Set in the rolling green hills in the center of Michigan just north of Mount Pleasant and south of Houghton Lake, Countryside Campground and Cabins is a 74-site facility with four cabins owned by Jon and Leah Vanrhee.
Jon Vanrhee shared that his area in Michigan transitions from the plains in the south of the state to the hill country that continues north to the bridge.
“They call us the gateway to the north,” stated Jon. “The hills start rolling pretty good in this area and we’ve got lots of lakes in the area. We get some fishermen that camp but I wouldn’t say that is our primary customer. Most of our folks are there to relax and sightsee. We got a lot of Amish in our area and they like going to the Amish stores, bakeries, crafts, delis and things of that nature.”
He said other campers are four-wheelers that take advantage of a trailhead north of the campground. Many are families that come in with side-by-sides. Golfers are also big with many fine courses in the area.
“We’ve got probably 20 pull-throughs that are transient sites,” Jon explained about the types of sites he offers. “And then we’ve got about 20 pull-throughs that are seasonal sites. The rest are all back in. We’re a grassy campground. We don’t have concrete pads, we don’t have a lot of gravel except the roads and some of the pads.
“The demographic was a little bit older camper when we first bought the campground four years ago,” he added. “But not so much now. We’re pretty family-friendly now and the majority of our campers are young family folks.”
Jon and Leah operate the campground with minimal staff that they source from workamper.com.
“We look at resumes in there and we see people who we think might make a good fit. But as I’m sure you’ve heard from other people, work campers are a struggle to get,” Jon explained. “We try to keep a work camper couple and then we’ve got a single work camper lady that puts in about 40 hours a week. That’s about it to run the campground and make some progress. If we have fewer staff than that we don’t really gain any ground on maintenance and improvements.”
Jon stated that 2022 was another record year for their business.
“It was excellent and we’ve made gains every year for the last four years. So, we’re happy,” he explained. “We start taking reservations in January and our phone rings off the hook till February. It slows down in March because we’re already booked out for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, and we’ve got a good head start on Labor Day.”
Countryside Campground and Cabins opens May 1 and closes around the middle of October, according to Vanrhee.
“We close because it’s too darn cold and nobody’s interested in camping except hunters,” Jon noted. “Things fall off right after Labor Day. We do quite a bit of business with a couple of Halloween weekends for the last week in September and the first weekend in October. We get 25 families on each of those weekends. Other than that, September’s a pretty quiet month and October’s just plain dead.”
The couple has invested a lot of capital back into their park over the past several years.
“We added a pool heater and the playground was kind of ancient, so we’ve added a new playground,” Jon reported. “We’ve replaced lots of utility fixtures and things of that nature. We’ve replaced probably almost every piece of equipment since we’ve been here. New lawnmowers and tractors. We now have a dog park that we’re looking forward to improving on as well.”
When it comes to accommodations he had two basic cabins four years ago and now has two more deluxe cabins.
“We’ve added a couple of deluxe cabins with bathrooms and kitchens in them, and people just absolutely love those things,” Jon explained. “The two with the bathrooms and kitchens are booked every single weekend and a lot of the weekdays, but the little rustic cabins, they are full every weekend but not so much on the weekdays.”
He sees campers demanding great Wi-Fi and a heated pool with a nice pool deck, tables, chairs and umbrellas.
“Of course, from our perspective, we’d love to have a brand new pool twice the size of the old one, but we really don’t have many other expectations from campers,” Jon added. “They would like to see more cabins. We get a lot of big family groups. Those folks have RVs, but then they’ve got relatives that don’t have campers. So, they need a place to stay too.”
Types of RVs trending in Michigan’s northland are Super C’s, according to Jon.
“Not so much the Sprinter chassis as down south,” he commented. “These Super C’s, they’re on a Freightliner chassis. People go from Class B to Class A and then downsize a little to want something that drives really nice, but they want the room of a Class A. They’ll get a 40-foot Super-C and we’re seeing a lot more of them every year.”