Santee Lakes rental offerings sit on the water.

Nestled in the mountains about 20 minutes outside of San Diego, Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve & Campground in Santee, Calif., recently received the 2013 Large Park of the Year and Plan It Green awards from the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) for excellence in business and environmentally conscious practices. The 190-acre property includes seven stocked lakes, 300 full-hookup RV sites, 312 RV storage sites and 10 cabins – seven waterfront and three “floating” – with full kitchens, flat-screen TVs and climate control.

In looking at what’s different about this campground, the first peculiarity is its location – it’s smack in the middle of a densely residential area. “When we call ourselves ‘San Diego’s Best Backyard,’ we’re typically being serious because we really are in people’s back yards,” said Johnathan Skinner, director of Santee Lakes. In the same vein of literalism, when the campground’s website proclaims there’s “something for everyone,” they mean that too. You can go for a few hours or a few months. You can park your RV for winter storage or park your tush for fishing. You can get wet or you can get married. Santee Lakes likes to be all things to all people.

This might describe plenty of campgrounds in North America, but there are a few things that stand out about this place, such as Santee Lakes’ efforts to allow people of all capabilities to enjoy the park. Handicapped-friendly cabins are available and children with disabilities can play at the Kiwanis Playground. The local Lions Club helped coordinate the construction of Lions Pier, where wheelchair-bound visitors can safely and easily enjoy fishing from the well-stocked lakes, and the Lions Sensory Garden for the visually impaired. This garden features plants and flowers that are fragrant and interesting to touch, such as spearmint, rosemary, pineapple sage, English lavender and plump Arctic roses. Plaques in Braille and English dot the garden to tell visitors about the plants with which they’re interacting.

Another thing that’s quite unusual about Santee Lakes is its ownership and management structure. While the property is technically government-owned under the Padre Dam Municipal Water District umbrella, it does not receive any government funds. “We’re a quasi-government entity, but we don’t receive any taxpayer money,” Skinner said. “All the money we operate on is money that’s generated here at the park.”

The staff looked at what Santee Lakes had to offer and what else could be made out of it, and to whom. They re-emphasized the amphitheater, reservable picnic areas and gazebos that could be rented for meetings and special occasions, and they launched a comprehensive social media and online marketing campaign to cast a wider net for the family and naturist segments.

“We revamped our entire website in the last part of 2013 and added more visual elements. There are videos we’ve created that demonstrate the activities we have, both in the day-use and camping areas and also for our special events. We’re really heavily on Facebook and just hit 3,300 likes, where I’d say about two years ago we had maybe 200. So we’ve done a lot to do promotions on Facebook and social media,” Skinner described, including Pinterest and Twitter.

For the full profile of Santee Lakes, pick up Feburary’s issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.

To read their award-application writer’s tips on how to increase your campground’s chances of winning, click here.