Gaylord Jellystone

In keeping with the Jellystone Park theme, the Jellystone Park in Gaylord, Mich., now offers a hibernation area for its bear characters.

Nestled in the woods outside the Northern Michigan town of Grayling, Jellystone Park Grayling is a campground resort offering large wooded campsites and vacation rental units. The park is for the kids and young at heart with many themed events, such as Red, White and Boo Boo on the Fourth of July. The family-run park is managed by Marley and Ryan Behnke who are the new owners.

“We purchased the park in November 2022,” shared Marley. “The previous owner had reached out and was interested in selling and wanted to know if we were interested in purchasing it. We had been friends with her for many years. The Jellystone Park in Grayling actually came into the Jellystone franchise, I believe, in 2006 and I had entered the franchise system in 2005. We had gotten to know each other for quite some time, being the newbies together. That’s how we grew our friendship over the years, and then they were just ready to sell and called and asked me first.”

She shared that things are going well with high occupancy rates.

“The campground has 214 total sites,” Marley noted. “Right now, there are 17 rental units. That’s anything between a full-service cabin, a bare-bones cabin and an RV rental trailer. We have about 195 RV sites.”

She said the RV sites are 30-amp and 50-amp and run larger than the average campground.

“Having bought it in November, we were very limited on what we could do between November and May,” Marley explained. “We added HVAC to our store, so we have heat in the fall and spring when it’s cold out and AC in the summer, which makes for a more enjoyable shopping experience.

“Our RV sites are big rig friendly, and quite frankly, they’re fairly large sites in general,” she added. “Grayling is known for the AuSable canoe races that are held every July and attracts people from all over the world. The fishing is an attraction as well and we are very close to Traverse City, about an hour away, so we do get visitors that come from there as well. We have some ATV trails that are right near the park, so people come in off their UTVs too.”

She explained that there are just under 30 total staff members at the park, two of which are full-time, year-round.

“Our new GM this year is Derek Schultz and he comes from a previous Jellystone and brings a wealth of knowledge,” Marley said. “He has been a good leader to the team, and I work closely with him as more of an absentee owner. I’ve got my hands in the fire as much as I want, but at the end of the day, Derek runs the day-to-day operations.”

She has about 10 staff in the maintenance department and five to six in the recreation department. Then our store and food service, all in the same building, is a cross-training area flexing 10 workers. With kids in mind, the store includes food service with hand-dipped ice cream and additional food options like pizzas and burgers.

“We also added a free-play game that is out by our playground called Wall Ball, and it’s essentially a maze game that kids can play and race another person,” Marley said. “We also added gem mining this year, so that’s been fun to see. We also introduced Z Tag, which is like a gunless laser tag with a watch that Velcro’s around the player’s wrist.”

Behnke Family Photo

Marley and Ryan Behnke, along with their kids.

She explained that the feedback has been phenomenal.

“People are over the moon about all of the array of activities and crafts that we offer,” Marley explained. “We keep kids busy, so I couldn’t have asked for better feedback so far this year. The pool is a big feature and then we’ve got a large playground, two Jumping Pillows and a Gaga Ball pit.”

Yogi is still better than an average bear for the kids.

“The kids love being up front where all of those Yogi and Boo Boo attractions are,” she shared. “And then of course we do have an outdoor mini theater where we’ll play Yogi Bear cartoons and family movies at night. I think the big thing that this park has been known for, which has been fun to see, is its elaborate glow dances. That was the one thing when we took over the park that we made sure to keep doing.”

The park has added a Hibernation Station and Cindy Bear Suite.

“It’s essentially a bears’ den, but we have a side that’s Cindy-specific and then we have another side of the cabin that is Yogi and Boo-Boo’s,” Marley highlighted. “For both of those experiences, every single day and every night kids have the opportunity to come into the Bears’ Den. We read one of the characters a story, and then the campers get to help tuck them in and say goodnight. After that’s all done, they are able to peer from the side window to look in and see the characters sleeping.”

She implemented express check-in so guests can come in and just drive right up.

“They don’t have to get out of their cars to go inside the office and check-in. This park never did that before,” Marley highlighted.

Looking to the future, Marley said she would like to add a multi-level water play structure in the next couple of years.

“We want to upgrade the electric and add more sites that offer sewer hookups,” she noted. “Ideally, we’d like to also add some more rental units. Those are the kind of things that are on our road map right now.”

To learn more about the park, click here.