A Golden Investment

By Amber Thill

The Clear Creek RV Park has been owned and operated by the city of Golden, Colo., for over 20 years. Located in the heart of the city, it is nestled along the bubbling sounds of Clear Creek next to a community recreation center and a short walk from the quaint downtown. Golden is most famously known as the home of Coors Brewery, a popular tourist destination. The park has enjoyed several successful years due to the demand for RV sites in he state, the recent growth of the industry, and its ideal location.

In 2011, the City of Golden adopted a master plan for the Clear Creek corridor. The purpose of the plan was to enhance parkland, expand recreation opportunities, and create an integrated corridor. Space is at a premium in Golden, and many people envisioned alternative amenities in the park’s desirable creekside location. The choices were keeping the RV Park, removing it, and/or seeking alternative amenities for the area. Staff also surveyed existing park users and various stakeholders along the corridor. The area, however, was limited on affordable options for visitors (especially those looking to camp or RV), the park was drawing repeat visitors, and several local residents were using the park on the weekends as a getaway or staycation for themselves and/or visiting relatives. Ultimately, there was more support for keeping the RV park right where it is.

Because Clear Creek RV Park has been in transition over the last two years, it has experienced a small decline in revenue. Acknowledging the need for change and reinvention, RV staff members decided to find ways to make the park not only a better place to visit, but also an amenity that could hold its own when long-term viability came into question.

Asking QuestionsOne of the most important questions a park administrator can ask is, “Why is the park currently attracting visitors?” and “How can the park attract more visitors?” The tougher question is, “What makes other nearby amenities more desirable for visitors?” 

After surveying past guests and completing market research, the results were in. The RV park was extremely affordable compared to the local competition; the park offered a more desirable location but had fewer amenities than its competitors, such as a pool or playground. Facilities were run down, and there were problems with freezing water lines in the winter season. Staff, however, received rave reviews in customer service, and over 60 percent of the park’s guests were repeat visitors.

Staff took these results and held several strategic-planning meetings. How could staff members make sure what they believe was also what the park’s customers were seeking, matching their beliefs about an ideal parking spot for their RV?

Solving Problems
Maintenance became one of the most important priorities at the park, along with customer service and attracting new visitors. To keep costs down, the park utilizes internal city maintenance staff for daily cleanings and community-service volunteers to keep the park in tip-top shape. Staff also added a professional cleaning service on Saturdays. Capital projects included a renovation of the main office and burying a water line for 11 full-hookup sites to prevent freezing.

The Golden Community Center is a facility with multiple playgrounds across the street from the RV park. This allows guests of the park to purchase passes and punch cards at a resident rate to use the facilities, which include a 5,000-square-foot fitness room, a climbing wall, leisure and lap pools, locker rooms, and a lounge area.

Next, staff discussed at length how to reorganize the schedule. For example, the busiest hours were from 8 a.m. to noon during the summer season. It was determined that scheduling two staff members instead of one in the mornings allowed for shorter shifts, fresher minds, and better service. The RV park also modified summer season hours (June through August) to open later but also to close an hour later to accommodate guests arriving in the evening.

Staff closely studied the market in the Golden area. Having previously determined that the park was very affordable, the staff also discovered guests enjoyed having one fee with minimal extra charges for parking, dogs, electric service, etc. With approval from city council, the park raised site fees incrementally (10 to 15 percent) while keeping the winter monthly rates low (many winter guests are low income) and charging a higher fee in the summer season for more desirable creekside sites. Even with increased fees, the RV park was within the market price range of nearby competitors.

Other modifications to the park operations included trimming trees and adding another Wi-Fi beacon to provide better service and bandwidth so guests never have to disconnect. According to Campground Management, Wi-Fi is ranked the number-one amenity RVers are looking for in a park.

Lastly, and one of the most important changes, staff created a brand for the park in 2014, including a new logo, signage, uniforms and nametags, a new website (www.clearcreekrvpark.com), and the introduction of online reservations, which reduces the workload of staff, are convenient, and provide better customer service 24 hours a day. Once the brand platform was built for the new and improved Clear Creek RV Park, staff ensured the word was out. The park became the number-two “Specialty Lodging in Golden, Colo.” on Trip Advisor. A Facebook page was created to showcase the park and provide information about Golden to followers. A Google profile made the park easier to find online, and reviews on Yelp, Facebook, and Trip Advisor reassured potential guests they were coming to the right place!

Making Money
In 2013, the Clear Creek RV Park exceeded its annual revenue projection by $17,371.04 for a net profit of $167,035.56. In November 2014, the park shut down the 11 full-hookup sites for a month to bury the water line. The result was an estimated loss of $10,000. Even so, 2014 revenue increased by $13,331 over 2013 for a net profit of $215,748! The park is also contributing to keeping Golden a wonderful place in which to live, work, and play. The park is funded within the city’s general fund so revenue generated contributes to parks, forestry, and other maintenance services in the city, making the park a smart investment for taxpayers.

Building An RV Park
What advice do staff members of the park have for public agencies interested in building an RV park or campground? First, study the market in your location. Then put yourself in an RVer’s wheels and decide if you can offer a park-like setting that is a desirable place to stay but also is convenient to daily amenities, such as playgrounds, trails, dog parks, restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Can you provide a good connection and the bandwidth to handle large downloads on your Wi-Fi?

Each year, the RV park receives more requests for monthly winter sites. Can you provide full hookup sites with buried water lines should freezing be a possibility in your location? Can you ensure clean laundry rooms, bathrooms, and excellent customer service? Always remember the little things count. For example, at Clear Creek RV Park, staff has three full-hookup sites that need an especially long hose to reach the water hydrant. The park provides 50-foot insulated water hoses that can be checked out with a credit card for those campsites that need the extra length. The remodeled main office also provides free coffee on summer mornings to guests who want to enjoy a hot beverage and friendly conversation.

Lastly, be sure your fees are structured appropriately. How do they compare to those of competitors? Do you have sites that are more desirable than others? Can you add additional sites or make electric sites full-hookup?  How is your market reach? A new park could benefit from joining the Good Sam Network to direct customers to the park. (www.goodsamclub.com)

In Colorado, you absolutely must be dog-friendly. Welcome the dogs; after all, they are family. Just be sure to have rules in place for dogs and the ability to enforce the rules. At the Clear Creek RV Park, rangers patrol the entire corridor, and fines are set for dog violations.

Future strategic initiatives for the park include the possibility of camp hosts and the integration of iPads to allow staff to check guests in and out at their site. For more information about the Clear Creek RV Park, visit www.clearcreekrvpark.com.

Amber Thill is the Parks and Recreation Analyst and Clear Creek RV Park Manager for the city of Golden, Colo. Reach her at athill@cityofgolden.net.