South Dakota Campground Sees Increasing Demand for Camping, But from a New Demographic

The Jellystone Park campground in Sioux Falls is seeing more local campers and fewer long-distance travelers, a change the park attributes to rising fuel costs and difficulties people have getting away for longer trips

SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota – When Ray Aljets built the campground that later became Jellystone Park Camp-Resort 23 years ago, most of his business was east-west traffic, particularly families from Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis who traveled westward to visit the Black Hills.  Today, however, 65 to 70 percent of the Jellystone Park’s business is families who live within 100 miles of the park. “We still get the east-west traffic,” said Aljets’ son, Bruce, who now runs the park with his wife, Donna, and two of their children, Ray and Christina. “But now most of our business is local.”  

Business is strong, too. Last year, for example, the park surpassed its 2010 revenues by 11 percent, and this year looks to be just as strong as last year, if not stronger, Bruce Aljets said, adding that his park opens for the camping season on April 1st.  But the dynamics are different.

Fuel costs are higher than they used to be, which encourages people to visit campgrounds that are closer to home. Today’s families also have a harder time getting away for extended periods of time. Both parents usually work and often have a harder time getting their vacations to coincide. Kids also have more sporting activities available to them in the summer than they used to, all of which encourages families to camp closer to home. The good news, Bruce Aljets said, is that camping is as popular as ever, with one caveat. “People don’t want to rough it,” he said. “They want the comforts of home when they camp. Even tent campers want Wi-Fi so they can watch Netflix movies.”

As a result, Aljets provides his guests with cabins with house-like amenities, including cable TV and Wi-Fi service and hot showers. The campground also has a jumping pillow, pedal cart rentals, a heated swimming pool and spa, an indoor theatre and a miniature golf course. And for those who don’t have a tent or RV, the park provides a dozen rental cabins. 

Aljets’ Jellystone Park also has an activities director and provides organized family activities from May through the end of October that are designed to appeal to all ages, including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weekend events; Mardi Gras and Christmas in July celebrations; and Bruce’s favorite, the “Messy Weekend” July 27th to 30th, which includes a chocolate pudding Slip N Slide, bobbing for worms and other messy activities. Late summer and fall activities include a corn maze and Halloween-themed weekend events, including costume and campsite decorating contests. A complete listing of activities and themed weekends is available at www.jellystonesiouxfalls.com.

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