that “spending less” thing will be eaten up with unexpected expenses elsewhere. I hope you have a healthy contingency line built into your budget.

I’m not busting your chops for fun, Machelle. I’m a semi-retired business owner who has lived through 45 years of boom and bust, government regulation, and fickle customers. It takes a tough hide, a serious dose of reality, and a smile to make it. I wish you luck!

Machelle James
6 months ago
Reply to  Will

Hi Will! Oh I could have written a book on all the technical details we learned. I write for the average reader who has no idea what goes into building a campground.
It is unfortunate that people are sue happy as to make a quick buck on our behalf. The ADA codes were an entire day of learning, how to have a plan of action written down and executed. Our eyes were barely open at the end of the day.
A campground isn’t just dirt anymore and that is why prices are going up to go camp. You need deep pockets, a great banker, a huge inheritance or savvy investors. This is not easy to accomplish for today’s Mom and Pop campgrounds.
Thanks for commenting Will. I’ll write other learning adventures in the next articles!

Marmi
6 months ago
Reply to  Will

Will, I can tell you Machelle has a tough hide, a serious dose of reality and a smile to make it and then some!

Machelle James
6 months ago
Reply to  Marmi

Thank you Marmi! It’s been an eye opener for sure. It made me think bigger and more in the future!