Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains in the sleepy one-traffic-light town of Townsend, Tenn., lies a quiet, tidy 14-acre property owned and operated by Malcolm and Barbara Johnson and their son Greg Johnson. This is Big Meadow Family Campground, the newest winner of the Small Park of the Year award from the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC).
To be entirely accurate, Big Meadow is part campground and part RV storage facility. According to Barbara Johnson, they found soon after its opening in 1995 that folks needed a place to keep their RVs. With ancillary income always a welcome boon for a new park, they started with three units and kept adding more. That, she said, was one of the most important decisions that led to their long-term success and “keeps us operating in the black year ‘round.” Today, 200 units are regularly stored on site.
“The fact that we store campers has always made us unique and different. That’s a separate business by itself,” Johnson explained. With a little notice, Big Meadow staff (60% of that “staff” is the Johnson family) can have a customer’s RV leveled and hooked up in a campsite when they arrive — even washed and visited by a mechanic for a tune-up or repairs, if so desired.
“We do a lot of the work ourselves,” she said. After all, “We’re a small park.”
While this kind of pre-arrival RV prep may not be unique, Big Meadow that is definitely a rarity. “Some of our customers camp in the national park, or they actually camp in other campgrounds here in Townsend, so we also offer a service where we will transport the camper for the customer into another park and set it up there for them,” reported Johnson.
If that sounds extreme, consider the necessity for Big Meadow to be distinctive and competitive: It’s located within two miles of six other commercial RV parks. Rather than being intimidated, Johnson thinks her competitor neighbors are “all very nice,” and while she said they are all larger and older than Big Meadow, that suits the Johnsons just fine.
“The other parks have always been so great in giving us their overflow. There are times that we cannot take care of all the campers that are here in our little town,” she said. “We each have different personalities. We’ve been very fortunate to find a niche here where we’re located.”
That location is in a unique geographical area in that it’s only about 1,200 feet above sea level and surrounded 360 degrees by mountains, giving it an unusual pocket of protection from harsh weather — the coldest winter temperature is typically about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s also surrounded by attractions that continually bring campers of all demographics to Big Meadow. They’re two miles from the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 15 miles from Pigeon Forge and 17 miles from Gatlinburg.
“We say to people that come to our area, we have the best of everything,” Johnson said.
Campground owners also have to be willing to continually back up those ideas with the funding to make it work. “We try our best to put every dime of revenue that we can get back into our park to improve it,” she stated. “We’ve done this for 18 years now.”
In those 18 years, Big Meadow Family Campground has gotten more things right than wrong, as evidenced by this recent award from ARVC — and all the others they’ve garnered over time from other entities such as the Tennessee Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (TNARVC) and being named among the old Woodall’s Campground Directory “Top 100 Favorite Parks in North America.”
To read the full profile, pick up the December issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.