For some of us, the idea of living on a campground full-time sounds pretty amazing. After all, we’d be immersed in a gorgeous setting with a pool and other fabulous amenities at our disposal. We’d always meet new people, get the chance to enjoy the crackling of campfires and, yes, finally perfect the s’more.
There are people who get to live this lifestyle every day: KOA owners and managers. But what’s it really like to live and work on a campground? What draws them to it — and what’s it like for their families? Would owning a campground be right for everyone?
Our inquiring minds had to know, so we turned to three owners who shared what a day in their lives is like: Kendra Cooney of the Corbin / Laurel Lake KOA Journey (Kentucky), Diane Devine of the Livingston / Paradise Valley KOA Holiday (Montana), and Tim Johnson of the Pueblo South / Colorado City KOA Holiday (Colorado).
KOA: Let’s start off with the big question: Why did you choose to own a campground?
Tim: My wife Elena and I were both raised in the hospitality business, so in a way it was a natural fit. When I retired, we became serious about buying a campground. We began looking in 1994 and bought this park in 1996.
Diane: It was a good way to raise our kids. We have five children, and while they were growing up we were right there with them. They were always guaranteed a summer job — whether they wanted it or not — and they now have a great work ethic.
Kendra: My husband’s parents owned a campground, and it was Jerry’s dream to own one too. I kept working as a nurse, but supported him and learned as much about the campground as I could. Although he passed away last year from cancer, my girls and I decided to live out his wish. This place is part of him and I have a great team to help me.
KOA: How — and when — does your day begin?
Diane: From mid-June through mid-August we serve a great breakfast with omelets, French toast, eggs, breakfast sandwiches — really great food. The cooks begin setting up at 6:30, and I’m there to help if needed. Otherwise, I’m at the store and office before 8:00 a.m. My husband does the landscaping and maintenance on our campground, and he’ll usually leave the house a little later, but also comes home later.
Kendra: We’re at work by the time the office opens at 9:00. We already know who’s checking out and who’ll be checking in, and the girls have their buckets in hand ready to head to the sites.
Tim: A lot of times — especially during our busy season — we start getting calls at 6:00 a.m. at our house, before the office opens at 8:00. But it’s a nice, friendly wake-up call, so we don’t mind.
KOA: When does your day wind down?
Tim: Sometimes, we’re in the office until after 10:30 at night, as guests may be arriving later than expected and we need to be there to greet them. And we’re actually available 24 hours a day by phone.
Diane: During our peak season, we’ll get calls at 11:00 at night from people who’ve been in Yellowstone National Park and suddenly realize they don’t have a site. Others may not pull into the campground until after 10 p.m., so we need to get them settled in quickly, without disturbing other guests.
KOA: Are there some things you do every day?
Kendra: There’s definitely a cycle. Check out, cleaning, then handling incoming guests. Once we know who’s checking out and who’s checking in, any cabin turnovers are our first priority. Then it’s getting to the sites to clean them up as well as checking the pool to make sure it’s clean and ready to open. If my staff is busy, I will clean the shower houses as well, but I try to be in the office as much as possible because it’s really important to me to be able to talk to our guests.
Diane: I handle a lot of the office tasks and bookwork at our campground, and I work in the store every day — more so right now because we had some unexpected turnover. My husband does daily maintenance, but he also handles the security in the evening. He goes around the entire campground, double checks the bathrooms to make sure they’re tidied and verifies everything is secure. A lot of times he’s not home until after midnight.
Tim: Once our office opens at 8:00, we start getting our facilities open and then get out there to talk to our fellow campers. Once everyone pulls out, it’s attack the bathrooms and cabins, do housekeeping, mow and water the lawn and then get ready for the next group to come in. It’s a bit of “peat and repeat.”
KOA: What is your biggest challenge?
Kendra: I would much rather work with my customers, take them to their sites and make them happy than sitting down to do paperwork. I’m more of a people person. So I have to make myself time to do my books and check my emails.
Tim: The work is hard and the hours are long, but the people make it all worthwhile. Everyone has a great time here, and that’s what makes it fun and keeps us going. Some people can lose that perspective when they’re an owner.
KOA: What’s the best part about owning a campground?
Diane: We live and work in one of most beautiful places in the world: right on the Yellowstone River with amazing views of [Montana’s] Paradise Valley. This isn’t just our business — it’s our home.
Tim: We’ve built so many friendships over the years. For us, it’s like having one big family. It would be tough to hang up our hat and leave unless we came back as work kampers.
Kendra: I love opening up the door when a rig comes in and saying, “You made it! Come on in and let me get you to your site so you can rest and get your feet up.” Once they’re at their site, you can actually watch their whole body begin to relax. It’s like they’re thinking, “Yes! We’re here!”
Got your interest piqued? Do you want to further explore if owning a KOA might be right for you? Learn more about it — and about upcoming buyer’s workshops — at ownakoa.com.