By Ken Sturtz
A confluence of factors, including labor and a desire to retire, is pushing many mom and pop campground owners to consider selling their businesses
If you’ve ever daydreamed about tapping into the lucrative $5 billion outdoor camping industry by owning your own campground, one of these opportunities could be for you.
Three separate campgrounds in Oswego County have come up for sale this year. While commercial campgrounds do occasionally come on the market, it’s common for independent owners to start relatively small and grow their business over years or decades.
The properties came up for sale at a time of growth for the campground business.
Camping has seen a dramatic increase over the last two years due to the pandemic. An annual report commissioned by the Kampgrounds of America found that in 2021 camping accounted for 40% of all leisure trips with more than half of travelers including camping in part of their travel. RV use is also at an all-time high, with more than 11 million owners camping last year.
The largest of the properties is the 199-acre Carterville Acres Family Campground near Panther Lake in Amboy. A former Girl Scout camp, the current owners purchased the property about 15 years ago. It includes 10 cabins, 17 RV sites with and without hookups, and 15 tent sites.
Camping areas have bathhouses and indoor gathering halls. There’s also access to a pond with a beach and swimming area and a spot to launch canoes and kayaks as well as numerous trails. The campground includes a three-bedroom, 2 ½ bath house. The finished basement has a bar, sitting room, woodstove and outside entrance.
The property hasn’t been fully operational as a campground for a couple years, said Peter Martino, a broker with NY Outdoor Realty. The owners are at a point in their lives where they need to sell the campground, he said. In the past they typically only opened on weekends because they live out of town.
“So, they would come in on the weekends and open it up for family and friends and people that they found on Facebook and things like that,” Martino said.
That’s part of its charm. He said there would typically be about a dozen campers at a time and plenty of space between sites, which meant the campground offered a quiet, relaxing experience. At the same time, the size of the property and the amenities mean a new owner could expand the campground if they wanted.
“It’s got the potential for it,” he said. “It wouldn’t take much to get operational.”
The Cannon Fishing Lodge is located in Albion, about three miles outside Altmar and near the Salmon River. The property is just less than six acres but includes a 15-unit lodge, 29 RV sites and a house and apartment.
The rooms include private baths and the lodge has a recreation room and lounge, kitchen and housekeeping laundry facility (linens and laundry equipment come with the property). The RV sites come with bath house, shower and laundry access. Most of the sites have water hookups and some have septic hookups. There is also a dumping station in the RV park.
A two-bedroom, two-bath furnished house with attached two-car garage would allow the new owners or a manager to live on the property. An additional two-bedroom, two-bath furnished apartment is available for rent. There is also a 30-by-56 foot pole barn on site that’s used for storage.
The current owners have operated the lodge and campground for 17 years and are relocating to a home in Texas, said Robert Foster, a broker with CNY Select Realty. The property is being sold with all the furnishings and equipment needed to run the business. The RV park is fully rented and the lodge is typically fully booked a year in advance.
“It’s like turnkey, move in and start your business,” Foster said. “It’s already running and you already have bookings.”
The current owners have built “an extremely loyal clientele,” he said, and most of the RV campers have been coming there for years.
And there are opportunities to expand the business, he said. The campground is currently only open seasonally, closing after salmon season in the fall and reopening in the spring. The lodge could be open year-round, Foster, said, serving late fall and early spring guests as well as winter enthusiasts such as snowmobilers.
“So, there’s a lot of places for increasing your revenue,” he said.
The third campground is in the more populated town of Oswego, about five miles southwest of the city of Oswego. Yesterday’s RV Park opened in 2006. The 9-acre property includes four cabins, 28 RV sites and a 1,750-square-foot restaurant.
The cabins include queen beds and come with sinks, refrigerators, stoves, microwaves and TVs as well as heat and air-conditioning. The RV area includes a covered pavilion, bathhouses and dumping station.
There’s also an area for tent camping. The restaurant is not currently operating but comes fully equipped and with storage.
David Baron, of Coldwell Banker Prime Properties, said a sale is pending on the property.
A confluence of factors is pushing many mom and pop campground owners to consider selling their businesses. For one thing, there are new opportunities to cash in.
“What we’re seeing is a large group of corporations are coming in and offering pretty good pricing for some of the campgrounds,” said Donald Bennett Jr., president of the Campground Owners of New York.
Corporations buying up campgrounds isn’t new. Brennan Beach in Richland —the largest campground in the state with more than 1,300 sites — was owned by the same family for decades before being sold to corporate interests.
The pace of buying, however, has picked up. Bennett said corporations are drawn to existing campgrounds because their owners have worked the kinks out. They typically look for larger properties with a lot of campsites. For example, last year the 300-site, 65-acre Association Island campground on Lake Ontario in Jefferson County was sold to a publicly traded company after being owned by the same family for decades.
Willing buyers aren’t the only thing enticing campground owners to sell.
“The pandemic has stretched the independent business owner really thin,” Bennett said.
The influx of business has been a double-edged sword. New campers tend to need more attention and help from owners with things like backing in and setting up their RVs.
Other factors predate the pandemic, Bennett said. The campground business in New York is seasonal and demanding. Many mom and pop owners and their staff work seven days a week for five months during camping season.
Campground owners are also aging and have been thinking about retirement. There might not be a second generation in the family that is willing or able to take over the business.
“It’s kind of been the perfect storm for some of those folks to get out of the business, retire and sell the property and be able to move on to the next chapter of their lives,” Bennett said.
More For Sale
Carterville Acres Family Campground
79 Birmingham Drive, Camden (Amboy)
asking price: $898,900
agent: Peter Martino,
NY Outdoor Realty
Cannon Fishing Lodge
614 County Route 48, Altmar (Albion)
asking price: $999,900
agent: Robert Foster,
CNY Select Realty
Yesterday’s RV Park
7669 State Route 104, Oswego
asking price: Sale Pending
agent: David Baron,
Coldwell Banker Prime Properties