Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Building an RV park: We were evacuated, but we’re almost open for business

By Machelle James
I finally can sit at my laptop and write about the CRAZY week we’ve had. This was the first time in my life that my family and I had to be evacuated from our home due to a wildfire. Not only was it my family, but also AJ’s dad and his wife and AJ’s mom and her husband! They all came to help us work on the campground for our Grand Opening on July 1st. Well, what a surprise when the Wyrick Fire came within 2 miles of our neighborhood! We are in an area that was alerted to a “READY” status, then we went straight to a “GO” status. There was no time for a “SET” – which is pack up all your necessary items and wait for a GO notification.

Jenna sitting on the porch, waiting to be evacuated. She was scared and did her best to stay calm.
Jenna sitting on the porch, waiting to be evacuated. She was scared and did her best to stay calm.

I will say we successfully packed up our paperwork, photos, clothes, food and our Can Am in about an hour. We went to camp in a new area of the forest for the night. It was nerve-wracking as we unloaded and made a homey campsite for the night. It was so stressful to wonder what was happening at our home. I had faith we would be fine, but it never hurts to have a prayer chain going.

Coincidentally, our banker was supposed to come up to the property and have us sign the loan documents the very next day. Needless to say, the highways were closed and she couldn’t come up, and we couldn’t leave or we wouldn’t be let back up the mountain. We agreed to evaluate the situation the next day and make a plan.

Meanwhile, we made dinner and I fell asleep by 9:00 p.m. The adrenaline rush and the emotional roller coaster we just went through was exhausting. I will say I miss camping in the forest. It was so quiet and so many animals came through the campsite during the night. We heard coyotes catch their dinner – and that also comes with the howling to summon the rest of the pack to eat. We woke up to fresh elk tracks as well as horses that came through and left their lovely piles of poo behind our trailer. Coffee while camping is the best. Just watching the world wake up with you is very peaceful. The birds sing, the dew on the flowers, the fresh air scent is intoxicating.

We had an early morning phone call to meet our banker at 2:00 p.m in Globe at Fry’s Grocery Store. The drive was a little more than 2 hours away; so we both got to work before we had to leave. I had to start canceling the first practice round of RVs that we had scheduled for the RV park. We had 6 RVs coming in, but they had no electricity due to my cousin being unable to come up the mountain and pull the wires to each pedestal. Luckily for us, all of them were super understanding and they rescheduled for a different date. Only one wanted a refund, and I was OK with that. This was beyond all of our control.

We made a plan in case the forest closed down while we were gone. Wouldn’t you know it? We were almost to Globe and we got a call that a Forest Service Ranger came by and said our group had to leave. UNBELIEVABLE! Well, luckily the group pulled it off without us and they moved us all back home. It’s a weird feeling not knowing where to go. We didn’t want to go to the Valley because it is SO hot there. So, we regrouped at our home after we signed the papers to decide the next steps.

Signing our loan docs at Fry's while we were evacuated!
Signing our loan docs at Fry’s while we were evacuated!

Speaking of loan papers, our loan is a construction loan, not an SBA loan. We thought the terms were very fair and less expensive than the SBA loan fees. It was about $100,000 less in loan fees by going with a construction loan. Also, our rate is 4.00% for up to 10 years. We are super excited about the payment plan and the fees weren’t bad at all. I am so thankful for Shoshana at Bank 34. Not only did she believe in us, she made it happen. I would definitely recommend her bank for a construction loan!

My photo of the storm that came through
My photo of the storm that came through.

Well, lo and behold. As we were unpacking our RV, it started raining! As in LOTS of rain – throughout the night and into the next morning. We felt very confident we were going to be safe staying on the property and in our home.

As we woke up to the reality that we are now 2 days behind schedule on our RV park, we are even more stressed out than before. Our fence panels couldn’t get delivered because the roads were shut down. THEN they had us rescheduled for June 29 for the next delivery. I thought I was going to cry. NO NO NO! We can’t wait that long. We NEED to have our fence panels up before our ribbon cutting on June 30! I spoke with the store manager at Lowe’s and he managed to get us on for a delivery for this Saturday. That means we have to install 270 fence panels, or 2,160 linear feet of fencing and posts. I think our arms are going to fall off from all the fence work for the RV park.

My arms are going numb from the spray staining as I am the only one who will do this messy task. I actually don’t mind it. It’s calming and I secretly enjoy doing it. I was able to hire some high school football players to come in and help clean up the campsites. These guys worked harder than anyone else we hired for cleanup work. We hired them again for June 25 to finish up the sites so we can focus on the fence panels.

Truck just laid down rocks for the roads.
Truck just laid down rocks for the roads.

We had the first day of gravel delivery and WOW does the rock make a difference! The dust is SO much less noticeable and it defines the roads and pads. It looks so nice – I can’t wait to show you the photos!

We have to say a big “Thank you!” to our friends who keep coming back to volunteer their time here with us. I do not know what we would do without them! By my next article we will FINALLY be open. I can’t wait to share with you what we learned in a week’s time. The journey is far from over, as it will only be the beginning of our new Life as true Campground Owners.

I can hardly believe we are finally at the point of opening our RV park. I have tears knowing how hard we worked for this to come to fruition. It wasn’t easy and it certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. I’m truly thankful you’ve been able to follow along with us, cheering us on along the way. AJ and I both appreciate you all.

Thank you for following our Campground journey. See you in the Trees!

And please leave a comment!

AJ, Machelle and Jenna

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.



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Judy Hallett (@guest_132026)
2 years ago

I thought about you and your new campground when we had to turn around near Black Canyon Lake on June 21st. We were headed to Winslow but the Backbone fire closed Hwy 87. The Wyrick fire had closed Hwy 260 east. I hoped that the fire would not affect your new RV Park. We live in Payson but it would be fun to stay at your park sometime in the future. Wishing you the best.

Machelle James (@guest_132124)
2 years ago
Reply to  Judy Hallett

Hi Judy. You were not alone in wanting to relocate here. We had TONS of calls and inquiries. I wish we were open, but we are not yet. The fire pushed us back by days and we are scrambling to open. We will get there, it will be a little crazy around here. Please do come visit sometime. We would love to meet you!

C. Smith (@guest_131940)
2 years ago

I was very concerned about you and your new campground when I saw where the fire was located. I’m glad you took the time to share an update to relieve my concern. I look forward to staying there next time we are back in Rim Country. Right now, we’re escaping to WA to escape the valley heat and start a new nursing contract. Wishing you all the best!!

Machelle James (@guest_132123)
2 years ago
Reply to  C. Smith

We were a bit worried too. Where it was, would have been devastating had it come through to us. I am happy to say the fire by us is almost out. We are running to the finish line for 3 solid days! Please do come by when you are back our way!

Retired Firefighter Tom (@guest_131939)
2 years ago

Talk about stress!! Wow! You’ll make it. There’s a lot of “monkey wrenches” that have been thrown into situations for the past 18 months. Yet you’re almost there. The finish line is just a short distance away. I – and all of the other readers of your ‘adventure’ – have confidence that you’ll make it across the finish line. I hope our winter travels allows us time to stop in for a visit and to say ‘thanks’ for sharing your story. It’s been great.

Machelle James (@guest_132121)
2 years ago

Hello there! I am so glad you found our story. This has been the most stressful situation indeed! We are so proud of ourselves for following through with our dream and then sticking with it when the times were hard. And believe me, weve been through the mud and back. Please do come visit us when you are out this way!

Diane Mc (@guest_131933)
2 years ago

Machelle, you are amazing. No matter what is thrown your way, you find a way to get through it. Can’t wait to see the pictures. Can’t wait to visit you.

Machelle James (@guest_132120)
2 years ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

Aww! Thank You Diane! We do overcome and persevere with what has been thrown our way! Thanks for your support after all this time!

MrDisaster (@guest_131879)
2 years ago

Please use your “evacuation experience” as a teachable moment for your staff and guests in the future. Wildfires are not to be trivialized. Also in the fall (after fire season) Invite your local wildland crew out for some recommendations to make your property more fire wise. Congratulations on your great adventure!

Machelle James (@guest_131908)
2 years ago
Reply to  MrDisaster

Hello there. We absolutely will have first hand knowledge and information to share in case of an evacuation. We had a local firefighter come in to show and tell us how to firewise our property. That was a very valuable meeting we had!

Linda (@guest_131856)
2 years ago

Blessings to all y’all for sticking through all the hard times! Now you are so close to celebrating your dream come true! It’s a beautiful RV Campground and I am sure it will be a very successful venture for y’all!

Machelle James (@guest_131907)
2 years ago
Reply to  Linda

Thank You Linda! It will be so worth it too!! We are almost ready!!

Sarah (@guest_131804)
2 years ago

This is VERY exciting! Anxious to see more pictures! Congrats!

Machelle James (@guest_131815)
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Thank You Sarah!!! We are super excited too!!!

Ed D. (@guest_131780)
2 years ago

Good morning Machelle,
It gives us great joy to know you are finally realizing your dream come true! You will always have the satisfaction of looking around you and saying: “Look at this magnificent Campground, “WE” built this”! There is no better feeling than knowing you accomplished your dream! Not many people can say that, so just know that you are in a small minority of people that made it happen! We have all been rooting for you and we feel as if we are a part of your adventure. Thank you so much for sharing it with us and we will definitely “see you in the trees”! Keep your heads up and your eyes on the target!

Machelle James (@guest_131803)
2 years ago
Reply to  Ed D.

Hello Ed. It really did hit us yesterday. AJ’s family is here and we all just looked around and about cried tears of joy. They are so proud of us and we are so thankful for their support too. Please wave a magic wand so we can get the fence panels up in time! Thanks for your support over this very long process!

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