A love of camping-but no experience running a resort-helped these neophytes turn a rundown New York camping resort into one of the top Jellystone Parks in the country.
Story by Steve Bibler, Woodalls Campground Management
When brothers-in-law Glenn Bracklow and John Lawrence and John’s wife, Heidi (Glenn’s sister), decided in the early 1990s that they wanted to go into the outdoor hospitality business, they had two choices: start from scratch or buy an existing campground. They chose the latter and in late summer 1991 bought a rundown campground in the Hudson River Valley near Gardiner, N.Y.
The facilities were meager, John recalled. There was a single cash register in the office and a pop machine outside. “There were a couple of hookups. The place wasn’t nice,” John says succinctly. But the site had some special features. The Wallkill River bordered the mostly level campground on the east side, thick woods covered a portion of the park and a stately barn and 40-foot silo served as a focal point to the 80-acre property.
They kept the campground open that first fall but when the season ended in October, they began to gut the barn and update the sites, running water lines and 30-amp service to 100 sites. They added an inviting covered porch to the barn – which serves as the office and campground store – thereby creating a popular gathering place for guests to sit and chat.When they reopened in May 1992 as the Lazy River Campground, they had something they could be proud of. Today, the 170-site Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Lazy River is one of the top Leisure System Inc.’s (LSI) franchises in the country, earning multiple awards from LSI and endearing generations of campers.
The trio was all in their 30s when they bought their campground. They were neophytes in the business: Glenn was a machinist and tool & die maker, John was a homebuilder and Heidi helped in her husband’s business. But they knew they wanted to offer a campground that was neat and tidy that would attract repeat customers. The Lawrences loved to camp and wanted to share their favorite pastime with others.
After just two years in business, the owners chose to join Leisure Systems. John explained, “We thought LSI is a quality establishment and wanted to be part of it. When we were private, people tended to skip over our park. Being part of LSI takes that doubt out of their minds. Getting new people to come here for the first time became easier. Once people have been here, getting them to come back was not a problem.”
Indeed, John figures 50% to 60% of Lazy River’s campers are repeaters. The LSI affiliation helped spread the word well beyond the Hudson Valley. Not only does the campground draw much of its trade from New York and the adjoining states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, it also attracts campers from the South and points West.