Building an RV park from scratch: Campground progress!


By Machelle James
Since we moved up here to Heber-Overgaard, AZ, full time, we have all had to have an adjustment period. Visiting our 5th wheel and living in it are two separate situations.

I will share that our daughter, Jenna, had a mental health crisis when we moved up here full time. The doctor asked us if anything had changed recently and we were both nodding, “YES!”

Without us realizing it, Jenna was having a hard time accepting that she would not be in her old school everyday and seeing her teachers and friends. Routines are very necessary for special needs children and we uprooted her routine and she was way off kilter. She had the worst meltdown of her life and unfortunately, AJ and I took the brunt of it for three full days.

I will say that as of this week, Jenna is finally adjusting nicely. One day a week we go into the valley for her to go to her school and see her friends. I get to see my friends and family and Costco shop for the day, so that’s a win-win for me!

On the campground progress, we have the engineers doing their drone video of the property this week. We also will get the property surveyed and stakes hammered in for chain link fencing.

We have been feverishly working on our cabin and it looks beautiful! We had to repaint it, as the previous owners had it painted inside and out many years ago and then the property was abandoned and all the paint was chipped and peeling.

We also installed new doors, windows, plumbing lines, electrical lines, and put tile and the spare fridge in my She Shed. (Aptly named “Shell’s She Shed by the Sea Shore.”) I ordered the kitchen, bathroom vanity and all my appliances! Lowe’s did a great job working with us and giving us a PRO discount. It’s way better than sale pricing!

We should be moved into our cabin by the end of August. I cannot wait to take a bath again. After working so hard on the house, a nice hot bath will be so nice on our muscles!

We have been visited by friends, neighbors and family. We relaxed for one weekend and found new trails to ride up here as well.

We had our first 4th of July Parade in our small town and we just loved it! I can say that you can see the fireworks from our property! So YEAH to our campers for next year!

Jeff and Petty from Good Sam, AJ and Machelle

We also had the reps from Good Sam come out and meet us. They informed us of what all it entails to become a Good Sam Campground Member, the discounts we would have to offer and what makes for good campground reviews. It was a very eye-opening and informative meeting. We haven’t said yes or no yet, as we need to run the numbers and see if it makes sense for us.

We are getting super excited to finally meet with the engineers to put all the pieces into their places.

I would love your feedback on what you would like to see here for you to visit us. We will have large pull-through spots as a #1 non-negotiable amenity. Then what? Dog area? Laundry room? Showers? Community center? Playground for the kids? Ramadas with BBQ area? Propane for sale? Horseshoes or Cornhole or both?

Remember, our campground will be no more than 50 spots, with approx 25–27 full hookups. The rest will be electric only and we will have a free dump station for those campers. Of course, it will cost less to use those sites.

Let me know what you’d like to see here and I’ll see if we can add it to our Campground Master Plan.

Thank you for following our journey and as always, see you in the trees!

And please leave a comment!

Find Machelle’s 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.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Congrats on your progress!! My priorities would be laundry, propane and dog park.


These are the things important to us when reserving a campsite, reading descriptions and/or reviews:
Large, spacious sites- great when laid out at an angle so RV’s aren’t overlapping side to side but slanted with front of one overlapping back of one next to it. Provides much more privacy
50 amp service
FHU or at least electric and water
Easy to navigate
Easy to pull through or back in- No posts in the way
No cars/trucks/RV’s sticking out in roadway or blocking roadways
BIG signage and signs ahead of the turn to the entrance
Convenient Place to unhook
Open enough for satellite reception
Friendly service- will look for other parks if a reviews consistently say grumpy, rude service.

Nice to have:
Playground when bringing grandkids
Camp store- even just snacks- KOA outside of Kansas City had wide front porch with great wood rockers
Hiking or walking trails
Washer and Dryers available

Don’t care about swimming pools, large rec rooms (although Route 66 RV in Albuquerque, NM has an amazing new one with couches, large screen TV, pool table and free coffee and hot chocolate).
Don’t care about patios (harder to park and line up. Sometimes they have been so much higher that the steps have hit the patio when the airbags deflate)
Don’t care about someone coming to pick up the garbage- need to walk anyway!


We tow a 43′ fifth-wheel behind an extended cab/extended bed Ford F350. So for us, having wide lane-ways and turn corners that do not have lamp posts or huge rocks at the corners is very much appreciated. It’s important to big rigs that the sites be long, wide and level, but also getting to the sites is equally important. We travel at least 7-8 months a year, staying 2 nights up to a week at each place and we find it surprising how many parks are now giving us super-long sites but getting to the site is horrible. Many many park employees have no idea that just because a 45′ Class A can make a tight turn, a fifth-wheel cannot. Also, if you guys are going to have an employee guide a rig to it’s site, please teach them not to talk to the drivers of the rigs as if they are idiots. We know our rigs and we know best how to park them. My favorite guides are those who are respectful of the driver and ask if they (the guide) can be of any assistance.


Me again, glad things are progressing for you. Re : amenities, I think in the beginning you might want to avoid things that are expensive with little return, such as swimming pools. They will suck your profits up. Most of the places people want to visit have a shortage of campsites. You should have no problem filling 50 sites as long as your campground is clean and everything works. As I suggested before, please add services you can make a profit on, such as a camp store. I think we all want you to succeed. Thanks for the update.


Consider putting some sort of screening around the utility connections (especially sewer) so that they are not in plain sight while someone is sitting at their picnic table. I saw something like this at Mountain Home (ID) RV Park.

Ken Hunt

Something we have found very enjoyable, as we travel with friends frequently, are buddy sites. That’s where the rigs face each other.


You have gotten a good range of desires from RVTravel readers, who actually may not be your target market. In your case, your daughter ought to be a large part of your planning, as I’m sure you know. If she is comfortable with new kids, playgrounds and kids activities to draw families would be good, if not maybe an adults only community. If she is comfortable with strange dogs, and knows how to approach them to avoid aggressive animals, then a dog run is an attraction, if not then you could have a no dogs rule, or restrictions as to size. I wouldn’t suggest breed restrictions since dogs of any breed can be fear aggressive or defensive. Banning dogs would definately restrict your market base. I think a nice common area for parties, card games, ice cream socials, etc. is nice. Otherwise, most of us don’t use most of the amenities in the “resort” campgrounds and would rather not have to pay for them, maybe you could survey your first visitors for a year or two and provide the things the people you would like to come back say they would use.

Captn John

We generally like to stay a week to 3 months before moving on. A pull thru is most appreciated, without full hook ups we will only stay a night or two before moving on. No need for showers or a laundry as we use those in the 5er. No need for a play ground or dog run for us. We have a dog but never take him to a run. A club house can be nice. A few of our favorite CGs have Sat and/or Sun breakfast at a reasonable cost and they do make a profit on it. Gravel is fine, just no ruts. Easy in/out of the CG and sites. No pool required for us, no other games either. We generally explore an area and rarely spend a lot of time in the CG.

Let everyone know your rules and enforce them. Keep the CG clean. Did I mention enforce your rules?

Most of all, keep junkers out. Limit those that decide to stay the season and especially forever. We spend a month in a small CG in the mountains, maybe 80 sites. All FHU. A club house where one can usually find a card game or just a BS session. No other amenities. A small town is near where the biggest thing ever is clogging Sat night. 30 – 45 minutes to anything else and no cities within a 2 hour drive. Sites are cash or check, no cards. He is full from May 1 to Oct 31 every year. Nov 1 every unit has to be gone. ALL are self contained, no showers or RRs. Family run with a host couple as they have a farm to run as well. No pool. Just clean and friendly.

Daniel Pankiewicz

Level or as level as possible Concrete is best but expensive and if not reinforced will crack. I also find very important at the office or someplace very close a place to unhitch the tow car on my motorhome and then drive to my site. While doing this drive I look for any branches under 14 feet or alongside the road which could scratch the RV. You may find it very useful to invest in one of those chains saw on a stick that reaches from the ground to tree limbs above.
Good luck in your adventure hope to visit sometime.


Since there are such a wide variety of RVs, you should plan your amenities based on the clientele that will visit your park. We travel in a 35 ft. 5th wheel and have stayed in almost everything from luxury resorts to dry camping in the desert. Pull thru sites that are wide and long are high on our list. Sites should be angled so they are easy to pull into and out of. Since you are building your park, make all of the sites level. Some grass at each site is nice but it is a maintenance item. 50 amp power is needed so we can run 2 AC units. We like to have a picnic table so we can eat outside. We only need to dump sewer once a week and we generally don’t stay longer than a week in one spot – but a sewer connection at the site is more convenient that a dump station as is a water connection. Good WiFi is always a big plus. We also travel with 3 dogs so a dog park is high on the list. We don’t have a washer and dryer in our RV so a laundry facility is good (but we only do laundry every week or so). Things we seldom or never use are swimming pools, volleyball courts, showers (but they are necessary for travelers with rigs that don’t have them), community centers, fire pits, etc. Cleanliness and attractiveness of the park are very important to us. Some flowers and bushes add a nice touch. Shade is important but too many large trees are a detriment in many ways – impinging on the sides of RV’s and blocking satellite access for TV. Good luck.


Hi Machelle—I am enjoying reading all the trials and tribulations of this huge adventure for you! In my opinion, washrooms with showers are very important. Not all of us travel in units with our own facilities. We travel in a 13′ fiberglass egg trailer. Only have a portapotty so clean showers/bathrooms are hugely important!!! We love having a fire, so firepits are also high on our wish list. So are picnic tables. Not so important—dog walks (no pets for us), horseshoes/cornhole (haven’t used them anywhere yet), nice distance between sites, some shade but not grossly wooded. Laundry is always appreciated. Community rec hall is good if organized events are planned. Nice for tent campers in inclement weather. And lastly, having a little store in the office to pick up essentials is another much appreciated perk. Not having to drive for ice, milk etc is wonderful.
I look forward to following the rest of your journey. Good luck and may our paths cross one day. Oh yes—no Good Sam. PA is better.

Thomas Becher

I’d stay away from any programs that reduce your bottom line.Give me easy in/ out, no trees in the way as I maneuver in, and electric. Free WIFI will be a must have. (Wife is addicted to her i phone) Are you looking for transients or for a few days? I can do a weekend without water or sewer but I would like to dump before hitting the road again. Certainly some will want full hookups. I would like clean restrooms and showers. Don’t like showering in camper. I don’t suppose you’ll be ready in December when I go home to Casa Grande? Later on if you feel you need good Sam you can always start that. I’m a GS member but hardly ever use it. Price it right and you’ll do fine. Who is your target customer? A young family that needs playground equipment and a pool or us old farts that want to sit around or take a short hike.


LEVEL sites are important, as well as long (our 5th wheel is 40′) and wide sites (we have 4 slides, so 2 are opposing and each 36″ deep) are important to us. A laundry room would be so very nice! So is reliable wi-fi for email communication and bill paying. Good luck with your plans and your construction! Can’t wait to come see ya!

Pam L

We travel with our black lab and I am always looking for a campground with a large doggy run. She loves chasing a ball and just investigating the wonderful smells that dogs love. Also if more than one dog is at the run there should be room for them to run together. I have always felt bad for her when she hasn’t been off her leash in days because there has been to runs in campgrounds for her. Best of luck in your new adventure.

Bob G

In todays world access to the internet is VERY important.

Joe Allen

Personally, I would stay away from Good Sam’s, KOA’s and the like! Way too costly for you to invest in and not much in return. If you are looking to offer something to those of us who travel the USA and don’t need all the amenities, just a clean, level RV park with a few trees here and there and take look at PassPort America as a tool to bring us in! Most of us that have lived on the road use PA and Thousand Trails. We don’t need all the extras most pay for and don’t use!


Many good comments below, but my major complaint about many camp sites is getting level. Leveling jacks are “only so long” and stretching the suspension causes damage. Driving a motorhome up onto multiple levels of blocks is difficult and dangerous. Slope for drainage, but only by inches!

rick louderbough

We’re in ABQ and look forward to visiting your wonderful endeavor in a while.

Diane Mc

Great to have long sites. However width is just as important. Not just for some extra breathing room from your neighbors, but maneuverability. And no giant rocks & or trees pulling in or exiting the pulls thrus. Motorhomes don’t bend in the middle and if towing can’t back up (maybe a foot or 2 max….we know this because an rv employee guided us to a Premium site (that was very large ) that had a huge bush/tree to our right & too tight a turning radius. My husband tried backing up a little to extract us and the hitch on our Cooper broke!). Don’t be afraid to tell your guests it would be best if they unhooked the tow car to get into site. Or let them walk to the site to make that decision if there is concern. Wish the other campground had given us that option! And good luck to getting up and running. Looking forward to visiting you.


For MY family, only the playground would matter and not much longer. Open field room to kick a ball or set up our own frisbee or cornhole is good. Don’t crowd in sites, because i’m sick of my awning hitting the neighbor on one side, and the other side’s dog jumping on my other wall.

Bathrooms and rec centers, no thanks. I use my RV and site for those.

Big bonus: enough dump holes at the departure dumpsite. This shouldn’t add to your sewer permit since it’s the same volume, just more concurrent users so were not 12 deep in line.