The following On Campgrounds column by Bob Ashley appears in January’s Woodall’s Campground Management.
January means that Florida campground owners are enjoying the arrival of Northern snowbirds to roost in warmer climes of the south.
Having come under new ownership on Dec. 1, at newly named 105-site Compass RV Park (formerly Indian Forest Campground) four miles west of historic St. Augustine, the opening of the winter season is even more hectic.
“We are installing a new laundry facility and an activity room, and we’ve already added cable to all the sites,” said Manager Jes Santaularia. “And we converted a paper reservation system to a computer system. In just four days since the site has been up, we’ve already had seven or eight reservations.”
That doesn’t include the 60 or so reservations that have come the park’s way directly over the phone or through referrals from other St. Augustine-area campgrounds that were booked for the season. “We’ve already book almost 2,000 camping nights,” Santaularia said.
Owner Patricia Glass said other improvements are on the way that include running sewers to 12 sites that are without, purchasing two cabinlike park models to rent, covering grass sites with gravel and adding patios to some of the sites, building a camp store and common fire pit with stage and turning the former owner’s adjacent home into a clubhouse and fitness center.
“We expect to get a lot of rallies and people like to have someplace where they can gather,” she said.
“When we bought this park, it had no amenities and no scheduled activities,” said Santaularia, who expects to soon hire an activities director.
The park’s location is not an accident.
Although the couple is from the Sarasota area, they’ve spent a lot time looking at parks as they’ve traveled throughout the country during the last few years.
“We bought a motorhome and hung around at parks through the country — some good, some bad,” Glass said. “We wanted to take the best that we’ve seen around the country so that people have a reason to come here. St. Augustine already is a destination city. We wanted to make this a destination park.
“We came up with Compass RV Park because we’ve traveled a lot in all sorts of directions. A compass symbolizes a journey. We want to help get on with their journey, whether it’s for one night, a week or a month.”
With 5 million visitors to the area each year and campsites and hotel rooms at a premium, Santaularia and Glass expect the park to be full, particularly in the winter months.
“This year, because we are new, we expect from Christmas through mid-April that we will be reasonably full,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of room to grow. We are the ‘last resort’ right now, because the other campgrounds in St. Augustine are full. We are getting a lot of referrals.”
And then there’s the summer crowd.
“During the summer, 75% of the people who come to St. Augustine are from Florida and looking to go to the beaches,” Santaularia said. “And a lot of them have RVs.”