Friday, December 9, 2022


Building an RV park: Decisions, decisions. It’s showtime!


By Machelle James
Oh boy. Our campground decisions seem to be changing on a daily basis. We had to make a tough decision last week. Our General Contractor probably thinks we’re crazy and our loan officer needed a moment to digest what I was telling her.

We have a very old, 2-bedroom, 1-bath cabin on our land that needs a total gut job. After getting quotes on how much it would be to renovate it from roof to foundation, it was just as much as a new home!

I called my new Planning and Zoning buddies to get the scoop on the process of putting a new home on the property. I can put in a 3-bed, 2-bath home on this parcel. After calling our friends and family for advice on what to do, we made a decision. Our family and friends want to help us restore the cabin. After they saw the photos on how beautiful the log beams were, they said cabins aren’t made this way anymore. Well, at least not at an affordable price! So we decided next weekend to visit the property. The guys will get under the house, see the damage and put a plan in place to fix the sinking beams. This cabin will be used as our check-in area, storage and store front.

Other developing news is I am making connections and relationships with the local folks living there. I joined a local Facebook page and started talking to the nicest people that live there full time. One person messaged me to let me know there is a heavy presence of retired police and fire folks up there. He said they all ride off-road vehicles and would love to show us the trails. I told this gentleman about our campground and he said he would introduce us to his group. It seems most of them would like to volunteer their time once a month to take our special kiddos on trail rides! I could not believe the good news I was hearing! It seems the right people are being placed in our lives to guide us through our campground vision.

We are at a standstill now as we haven’t sold our house as of this writing. As soon as we do, we will have our Engineering team draw up our official preliminary campground. Planning and Zoning had us draw up a conceptual plan to present to their team. We drew up 28 full-hookup spots and 18 dry-camping spots. We added two huge ramadas with a BBQ area at each location. We also will have a community fire pit as well as individual fire pits for each spot. A shower area, small laundry, playground and community center will be offered as well.

We also are going to take an owners’ campground course through ARVC (The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds) to make sure we are being efficient and up to date with trends, laws and liability.

We still need to make a decision on offering discounts. Everyone likes to feel like they are getting a good deal. We want to offer a fair deal right from the get-go. No surge pricing for holidays, but a 3-night minimum. Weekly discounts we will offer. We will not have long-term guests at this point. We are so small that we want everyone an opportunity to come visit us. Veteran discounts will apply since we are a Military family.

Since we are a small RV campground, I am a big believer of heavy social media to get our name out there. We do have a great marketing team to embed our tags on the internet and have our name pop up in search engines. As of today, we will join and other popular phone apps. Will this be enough for us? We don’t know. Year one will tell us if we need to pay for Good Sam, Passport America or AAA pricing.

All of our funds are coming from profits from our home and a commercial loan, so we need to keep costs manageable. We just learned a 6-foot-tall concrete block fence will be at least $150,000 for 1000 feet! We only want this type of fencing on one side as it is on the noisy highway side. So there will need to be a phase 1, 2 and 3. We have an estimate of $800,000 to $1,000,000 to open the campground. That is probably why most regular folks don’t open an RV park. It’s dang expensive! We know it will be worth it in 5 years though. So we plug along to make it happen.

I am most excited to make this campground reflect what we like to do in our personal lives:  smoking BBQ cook offs, off-roading, craft breweries and wineries showcasing their specialties, as well as children’s activities, parades and other family activities.

We are all having FUN at our campground. So if you like to have fun as well, come join us in our RV journey. We would love to meet you!

Until next time, see you in the trees!  And please leave a comment.

Read the last post, “Building an RV park: Why we decided to ‘go for it’,” 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.


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3 years ago

You can get some free help from the Northland Pioneer Community College’s Small Business Development Office. They are funded by the SBA and are there to help you.

Gene Cheatham
3 years ago

Sounds exciting! Did you consider an earth berm in lieu of the block wall? Just a thought, not sure if it would be less or more $ and take up more precious space.

Mary Pat Bean
3 years ago

For Machelle and AJ- I don’t think you need to add additional discounts. A weekly and military discount are nice ideas. I think most places inflate their prices, so the discounts bring it down to where they need the price to be. Your ideas sound wonderful! Thanks for the updates!

Leo Suarez
3 years ago

I would think twice on your 3 night minimum. We travel all over the US and I can’t remember how many times we have stayed overnight somewhere on our way somewhere only to discover that the park we stayed at is beautiful, the hospitality and information they offered about the local attractions is appealing and to many of those we have returned for extended stays. It’s just another way of marketing your park.

Ethan Hansen
3 years ago

I found it interesting how you mentioned how a good RV campground reflects the pastimes of the local community. My son has been looking into starting an RV park of his own on some of my lands and he wanted to know what he can do to attract customers. I will be sure to pass this information on to him so he can research more on RV park maintenance!

3 years ago

Thank you for the military discount! We stay on a lot of military bases, but they are not everywhere we go, so we appreciate the acknowledgement from our campground friends. We find that and senior citizen (National Park Pass) discounts to be enough for us, but that has not always been the case.

We dropped our Good Sam membership for several reasons, and the 10% discount was simply not enough to sway us to keep it. Passport almost always pays for itself and 50% is a great discount! From another perspective, however, Passport America really doesn’t monitor member campgrounds very well. We have stayed in some that we actually thought about driving on by and the heck with the lost fee. Some PA campgrounds have so many restrictions and those restrictions vary so much from campground to campground that we give up and find something easier to plan around. Other memberships require us to be in areas where they have proliferation of member campgrounds, or to stay at times convenient to them (not always to us).

There are so many different discount/membership organizations nowadays, you will never cover them all, and having one and not another means answering the question “Why that one and not this one!?” While you may get some additional business because of it, you may also lose business because of it. Were it me, I would think about what works for you, your seasons, your location, etc.: Check historic data from other area attractions/recreational facilities or wait until you have some history to look at; then give discounts during slow seasons, slow days, etc. to fill sites. Are you in an area with attractions that people continue to come back to or will you have a large number of one-nighters off the nearby interstate?

Certainly consider giving points or discounts for repeat business, or longer stays, rewarding customers for long-term loyalty, referrals, etc. vs. short-term enticements. As someone earlier said, customers want to feel special and appreciated.

Sounds like you are on the right track and I am sure you will get lots of advice! lol We love following your adventure. Looking forward to more.

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  BO

Great information Bo! We will have mostly phoenicians wanting to get out of the heat during summer as our guests. Definitely a week or two at most. We do want to reward our repeat guests and make them feel special. Maybe free swag, a free night , but yes, they will be rewarded! Thank you for your input!

3 years ago

If I may, I would like to offer some advice based upon my experience working for a number of years at an RV park. I understand your focus on the infrastructure right now but you also need to start thinking about some long term operating polices. For example:

1. Not all sites are equal. No matter what you do, some sites will be ‘better’ than others and there will be pressure from your clients for those sites.

2. You need to know if you are going to take reservations for “a site” or “a particular site”. In my opinion, the policy should be “a site” – although it won’t take you long to build up a repeat clientele and you need to know how much effort you are going to put into ensuring that they get “a particular site” despite the policy. But, in my opinion, you should not publicly violate your policy of “a site” even if you – behind the scenes – are making every effort to assign “a particular site”.

3. You need to establish a cancellation policy and ensure that everyone is aware.

4. Groups can be good for business, but then again … Sports teams (perhaps they are in town for a weekend baseball tournament) want to do it on the cheap and they want to be together and they seldom complain about their site but they will always show up in different numbers than what they reserved. RV clubs are not like that – they (nine times out of ten) will show up with exactly the numbers for which they reserved; however, there will always be a few who want to know why they got “this site” and [fellow club member] got “the better site”. No matter what the group, insist on dealing with one “wagon master”/person in charge and not with each person individually.

By the way, the sports teams will probably arrive in ones and twos and at all hours of the day/night, but the club members could arrive all at once and often early in the day. Can you handle 20 rigs arriving at the same time? We (two of us) once ‘parked’ a convoy of 18 rigs in 45 minutes.

5. There is no way to tell if the driver can park it. Age, {bleeped}, rig … nothing will tip you off in advance about the driver’s ability to put his/her rig into the assigned spot. You need to know ahead of time how you are going to ‘help’ them. Are you going to guide them? Are you going to get behind the wheel? Obviously, there are liability issues. I have had to do both – policy, liability, common sense aside. What I did in 90% of the cases was show them the site and walk through it saying, ‘if I was putting your rig into this site, this is what I would do’ and ‘watch out for that limb/hole/table’ and then I would walk/drive away. As long as you don’t tell them how to do it, most drivers will take your suggestions on board.

6. In my opinion, a paper/pencil/eraser reservation system works better than the computer programs. You need to have a big-picture view of the dates and the sites – assigned and available. You will be moving people around on that paper – use pencil. Remember, not all sites are equal and every client is ‘special’ in their own way and you are in business to make a living. Computer-based reservation systems do not handle those variables very well. Don’t ever forget that you can safely outsource every single task at your park except sales – that is the one thing you must do yourself.

To take this a step further, I would not do on-line reservations. I would do all reservations by phone. Nothing, nothing, nothing beats the real-time exchange of information between two people – the one who wants something and the one who wants to help them get it.

7. If something breaks, fix it right now! Power, wifi, water, sewer, TV, tables, toilets, vending machines will break/quit. Do you know if your plumber will come to your park at 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning? Ours would – and did. Do you know if your electrician will come to your park at 10:00 PM on any day of the week? Ours would – and did. We called; they came.

8. Pets are not the problem – pet owners are. Address the root cause. If a dog barks, bites, runs loose, or craps on someone else’s site it is because it is responding to something either innate or learned. Don’t blame the dog.

9. And one last thing: 99 out of 100 of your clients are going to believe that they are [somehow] special. That is, they are [somehow] different from all of your other clients. If you can figure out their [special] expectation and satisfy it without violating your policies, your processes, or your other clients’ expectations then you will be guaranteed of success.

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Warmonk

WOW!! That was some great feedback Warmonk! I took notes! I love hearing from other campground hosts and owners about their day to day challenges, accomplishments, what works, what doesn’t. This is such valuable information! Another campground owner said to do online only reservations so we can be in the campground with our customers and not tied to the phone. So there needs to be a middle ground here. After we take the ARVC courses, I am sure we will have a better sense of which way we will handle reservations. Well that and tons more information!

3 years ago
Reply to  Machelle James


Every potential client has expectations. Unsatisfied expectations will hurt your business.

On-line systems do not capture these expectations well.

One-to-one in-person conversations can uncover these expectations.

“Tied to the phones” ???

What exactly are you going to be doing if you are not tied to the phones? Cleaning toilets? Cutting grass? Hauling firewood? All of these tasks can be outsourced.

Tied to the phones ??? You mean that your phone rings all day everyday? You should have such a problem. If the office is open from early to late – it should be – and the phone is in the office, then why can’t someone handle the phone and the office duties.

If the phone really does ring so much that one person can’t handle both, then hand-off (outsource) the other office tasks.

Do not outsource sales. You’ll regret it. You can outsource everything except sales.

You have already stated that you intend to have a minimum stay for holiday weekends. Good idea. Easily programmed into an on-line system.

However, how would your on-line system handle the availability if you happen to have a potential client who wants to stay for two weeks departing in the middle of a holiday weekend? Or another potential client who wants to arrive part way through a holiday weekend and stay for a week? Easy for a live person to handle – not easy for an on-line system to handle. You could lose three weeks revenue. Would the system accept the mid-weekend departure in the first place?

Someone is staying in your park and wants to extend their stay – circumstances have changed, they like you, perhaps the rig broke down, perhaps there has been a medical emergency. Do you tell them to go on-line? Do you ask them to move because someone else has made an on-line reservation for that site?

3 years ago
Reply to  Warmonk

Sorry, I can’t let this go …

When you buy software, you are buying a process. Underneath the glitz and glamour – the user interface – there is a process. That process takes inputs, manipulates those inputs according to a set of rules, and provides an output. Nothing more. Nothing less.

If you buy an off-the-shelf program, you are buying someone else’s rules.

If you customize an off-the-shelf program, you will never upgrade to the next version.

If you create a custom program, you will spend all of your time caring for and feeding the beast.

I, too, am ex-military. Nothing trumps selection and maintenance of the aim. Aim is singular.

Your mission is to rent space. All of the space. All of the time.

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Warmonk

The remark, “Tied to the phones” was advice from another campground owner. I understand what you are saying as well. Personal customer relationships. I am sure we will offer both online and phone call reservations. The younger kids do everything from their phones. The older ones like to call. I am positive we can make it work for all our guests. We are going to be hands on, getting to know our guests (if they choose to be social) and if we need to hire help for phones, we will. Since we’re deliberately a smaller campground, we are hoping to keep this a family business. AJ also is a software developer and can build a reservation system if we find the ones out there aren’t working for us. He is the numbers guy, handyman, off road expert and BBQ smoke master. ? I’m the social welcoming committee, group organizer, event planner and kid magnet. I really appreciate your feedback and input Warmonk!

3 years ago

Wonder how many RVTravel readers would chip in $25 to get y’all going? Kickstarter isn’t a bad platform.
Here’s yet another idea…. In Europe, there are walls made with hog wire and treated wood posts. There are two ‘walls’ – identical – are about 2-3 feet apart (they make a wide wall). Debris from plants and trees is put down into those walls, from big log chunks to twigs and leaves.
As these materials decompose, they form compost at the bottom and the hog wire is cut and lined so that the compost can be pulled out and used elsewhere. As the seasons pass, more materials are added to the top and more come out the bottom.
Vines can cover both sides. The fence can be as tall as one needs and it is continually renewable. The one’s I saw were so pretty and smart and smelled so good (the smell of walking in the forest).
Good luck y’all.

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Lizzy

Lizzy, thanks for the Kickstarter idea. I told my husband if something catastrophic happens (like he loses his job) we may to do something like that!
The wall idea sounds interesting for sure. I need to find online information on this type of wall. Everything we do has to pass the P&Z board. I can almost smell the pines from your description!

Don & Nancy Schneider
3 years ago

Consider giving a 10% discount off of daily rate by becoming one of the Escapees member parks. As far as I know there is NO cost upfront other than the discount . You can get information at There are over 60,000 members nationwide.

Machelle James
3 years ago

Thank you for the tip Don and Nancy! I will look into this next week!!

Pat in the Hat
3 years ago

As a solar user, I like the option of a dry camp area, but only if it was “generator free”. I recently stayed in Organ Pipes National Monument, and they had a “generator free” RV section. It was nice.

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Pat in the Hat

Good to hear Pat! It all depends on cost as we may be able to offer electricity at all sights. Definitely not all full hookups yet!

3 years ago

Hit up the local authority that has responsibility for the roadway, they may have funds available for a sound wall at no cost to you, also check the usda site for the feds,under rural housing, they have grants available now for some things that might help your project out financially, including grants for bringing in power, solar, communication, utilities, water wells, etc., if you don’t ask you may kick yourself later, and even if you have already spent the money they may reimburse for some of your utilities!!!!!, I always advise my clients to inquire, and some have been pleasantly surprised, good luck, I am currently involved in upgrading a older rv park for one client, and developing a 85 acre parcel for another and I use my 43 foot Grand Design 5th wheel full time and for vacations, and remote mobile office.


Machelle James
3 years ago

Thank you Dennis! What great info for me to look into this week! USDA told me their funds would not be able to be utilized for my campground . He did offer a different program for me to call.
I cannot wait to purchase our new GD. We are trying to stay in our old one until winter comes. My current toyhauler will not keep us warm!! Thank you for taking the time to offer your insight and advice.

Bill in Texas
3 years ago

I’m not sure but I think this weeks article is No.2 in your series (I remember reading No.1). I’ve had to go back and find out where your park is being built so I can continue to think about a future visit. It would be helpful I think if at the beginning of each weeks submittal you could insert a sub-heading something like “The James family is building a 15-acre RV park in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona, in the beautiful White Mountains 140 miles from Phoenix. Follow us as we share our experience.”

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Bill in Texas

Hi Bill! So Article 2 went out 2 weeks ago. Sorry it was hard to find. Go back to the Campground and Parks link and my 2nd article is there. Thanks for your feedback!

3 years ago

Instead of the 6 ft concrete wall take a look at a six or eight foot depending on zoning chain link fence and then grow Vines up the fence it’s a living wall it will do wonders to kill The noise and also provide shade and security

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Seann

I’ll have to ask what the town allows as this is a good idea! It snows in the winter, so the vines would die for sure, and hopefully grow quickly in the summer. Great feedback Seann!

3 years ago

$ 150,000 for a permanent concrete wall ? Wow. A well built wooden fence with trees planted along one side would probably be less expensive, look nicer and be more pleasing to look at. You could start by planting trees first and add the fence later ( if you still need it ). Just a suggestion. Hope we can visit one day.

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter

Wow is right! We know the wind will be an issue as well as the big rigs that drive by that side of the property. We can use green blocks to make it look better and the cedar fencing along the other sides. We would prefer trees for sure! We will know more once we move up there and hear it for ourselves on a daily basis. Thank you so much for your feedback Peter!

3 years ago

What a great idea and thank you for letting us come along for the journey. I agree with Alex, look at other options, berms work extremely well and look good with trees. Also, the electric on every site is a good suggestion. Even tent campers need to charge their devices these days and being able to plug in makes the experience that much better.

Good luck

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Karen

Thank you Karen! I will pass the berm info along as see what the town says and my GC. We are open to electric at all spots; it really does come down to cost. When the times comes, we will have it priced both ways and make a decision!

3 years ago

You could also think about having craft/art shows in your community building. Crafter’s and artists are always looking for venues and are willing to pay for a space. That money could add to your income. You may also find people willing to give classes in different crafts or arts. Your guests may appreciate that benefit, and pay a small fee for the classes.
My brother in law and his wife love to camp in the Heber area, so I will be passing on your info when you are near opening. He is extremely handy with building projects, so he may want to assist with some of your work.

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Pat

What a great idea! Yes, we do want an area for crafts and quiet time! From pumpkin carving, book reading to decorations for the 4th of July! Thank you for sharing with your friend, we need all the help we can get!!

3 years ago

Just a thought. If the concrete wall is for purposes of mitigating noise, consider other options. Its all about acoustic mass. Any soil removed by grading the area can be mounded into a berm which will deflect and dampen road noise. You can also offer your property to others disposing of soil from local projects – they might even pay you for that privilege!

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex

What a great idea Alex! I’ll ask my GC when we design the campground what he says. I’d rather not have a block wall, but I don’t know how else to block the heavy highway noise!

Tammy C King
3 years ago

This is such a worthy concept. Inclusive environment for all! Can’t wait for it to open as I have a feeling we will stay often!!!

Machelle James
3 years ago
Reply to  Tammy C King

Thank you for your support Tammy!!! I hope you do come join us!!!

Wayne and Brenda Girard
3 years ago

We live in Goodyear part time and RV 7-8 months of the year. Where are you building? I think the dry camping is a mistake. Maybe 20 or 30 amp. Without electricity the dry campers will be running loud generators for everything from charging devices to making a pot of coffee,disturbing the full hook up folks. You do not need anything in your park that will be a source of daily conflict for you.

Machelle James
3 years ago

Thank you for your feedback. That’s good to hear. We will get quotes on electric only sites. The main reason we weren’t going to do that is cost and we can’t offer full hookups due to water restrictions. We also would have the dry camping side separate from the hookup spots. And no noisy construction generators will be allowed!

Gilbert B Fabian
3 years ago

Best of luck and looking forward to visiting your camp ground upon completion. Your vision on the location and the experience families can have together is very commendable. As a veteran, I salute your endeavor!

Machelle James
3 years ago

Thank you Gilbert! I truly appreciate your support!! Thank you for your service as well!