Saturday, June 3, 2023


Operating an RV Park: Winding down from our first full season; lessons learned

From to Machelle and AJ: Congratulations on a job well done! We, and our readers, have enjoyed being along for the very interesting, and sometimes very bumpy, ride! And a shout out to sweet Jenna, also. You all are amazing! 

By Machelle James
As we wind down from our first full season at AJ’s Getaway RV Park, we have had time to reflect on things we would have done differently while building our RV Park.

Concrete fence panels

First, I would have purchased the concrete fence panels that we had looked into. Yes, it was $100,000, but we would have had zero issues with this product compared to the ones we have now. We purchased premade cedar fence panels from a big box store. These were so cheaply made that they started warping within weeks of installation. The panels were stained and sealed immediately, so this was disheartening to see after all the hard work that went into installing them.

We also believe the concrete fence panel would have helped out with traffic noise along Highway 277. We are still having truckers use Jake brakes, and the highway noise itself is really loud to me. Luckily, only a handful of guests mention it, but I hear it and it drives me crazy. I wish I would have had the funds to purchase those concrete panels as I feel it would be quieter and look nicer than the warped panels we have now.

Septic lines

Second: AJ said he would have placed the septic lines further back at each site. We had an RV Park handbook for where utilities should go, and we did follow it. Unfortunately, it seems outdated, as these big rigs come in and need a lot of hose to access it. Smaller RVs have no issues. But in our campground we tend to get the bigger RVs, hence the long septic lines.

More level sites

Third: We would have built up the unlevel sites more. We have found that the owners of Class A RVs are very particular in how their RV is leveled. On some sites it is impossible to level a Class A. They are usually in a declining site and the steps are way off the ground. We have to have drainage, so all the sites slope somewhat. But we have learned that some sites will need to be fixed over the winter, so it won’t be that bad of an issue anymore.

We also learned we need to have a roller to compact the soil more than ever. Our soil drains very well here. After our monster storms with 27 inches of rain this year, some sites sank 6 inches! Guess what our winter chores will be? Fixing the grading issues!

Hire employees

Fourth: Hire employees! We realized in August that we were burning out with yard work and office work. We need a landscaper to come in every week to help with weeds and mowing. We also need help with cleaning firepits and picnic tables. You don’t realize how much work goes into cleaning anywhere from 10-30 sites a day. We are what the Campground Industry calls “transient camping,” since no one stays on premises more than 29 days.

I also need to hire help for Events and Activities. I really want to get more involved with the kids that camp here, but I honestly have not had the energy to set up the Movie Nights more than twice this season. I have had movies shown in the store when it was raining, so that was fun. All I had to do was make hot chocolate and popcorn, so that was easy! I am thinking karaoke, ’80s night, pirate- or princess-themed weekends. Also, adult activities like a BBQ/smoking meat cook-off, wine tastings, pot lucks, set happy hours on the bar tops. So I need to get help ASAP for next season.

General Store

Fifth: The General Store. The store itself is AMAZING. However, we should have made the office counters on the opposite wall, so I can see who is coming and going at the campground better. As of now, my back is to the door and I do not like that one bit!

Also, for the store, I was buying things I thought children would like and honestly, it didn’t go as planned. The pop tarts, cookies, donuts, chips and beef jerky didn’t sell nearly as well as I thought they would. It is more sour candy, chocolates, ice cream, hot chocolate and coloring books! I bought a few to test the waters and sold out of them in a week. That was a nice surprise.

I was also advised that girls like lots of bracelets and necklaces, so I will be sure to stock up on them for next year. The boys like hoodies, whether it is 100° or 65° outside. They were wearing them all the time! We learned we need stickers in the store. As in those 3×5 inch stickers for RV’s as well as smaller ones for kids’ water bottles. Also, something so important is making shirts/jackets/cups/stickers with our tagline of: See You in the Trees! I missed out on this year as so many of you have come here from reading about on This takes time and effort to get it right, and I will make sure this will happen for next season.

We did pretty good for newbies

For AJ and I being newbies, I don’t think we have done too bad this season. We constantly get positive feedback on how big our sites are and how AJ and I provide great customer service. It is a fine line between guests and friends. Sometimes you just “click” with other families, and it develops into more meaningful conversations and connections as they come back. It is wonderful to say, “So-and-so are coming back,” as we both look forward to spending time with them again.

We both are learning to read body language better and if people want to talk more, they will. There are those that just want to camp in peace and quiet, and stay to themselves, and that is perfectly fine too. We welcome everyone!

Make it better for the years to come

Now that the off-season is rapidly approaching, it is time to dial in more specifics and see how we can make it even more enjoyable for years to come. I will be taking some time off to focus on all the above and will decide when to write about our updates again. It could be monthly or not until we open back up next year, but you will be updated on when my articles are coming out.

We close on October 31st for the year and will open back up on April 14th, 2023. We will be traveling to the Quartzsite RV Show in January as a Vendor, so if you are going to that event, we will see you there!

We have grand baby #4 coming in February, and we will be driving with Jenna to Georgia to meet her. Yes, it’s a GIRL! So we will have two boy and two girl grandchildren. We are over the MOON excited about her!

Thankful and blessed

We are so thankful and blessed to have such a unique lifestyle now. The only thing we would have changed is that we would have done it earlier!

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, built, from the ground up, a 15-acre RV park in Heber-Overgaard, Arizona, in the beautiful White Mountains 140 miles from Phoenix. Follow them at their website, or on Facebook @ AJ’s Getaway RV Park, or on Instagram at ajsgetawayrvpark.



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Howard Clayburg
7 months ago

You are to be commended for your bravery.. I realize how much work you do every day.. most of us are retired and just want to rest.. have a nice winter..

Machelle James
7 months ago

Hi Howard! Thank you for your kind words of support. We work so hard for this time off, so thank you! We will surely enjoy this time off!

Tom E
7 months ago

Leveling a 5th wheel on a declining slope (runs down hill toward the back of the 5th wheel) works for us. I have more trouble getting our autoleveling system to work on the inclining slopes.

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  Tom E

We have a 5th wheel and we agree! We do need a slope for drainage, just not TOO much of a slope!

Dennis G.
7 months ago

Great read, and congratulations on a good summer. When I did retail at a small automotive boutique years ago, we also found out that item we liked-did not necessarily translate to what the customer purchased. Good for you in trying out other items to sell, which sold quickly.
As for the leveling: You are correct class-a owners are pretty particular about being level. Sadly, I fall in that category myself. We like to be within about 1° of level.
Sad to hear the prefab fencing didn’t turn out well. Perhaps as the bushes grow up, it will deaden the highway noise somewhat. Also being more rural, noise travels better on a cold night. In the city you have other noises to drown out each other. 🙂

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  Dennis G.

Hi Dennis, good feedback! We have our fence right along our boundary line and cannot plant anything on the otherside of it. Our RV Storage is right on the other side, so I am really leaning toward a concrete fence that looks like wood. And yes, I hear the traffic more than ever now that the park is empty. Thanks for your advice!

Neal Davis
7 months ago

Glad that your first year went so well! Hope that things only get better.

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  Neal Davis

Hi Neal! We think we will be pretty full every year from this point on. Word has traveled and it is so nice to hear how folks have found about us. We love our Park and look forward to meeting all the new folks out there!

7 months ago

First off—-kudos to you for even thinking about washing/cleaning picnic tables!!!!
It is not even often that we arrive to a site where the firepit has been cleaned out, let alone to the table having been cleaned. Good job!
And as to the store and what you chose to stock—kids will buy the darnedest things but guaranteed, if you don’t have it, that will be what they will want. lol
In the days pre-Covid, penny candy offerings always kept my kids busy—going back and forth to “shop”. But with restrictions, nowadays parents likely prefer to have packaged items. So much for the good ol’ days!
Your stories have entertained me all thru your journey. I look forward to continuing to follow your progress.
And congrats on # 4! Enjoy your trip.

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  mimi

Hi Mimi! I would be so disappointed if we camped somewhere and the tables weren’t cleaned. That is just lazy and gross! And the kids do come into the store with a budget and shop for junk food. I love helping them with counting and math. I think they do too.
Thank you for your well wishes Mimi!

7 months ago

Some RVs with one bathroom in the middle have their sewer connection near the middle of the RV. Others, like ours with a rear bath, have the sewer connection at the back. Still others with two full bathrooms or separate gray tanks have two sewer connections. Those people either have to move their sewer hose or buy a “Y” fitting.

A few campgrounds have two sewer connections per site, one near the middle and one near the back. Those are really nice for people, especially for those with two sewer connections. Perhaps you could look at your sewer pipe layout and maybe install a second sewer connection at each site.

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  J J

Hi JJ! Well that is something that we haven’t heard before. 2 septics.. It sounds interesting! I think we can explore that and see if it is feasible.
Thanks for that tip!

Diane Mc
7 months ago

Enjoy your time off….well the time not dealing with RV’ers. Sounds like you’ll be busy in the off season. Congrats on the new granddaughter. Babies are truly a blessing. As far as the things you mentioned, all are fixable over time. Way more positives than things to change. You & AJ should be so proud of what you have accomplished. Many people buy an existing campground and upgrade. You did it literally from the ground up. Once you get some of those projects behind you, should be smooth sailing to enjoy the fruits of your labor and your visitors. Hope to be one, one of these days. Love hearing about all your adventures. Until the next time, take care and travel safe.

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  Diane Mc

Hi Diane! Well it is day 3 of vacation and we’ve already had 10 tons of gravel dropped off for us to fill in low spots. We also think we can add a few more storage sites, so we are already working on that. Our Vendor for the store is coming tomorrow so we can stock some inventory now in case of any shipping issues again.
So you are right- no RVers, just behind the scenes work. And we really will enjoy our vacation in 2 weeks!

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles worked.
7 months ago

One ? and 1 suggestion. How do you keep clients from mucking up your septic with “flushable” wipes? People do NOT read or follow signs. My workplace had no garbage disposal, just standard piping. Put up signs saying THERE IS NO GARBAGE DISPOSAL after finding literate people poking food waste past the strainer. Never made a difference. TRAFFIC NOISE Vegetation= effective privacy barrier. Poss clumping bamboo but only in ag zones 8-9-10. Lombardy Poplar? Or contact local forestry for names &sources of native quick-growing non invasive trees? Contact the Arbor Day association, ask your local BSA council if any aspiring Eagles are poss doing a Forestry project. They would scout location, what it would take in resources, permitting, finances, and labor, plenty for scope of leadership. But I really want to know about your experiences with flushable wipes down the road.

Machelle James
7 months ago

Hi Giles Fam! Well, we do have it noted several times in our Rules and Regs about the wipes. It also states you will get a $200.00 fine if it gets clogged at your site. We haven’t had an issue so far, that we are aware of anyway. We will have our septic pumped this month as that should really tell us more.
And that is a great idea about the Eagle Scout project. I may have to reach out to see what our options are.
Thanks for the good advice!

Thomas D
7 months ago

Congratulations on your first season. I wish continuing success. As far as noise, I’d plant more trees outside of the fence you installed. They absorb sound. At least at my home. As leaves fall off it’s getting noisier, we can now hear the highway.😢

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  Thomas D

Hello Thomas! I wish we could. I would have to get permission from ADOT. They own the land between our fence to the road. That is the issue. It’s a Government agency and we can’t even get them out here to mow the weeds. (We aren’t allowed to touch the land as they own it). I should have taken photos so everyone can see what I’m talking about. My options are fighting for a lower speed limit, and enforcing the jake brake laws, OR the concrete fencing. Thank you for the feedback and support! We appreciate you 🙂

Steve H
7 months ago

Your periodic updates have been a highlight of reading RVTravel, so I look forward to your future updates.

Perhaps a way to obtain some help would be to find a retired couple to workcamp from April to October or two couples to split the season and work for 3 months each. I have no idea how much losing one FHU site would cost you, but it seems to work at many public campgrounds. Perhaps some of those “snowbirds” who head to Phoenix on November 1 and leave April 1 would like to spend the summer “In the Trees”!

One workcamper could help with event planning and preparation and the other could mow and weed weekly and help clean sites on other days. They might even be able to help out in the store to give you and AJ an occasional day off. Just a thought!

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve H

Hi Steve! What we have learned from Campground Management School is to hire people to live here as staff, pay them and charge them a site fee. ( work campers due to liability reasons)
Reason being is they need to have Workmans Comp in case anything were to happen to them. With chainsaws, lawn mowers, accidents and anything else that can happen at work, you need to be covered. So YES, we will be hiring someone who can fit in with those requirements.
We are glad you’ve been following our journey and have been a great support to us!

Betty D.
7 months ago

Thank you for all your work. I may never visit your campground (I live in the east and husband still works full time) but I understand so much more. I hope you continue writing next season.

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  Betty D.

Hello Betty! Thank you for your kind words. I will write once a month during the Winter as we will be traveling and working. We really want to enjoy the moments and focus on family! Thanks again for your support!

Ed D.
7 months ago

Good morning Machelle. Even though there are several things you will do differently and improve for next season, all in all, you had a good first full season! Many businesses never make it past their first year. You not only made it but judging from your articles you provided a great time for all! That is what RVing is all about. Meeting people and having fun! So congratulations on a job well done!
Just a thought. I know that you have already paid for the fencing you currently have installed but consider replacing it gradually with the concrete version you really wanted. Even if you only replace a few sections each year until you have it completed. At least it would eventually be what you wanted and a few sections per year won’t break the bank! Again, just a thought. The good thing is that we all learn through experience and it looks like you learned several valuable lessons on what to stock and what not to stock in your store. (To be cont.)

Ed D.
7 months ago
Reply to  Ed D.

(cont. from above)
That is what all great business owners do.
I do understand about the unlevel sites. We stayed at a couple of places that the sites were so unlevel that our front tires were almost a foot off the ground. So I vowed never to allow us to be placed in that situation again. Now, when we make our reservations, that is one of the questions we ask. Are your sites level? So, leveling the sites is always a good idea.
Well, I just want to close by saying that if you guys were our Daughter and Son-In-Law, we couldn’t be prouder of you for the endeavor you have tackled successfully. Always be proud of what you have achieved. It takes a special kind of people to start from scratch on a project of this magnitude and you guys never flinched! Enjoy the rest of your weekend and “see you in the trees”!

Machelle James
7 months ago
Reply to  Ed D.

Hi Ed! We so appreciate your support for the past 2 years.. You have incredible insight and give us proud parent vibes all the time!
I like the panel in stages part. That may be doable. We are excited to share our winter updates, but it will be one a month now as we won’t have as much to write about. Stay tuned and thanks again for your support!

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