Forest Lake Campground

Forest Lake Campground has been improved over the years and remains busy during the summer months.

There is something to be said for going out at the top of your game. Barbara and Bill Mirch bought Forest Lake Campgrounds in Windsor, N.Y., eight years ago and sold it this year to its new owners Pete and Drema Heffernan.

The Mirch’s saw a trend of others selling at the top of a booming market and decided to follow suit. Campgrounds all over the country are selling as new owners see increased reservations.

“All of the campgrounds in our area have been sold within the last couple of years,” said Barbara. “Four campgrounds in the area now have new owners, which is great. It brings new ideas, new activities and new excitement.

“Most people got older and I do think the owners tend to get a little burned out,” she added. “For us, we bought it when it was kind of run down and we fixed it up. After eight years we were ready for a different project.”

Barbara Mirch said many owners in the area had reached retirement age.

“Most of the other people had owned their parks for a long time and they retired,” she reported. “Others are getting out while things are good. We have a huge waiting list, however, it has been eight years of not going to any family functions on the weekends through the summer, and we’re ready to travel more. We wanted to not be tied down. But again, we bought it as a project and we completed it. We got it up to where it needed to be and filled it up, and now we are ready to pass the baton.”

The Heffernans moved north to New York from Knoxville, Tenn. Windsor is just south of Syracuse, on the edge of the Catskills. It’s a small town.

Pete had been the president of a stage and theatrical event company. He started as a roadie driving a truck for the Kenny Rogers tours years ago. Drema retired from being a surgical nurse to enter the campground industry with this new purchase last January. The Heffernans interest in RVs was spurred when Pete ran for congress in Tenn. a few years ago and traveled his district in a motorhome telling his wife, “Honey, if I don’t win this primary then we are headed to California on vacation.”

The couple then proceeded to the West Coast after he lost the race.

“We really have enjoyed our first season of ownership,” said Pete. “This is our first time owning a campground and up here in New York State it is absolutely beautiful. Since we came from Tennessee I was a little taken back by the snow we had here last April.

“The actual process of purchasing a campground is a little more complicated in New York State than probably anywhere else,” he added. “The seller, buyer and bank all have to have attorneys. All three must be involved and that’s the way New York requires it. But the actual campground ownership has been very nice. We looked at over 20 campgrounds from Georgia to here. We were looking for a way to retire where it would be interesting, fun and we could have part of the year off.”

The campground is now open from May 1 to Oct. 15.

Over eight years of ownership, the Mirchs’ made major improvements to the campground that ultimately made it more saleable.

“The previous owner had passed away,” she explained. “The last few years she owned it she really didn’t do anything. We started with fixing up the roads and putting in more sites. We had a lot of land, and we put in winter ice sites so that we could keep it open year-round. We had a lot of oil fracking at the time so the pipeline workers were here. We totally redid the bathhouse, the game room and gave the pavilion a cement floor. Nothing exciting or glamorous, but we just went around and gave the whole place a basic facelift. In addition, we put in fiber-optic Wi-fi.”

According to Mirch, all these improvements were made with the ultimate goal of selling sometime in the future.

The Heffernans are already planning improvements to the park.

“We are going to add some more camping sites and build a dog park,” Pete said. “We are also going to add more activities for the campers to do this coming year. And we are going to resurface the roads a little, but they were in good shape when we got here.”

Instead of pipeline workers, the Heffernans are benefiting from year-round residents in their winterized sites from another energy source, noted Pete.

“This year there are construction workers up here building windmills, so we kept the park partially open for that,” he said. “That’s been an extra because the park had been closed in the winter over the last few years.”

Coming in during a camping boom has helped the Heffernans with cash flow.

Forest Lake Campground

Forest Lake Campground’s new owners plan to expand the park and add more sites.

“We were booked to capacity and had a waiting list as far as seasonal campers go,” said Pete. “The nice thing about this park is it has a nice lake with largemouth bass and the way that the park is situated the sites have a lot of room instead of stacked like cordwood. It’s the reason we picked it because it would have been our favorite when we were RVing.”

The campground now has 92 sites on 118 acres with a 22-acre, stocked lake included.

Pete shared advice for those interested in purchasing a campground.

“Take your time and realize it is going to take about a year or two to get it done,” he advised. “Do lots of research and find a really good broker and listen to them. They have a lot more experience than you do. We had a great broker and she understood what the industry was. Most people just know RVing and that is not enough. We also tried to keep the staff here so campers did not think that things were going to change drastically.”

Not everyone can work with their spouse and Pete shared insights on this aspect of the business.

“This is the first time we have actually worked together,” he stated. “It has been a lot of fun. We made sure to split up the responsibilities, and that has worked out really well. You have to start with a strong relationship to be able to work with your spouse. Especially in this industry where you are working 24 hours a day.”

“Make sure that you have the skills needed,” Barbara advised. “It’s kind of like owning a large home on steroids. You need to be able to do a little electrical work, plumbing and problem-solving. You have to like people. You have to be a jack-of-all-trades. If you have the right skills, it’s for you. I liken it to wanting to own a bar. It sounds like fun, but it’s still a lot of work with a lot of moving pieces. And owning it’s not the same as going to it.”

But she shared that there is a joy to campground ownership.

“By far the number one thing is the wonderful people that we met,” Barbara shared. “Some great, great people we really got to know. And for us, it was interesting. We’d lived in the area for 30 years and all of a sudden we did everything local. When we had to hire a plumber, an electrician, when we had to do site work, local folks were all we hired which was great.

“It’s bittersweet because now we’re now free,” she continued. “My husband and I are traveling more and our schedule is more flexible, but we do miss the people.”