Saturday, December 10, 2022


Building an RV park: Septic skeptic, road “feathers” … and more issues


By Machelle James
These last two weeks have either been full-fledged panic or a constant stream of phone calls. While we celebrated getting the approval to build our campground, I suddenly found myself in a panic. What do we do first? Who do we call? What’s the next step?

I decided to call our bank to tell them we were approved so we can get the ball rolling. Sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? They asked us to send over the construction costs from our subcontractors. What? Oh, yeah. Well, we can’t to that yet as we do not have our final Improvement Plan from our engineer to give to our subcontractors to bid out the jobs. I called our engineer and he said it would be about a month for him to complete it. He is busy and is working on many other projects, so we sit and wait for it.

Staking out the roads with “feathers”

Where a future road will be and pink “feathers” in the ground

In the meantime, we had the surveyor come out and stake out the roads on the property. We still had to add the other half of the road as he only did one side – which is a normal thing to do when staking out the roads. So AJ and I got to work with stakes, a hammer, a tape measure, a ruler, our site plan and these things called “feathers” that you nail in the ground that you can drive over and they don’t get destroyed. The feathers let you know where the roads are going to be so you know how much shrubs and trees to take down.

We worked for two days to get half the property done. We argued, we disagreed, and we felt overwhelmed by trying to figure out how to read the angles and how to lay out the land. This was on a Saturday and I called the surveyor and prayed he answered his phone because one of us wasn’t going to make it out of road-staking alive!

The surveyor did answer and he graciously told us how to measure our lines and to make the roads on the correct sides of his stakes. We were both wrong on certain roads as the trees and the curved roads mess with your perception as to what a straight line really looks like. We ordered a TON of string so we can make sure our roads are accurate before we start tree removal next week.

We hired a new neighbor to help us with this as he is a retired Campground General Contractor! How crazy that he recently moved up here, and with all his tractors! Thankfully, he is going to help us with a few things that we can get accomplished until our loan gets approved.

Septic skeptics

We also learned a TON about septic systems this week. Now, neither one us had ever even used a septic system (that we know of) until we moved up here. Our knowledge of this subject is minimal at best. We have to trust others to guide us on what system would work best based on our soil, our daily water output and cost efficiency. I contacted three septic engineers up here for guidance and they all told us we needed and Orenco Septic System. Really, no other recommendations? Nope, none that they would recommend.

So, AJ and I called our local Orenco rep, which did not turn out well. We even called the company to speak to another rep, but they said he was the only one who could help us. He did eventually get back to us, but with a price increase.

What really got me going was I felt I was being taken advantage of. I was told I needed TWO Orenco pods because seasonal transient RV campgrounds make more waste than a full-time RV campground would. First, I was stunned to hear that. Really? Guests at a transient campground open 6 months poo more than year-round campground residents? I call total BS.

I called our local ADEQ (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality) rep and posed this question to her. She calmly told me, “Well, I have never heard this statement before and I do not have the data to back that claim up.” I asked her why everyone I am calling up here is only open to working with Orenco Systems? She calmly said they get large commissions from Orenco to sell their products. So, BAM! I’m beyond being nice and refuse to work with Orenco anymore. Not only were they apparently overselling us products we don’t need, they allegedly would be making a huge commission on us. I called around for hours looking for someone else that was trustworthy and wasn’t an Orenco rep.

I was given the name of a gentleman, Dan, at Alternative Septic Solutions in Tucson by our local septic concrete manufacturer. I cannot tell you what a GEM Dan is. We’ve already had at least five conversations with him. He wants to work with us on what is best for us, not what is best for him – and I respect him for that.

We decided on a Biomicrobics, MicroFAST System. It should be half the cost of Orenco, with less moving parts, less maintenance and less land needed. It is also on the preapproved vendor list from ADEQ. I do not have all the details yet on which system we are using, as there are several ways we can build it.

Now I want to be clear that I do not mind a man making a fair commission for being a good salesman – just sell the right product for me and not for your checkbook.

Now, on to a more pleasant topic

Waiting for the Parade to start!

I will say for being a small town, we usually have a MASSIVE 4th of July parade, party in the park and a HUGE fireworks show. Due to COVID-19, it was canceled by our Chamber of Commerce. Well, the locals went nuts and staged their own parades and paid out-of-pocket to have the fireworks go on. Have you ever been woken up at 5:45 a.m. by shooting Anvils before? That is the way our town gets woken up on the 4th of July! Three separate shots are fired all around town and we get this party started!

We participated in one of the parades in our decorated Can Am. It was SO GOOD to see the patriotism and smiles as we rode through the neighborhoods. Everyone stayed on their property and waved at us as about 50 decorated vehicles drove by. It was so special as we all felt that connection that has been missing in this crazy time we are living in.

Jenna, by the lake, waiting for the Parade to start!

Jenna and I watched the fireworks show from our property as she does not like the loud sounds that fireworks make. Meanwhile, AJ and our friends drove to the forest a half-mile away and watched the show from the front row. I cannot wait for our campers to see what we do. It is such a beautiful sight to see and to celebrate with friends and strangers alike. Next year, we hope to have you come join us in this very special weekend event!

Thank you for following our Campground Journey and 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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2 years ago

If i were building again I’d put in a fiberglass septic tank.concrete and all the acids and ?? In sewerage eat on concrete. Most of the tanks in our subdivision have had to be replaced. Fiberglass is also being used for fuel tanks at gas stations. Sorry you were being gouged and hopefully the new guy works for you.

Machelle James
2 years ago
Reply to  Thomas

Hi Thomas! I hope that Dan works out too!! He said not to use fiberglass for our septic for several reasons. The main reason is the weather. Its extremely cold and snowy in the winter and then the heat and monsoons in the summer. He has installed over 500 systems for over 20 years. I have to trust his expertise for our area.

2 years ago

Hope you are keeping a journal. Will make a great book for us RVers

Machelle James
2 years ago
Reply to  Dick

Oh my! My journal is this thread for the past year. I really hope it helps future campground owners navigate this crazy journey!!

2 years ago

What Brad says below is true. I think perhaps people like us can make more poo for you in just the manner he states. Do not cut yourself short on your system and then end up having to have pump outs all the time due to too much poo from the traveling crew.

Machelle James
2 years ago
Reply to  Rick

Hi Rick. That certainly was an eye opener to read that comment from Brad. I haven’t dumped my tanks at a campground after boondocking, but I am learning some people do. Definitely something to think about as how to handle that when we have arriving guests. My first thought is to ask them to dump before they get here, and to ask that they use an organic Septic tank treatment to keep our septic in good working condition.
Also to not use wipes as they DO NOT BREAK down no matter what the box says and they clog our septic system.

We will have a system to handle all the projected flows as per ADEQ. There are several septic options we have to work with, not just the most expensive one.

2 years ago
Reply to  Machelle James

Machelle, I am a bit shocked that you are surprised by Brad’s comment. It is extremely common for boondockers to unload their tanks in campgrounds. We don’t boondock, but I’ve been knowing this for awhile. Where else are these people supposed to dump?

Machelle James
2 years ago
Reply to  Cecilia

Hi Cecilia! Well, we would dump at a gas station before we went as that is the respectful thing to do. Our camping friends do this as well. So this will be a learning experience for us. We will make mistakes as we go and figure out what works and what doesn’t work, and adjust our policy and procedures as need be.

Max Hegler
2 years ago

So glad you are finally getting the campground started! I have been watching your progress and admire your desire and drive to accomplish your goals. Keep up the good work!

Machelle James
2 years ago
Reply to  Max Hegler

Thank You for following our Journey Max! It has been quite a ride so far and its going to get real nuts here this next year! Keep reading for those nuggets as we encounter them!

Ed D.
2 years ago

Salesmen can be all about the profit and less about your interests. I am in sales for our own Distributorship. I know that if I don’t treat my customers fairly and with total respect for their best interests, they will not be my customers for long! I am glad you found out about the septic company Rep that was attempting to take you for a ride. I also hope you go on line and place your experience with them, in the form of a review, for all to see. Who knows, you might save a lot of other people the bad experience that you almost endured! I also hope that maybe we can be at your campgrounds next 4th of July. Sounds like a great experience. Good luck the rest of the way and keep us posted!

Machelle James
2 years ago
Reply to  Ed D.

Hi Ed! Thank you for your kind words and understanding our situation. I will definitely recommend MicroFAST Systems to others up here. I also hope we are open for the 4th of July! We want everyone to experience the small town excitement and Patriotism we have here!

BILLY Bob Thronton
2 years ago

Glad you figured out who your friends are in this endeavor. When money is involved, sometimes unscrupulous characters emerge. Hats off to that guy Dan, for treating you right.

Machelle James
2 years ago

Thank you Billy Bob! Nice name! And the time he took to explain everything was priceless. He listened, he responds in a timely manner and best of all, I will definitely recommend him!

Brad Teubner
2 years ago

Typically when boondocking, we are dry camping for 2-3 weeks, then go into a CG for 2-3 days to dump tanks, do laundry, and refill with water. So you could easily get more sewage than you would expect from full-time residents. We save it up for you.

Machelle James
2 years ago
Reply to  Brad Teubner

Hi Brad. At least someone has been honest about dumping in Campgrounds. Our prior septic salesman didn’t mention anything about that being a possible issue, and no one we know of has done this. So since we personally have not done this to a Campground, I didn’t know about this possible scenario. I am glad you shared your perspective. The rules still apply to allow for 100 GPD, no matter what septic system we use. I don’t like being taken advantage of, when the new transient park up the street is bigger and only needed 1 pod. Same Company, same sales rep, same product.

I would like to ask if you do choose to do this dump for Campgrounds, to use an Organic tank treatment to keep our septic system working properly. Happy Camper is a really good one!

Sebastian Trost
2 years ago
Reply to  Machelle James

We have been to campgrounds that require organic treatments for the same reason. I would definitely recommend you provide notice in advance so campers can get it into their tank systems before arriving. We did that and now don’t use anything else- it’s been most effective for us.

As for Orenco, we have their system for our home, and it works, but it’s a pain and costly overall. We bought the house with it, so no choice. Glad you found an alternative!
I suspect you’ll have lots of learning opportunities in the ongoing process! Here’s to learning!