The Degenhardt family has loved the park for generations.

Alan Degenhardt and his parents dreamed of owning and operating Royal Oak Resort near Kingsburg, Calif. ever since his family started vacationing there in the 1970s.

But it was a dream that didn’t come true until 2012 — after both of his parents had passed away — and not until after Degenhardt himself had invested more than a decade of his life in a labor of love to rescue the resort from mismanagement by its previous owners and built it into the kind of vacation retreat he always thought it could be, a retreat now named Club Royal Oak RV Resort.

Now 63, Degenhardt still remembers the summer day when he first cast his eyes upon the quiet campground, which borders the Kings River in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley.

The park is in the middle of farmland about three miles east of Highway 99, one of California’s major north-south freeways, and you have to drive down country roads to get there.

It’s an inviting place to camp with 130 mature ash and willow trees that provide scenic shelter from the summer sun, and it’s far enough away from Highway 99 that you truly feel as if you are out in the middle of nowhere.

“I remember coming around that last corner,” Degenhardt said, recalling his first visit to the park, “and I took a deep breath. It was amazing seeing how beautiful it was with all of the grass and the trees.”

Degenhardt frequently camped at the original Royal Oak Resort with his parents in the ‘70s. “Every summer we were there for two weeks, sometimes four,” he said.

And as the Degenhardt family fell deeper and deeper in love with the park, Alan started talking with his parents about buying the place.

“We thought it would be great if we could buy the resort, and sell the individual campsites so that it would be better taken care of,” he said.

A farming family started Royal Oak Resort on land that wasn’t conducive to farming because the groundwater level was too high. But the original owners sold the park to another set of owners, who didn’t do anything to improve the campground.

By the time the Degenhardts expressed interest in purchasing the park in 1988, the owners said they weren’t interested in selling. But they later changed their minds and quietly sold the park to a group of people who wanted to do the old model of campground memberships, Degenhardt said.

Not wanting to relinquish their campsites or their memories, the Degenharts purchased a membership in Royal Oak Resort in 1990. But the campground membership concept ultimately failed at the park, Denenhardt said, because the new owners failed to invest the money they took in for campground memberships to maintain or improve the park.

“Over a period of 14 or 15 years, the campground continued to go downhill,” he said.

Degenhardt’s father, Jerry, passed away in 1994 and his mother, Judy, initially refused to go back to the park for 10 years. But when she finally agreed to go back to Royal Oak Resort in 2004, she quickly regained her enthusiasm for the park and for the family dream of owning the park someday.

“On our way home, my mom said, ‘No matter what happens, I want to make sure you achieve whatever your dad wanted to achieve,’” Degenhardt recalled.

Three weeks later, she passed away, and shortly thereafter, Royal Oak Resort was forced to close when the owners declared bankruptcy.

“I finally got a phone call in January or February of 2005 from the guy I thought was the owner,” Degenhardt said. “He told me the owners had filed for bankruptcy and closed the resort.”

Degenhardt, who worked in the real-estate business in Orange County, was subsequently hired by private lenders who foreclosed on the resort. They asked him to manage the park for them. Little by little, as he learned the nuts and bolts of the campground business, he turned the park around.

It wasn’t easy, however. When Degenhardt returned to the park in summer of 2005, it had clearly hit bottom. “I’m six foot three and every square inch of the campground had weeds taller than me,” he said. “It was just destroyed.”

But Degenhardt persevered and, with support from his wife and other family members, he reopened the park on July 1, 2005, charging RV and tent campers by the night and by the week.

Degenhardt said he encountered lots of complaints from other campground membership owners, who felt they were still entitled to camp at the park, even though the previous owners had declared bankruptcy.
“When I took over, I became the enemy,” he said. “I was no longer their friend. It was a battle that took six or seven years to overcome. We’re still dealing with the fallout from that membership experiment.”

But by making improvements and raising rates, while working on behalf of the park’s lenders, Degenhardt said he was not only able to attract new campers, some came back.

“The improvements to the resort were the number-one thing that drew people back,” he said.

The lenders that foreclosed on Royal Oak Resort had actually planned to pursue Degenhardt’s idea of selling individual campsites. But by the time they received approval from the state to sell the individual campsites in October of 2008, the real estate market collapsed and people couldn’t get financing. So the private lenders were forced to abandon the idea of selling the campsites. But they didn’t give up on investing in the resort.

“They wanted to get their money back,” Degenhardt said.

In fact, some of the most dramatic improvements to the park took place in 2009, when the lenders invested $1.5 million in improvements, including the installation of 30/50-amp electrical connections in campsites throughout the park as well as a security gate to prevent unauthorized access into the park.

Degenhardt and his family also invested $500,000 of their own money into the resort and into paying claims of the resort’s previous members. They renamed the park Club Royal Oak RV Resort in an effort to create a new identity for the park and to distance it from the membership debacle.

“We took a risk because we did not own it at the time,” Degenhardt said, adding that he received no salary during the time he managed the resort on behalf of the private lenders. The Degenhardt family members even used their own funds to cover periods of negative cash flow at the resort.

“Some would call that stupid,” Degenhardt said. “But I had faith that God put me in that place and I knew He would reward me. He did.”

Degenhardt, in fact, eventually discovered that he could expand the business base of the resort by marketing it to speedboat enthusiasts. In 2012, he obtained approval from Tulare County to host the “Flat Bottom Boogie,” an annual speedboat racing event in which participants race their boats at speeds up to 95 mph along a quarter-mile stretch of the Kings River bordering the campground.

The first Flat Bottom Boogie took place in July 2012, seven months after Degenhardt and his family acquired the resort.

The annual event has since become so popular that it was featured in a six-page spread in the September issue of Speedboat Magazine, drawing even more interest in Club Royal Oak as the organizer of the event.

“We’re already 80% booked for July 2017,” Degenhardt said, adding that he expects to sell out for next Flat Bottom Boogie, which is slated for July 13-16.

Club Royal Oak is also expanding its business base by offering a special discount program for camping enthusiasts who want to leave their RV on site for the whole summer.

Like a vacation layaway program, campers can make a 20% down payment and spread their other payments over an eight-month period prior to their arrival at the park. Bigger discounts are offered to campers who make higher down payments.

“This program helps us during the winter, financially, because this is all non-refundable money. But it also helps the families. So it’s a win-win for both us,” Degenhardt said.

Club Royal Oak is also growing its business with the help of its first billboard, installed late last summer, which captures the attention of weary RVers from Southern California who are heading north on Highway 99 toward Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks.

RV enthusiasts are also learning about Club Royal Oak with the help of the Good Sam RV Travel & Savings Guide, which lists Club Royal Oak as the highest rated riverfront RV resort of its type in the West, earning a 9-9-9 rating for its facilities, cleanliness and amenities.

Club Royal Oak has some of the largest campsites in California, ranging from 3,000 to 12,000 square feet, and most of them are shaded by 50- and 60-year-old ash and willow trees. The campground also has 36 riverfront campsites with private beaches.

But Degenhardt said it’s not enough to have a pretty setting or successful marketing initiatives to ensure a campground’s long-term success, let alone ensure the park’s ability to raise rates each year. What’s also needed, he said, are continual investments in improvements.

“You can’t raise the price unless you have something to give them. That means you’re going to have to spend money. You’re going to have to make it a nicer place.”

Some of Club Royal Oak’s nicer amenities include restrooms with granite countertops and limestone tile showers. In September, Club Royal Oak installed septic service at 50 campsites, including the riverfront sites.

“People didn’t believe electricity could be put on riverfront sites. Now it’s there,” Degenhardt said. “They didn’t believe septic could be put on riverfront sites. Now it’s there.”

Other recent improvements include the installation of enough solar panels to satisfy the vast majority of the park’s power needs, even during the middle of summer. “It’s engineered to generate 95% of absolute peak demand even if the park is full and everyone’s air conditioners are blasting,” Degenhardt said.

“We’re constantly interviewing guests to get their opinions about the park and about the things we need to improve,” he said.

But park operators also have to be careful with what they invest in.

While Club Royal Oak provides ice for its guests, it doesn’t offer a camp store. Degenhardt said it doesn’t make sense to operate a camp store when there are several stores in town less than three miles away.
It does make sense to offer a fitness center, however. And Club Royal Oak offers an exercise room with weightlifting equipment and treadmills as well as a sauna.

Degenhardt has also learned through experience that park operators always need to be on the lookout for ways to minimize their liability risks.

Degenhardt said one guest recently complained that one of his lawn mowers threw a bolt through the side of her RV. But Degenhardt has equipped his mowers with special shields that prevent flying debris.

“It’s impossible for this kind of accident to happen,” Degenhardt said, adding, “The sheriff came out and laughed at her.”

But the stories get wilder.

“We literally had a guy drive his RV into the river,” Degenhardt said, adding that the driver had recently purchased his RV and did not know how to drive the vehicle.

Degenhardt hired a tow truck to pull the RV out of the water, though the mishap was clearly the driver’s fault.
Degenhardt said park operators also need to do their upmost to protect themselves from guests who are looking for a free night — or week — of camping.

He noted that some guests travel from park to park and use a threat of negative reviews as a way of extorting park owners to refund their money for up to a week of camping.

Degenhardt said he doesn’t succumb to these threats and said that people who read most of the reviews about his park can tell which ones are real and which ones are written by someone with an axe to grind.

Despite these challenges, Degenhardt said business is growing and he is happy with what he and his family have been able to achieve with Club Royal Oak so far.

“I’m pleased that we’re able to provide a good product for folks at a relatively affordable price, and that we’re able to provide some wonderful memories for our guests,” he said.

Campground Overview

Name: Club Royal Oak RV Resort

Address: 39700 Road 28, Kingsburg, CA 93631

Number of Sites: 100

Physical Description: The 30-acre park also has some of the largest campsites in California, ranging from 3,000 to 12,000 square feet, and most campsites are shaded by 50- and 60-year old ash and willow trees. The park’s 36 riverfront sites have their own private beaches.

Season: Open year-round.

Rates: All sites are $45 per night for one RV with two adults during the fall and winter months. Summer 2017 rates apply from May 26 to Sept. 4 and range from $30 for tent sites to $100 for riverfront sites. Extra fees apply for additional adult guests and pets. Discounted rates for extended stays.

Website: www.clubroyaloak.com

Contact: 559-897-0351