The summer of 2016 was certainly a great one for us at Voyageur's View, as we dealt with more and more families and just generally great individuals of all sorts. We had far too many rainy Saturdays, so our overall numbers were certainly down compared to what they have been in the past, but as we make a concentrated effort to provide a better camping experience for all, the experience is becoming a better one for our guests, our staff, ourselves and we'd like to think, our community. But our transition hasn’t been an easy one...
When Christopher Ingraham first came to town last summer I spent some time discussing with him how our campground had once been known as a "party" campground and that we had really been doing our best to make it more favorable for families and just anyone who was looking for a great camping experience and he asked me, "How? How do you go from a party atmosphere like that to a family friendly one?" and that question certainly gave me pause.
Ten years ago we decided that we had had enough of the crazy antics of some of the individuals who kept coming to our campground. We were certainly starting to get older (although I was only 23 at the time), but more than that, we knew that we had a beautiful facility that our parents had worked so hard to make a reality and we didn't like seeing people come in and destroy it. I would also say that it was pretty safe to say that a lot of the community did not respond favorably to our crowds or our operation. We knew that we didn't want to keep running it the same way, but the question first arose then.
How do you turn a "party" campground into a family friendly one?Well the answer had to start with the problem. How do we eliminate the individuals and groups who just want to come and destroy the place, party and leave? For those of you who remember how the place used to look mid weekend, there would be tents all the way out to the road and garbage would be flying all over the place as the clientele at that time did not care how the place looked. So we started with that issue. We started by cutting back the number of sites that we rented for our busiest weekends a little each year. We then would make golf cart trips around the campground to remind people to make sure they were using their garbage barrels and bags so that their garbage wasn't blowing around everywhere. It seemed like a pretty simple request, but when we would come back later, the garbage would still be flying all over the place. So our next step was to tell these individuals that they now had 30 minutes to pick up their garbage or they would be told to leave our campground.
I know it seems a little harsh, but we needed to take a stand against the elements that were ruining our beautiful park and garbage was certainly an easy thing for individuals to keep track of, and after getting a warning such as that, it should be easy enough to get your crew to grab a couple pieces here and there and pick up your site. But if they didn't have it picked up in the allotted time, well, you never get anywhere with idle threats, so we evicted sites.
It is important to note, too, that at this point we still were not taking any sort of damage deposit for our sites; it wasn't until our sister started insisting on taking a credit card imprint to make sure the sites got clean that we had any other sort of recourse than to remove individuals. If you ever drove by after a long weekend and saw our crew out picking up heaps and heaps of garbage, it was all done by individuals who paid less than $12 per site.
I could go on and on about the horror stories of how asking people to pick up their garbage would even lead to fist fights and the involvement of the very awesome Sheriff's Office we have here in Red Lake County, but suffice it to say that without steadfast determination to vastly improve the atmosphere of our campground, there is no way we would still be around.
Our security personnel back in the day (which usually consisted of our dad, Ryan, myself and few awesome local friends) really should have been getting hazard pay. They didn't take a lot of crap from the really bad people they were dealing with, but because of that, they made it known pretty loud and clear that certain behavior would no longer be tolerated at our facility. Patrick Swayze's Road House character certainly could have been inspired by some of these awesome guys that we had working for us!
So we kept dwindling the numbers of our campsites until we got to what we felt was a manageable number, where we didn't need a staff of 10 - 12 guys at night to ensure things weren't getting burned down and our security crew got a bit tamer.
We next had a great crew who had some military and law enforcement background who took the reins for us, as we had started to see a decline in the individuals who were only coming to destroy stuff and started to deal with more individuals who had serious attitude problems. This group of security was awesome because not only were they good at conversing with our guests, but when a problem did arise they knew the legal code and were able to assist our local law enforcement in not only making sure any perpetrators were being caught, but that they were also being prosecuted.
Who wants to come back to a place where you actually have accountability anyway?
We seriously can't thank all of the crews that came before enough; they paved the way for our new breed of security guards, who are certainly more on the customer service realm of the spectrum than anything else. They are as personable as you could hope for and they also have a background in bouncing at bars around the area so they have had their share of dealings with intoxicated individuals.
It doesn't really seem to matter what you do, or where you camp, chances are you're going to run into individuals who have had a few drinks. Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is not an issue, most people are pretty fun loving and respectful regardless of their impaired state, but every now and again, we still get groups or individuals who push the boundaries a little too far, and only in extreme cases do we ask any of these groups to leave the night of an incident. Our general rule now is to make sure the group is in bed, not being a pain for the groups around them and then we go and speak with them in the morning to tell them that they are no longer welcome at our facility. We then speak with the groups surrounding the problem site and let them know what the situation is, and try and reassure the other groups that this is an isolated incident rather than the norm. More times than not, we will also refund the groups around the problem site so they know how seriously sorry we are that they had to put up with the rude behavior of the other campers.
So after explaining all of this to Chris, we then had a few weekends where we dealt with some real jerks. They were removed from our facility for various infractions of our rules and were certainly very rude to our staff and other campers while they stayed with us and on their exit from our facility.
In the past we would deal with these individuals while we were removing them, lose a night or two of sleep over it, and then just get back to dealing with great individuals. But those times of only dealing with these jerks at our facility appear to be over, as the new generation of (excuse my French) assholes, are now taking to the internet to bash our (and I'm sure every other) company for not allowing them to do whatever the hell they want.
We saw it all this year from false allegations of sexual assault, to made up user names and emails to leave multiple reviews to hurt our overall rating, to a really classy group who tried to target the family market by claiming they had been down to our facility with their families and had a terrible experience because of our rude staff and terrible facilities.
The good news is that we have a lot of individuals who come to our facility once a week (if not more) all summer long. Groups who have been coming since we opened in 1985, who once brought their wedding party but now bring their grand kids. We also know that we maintain our facilities better than most campgrounds because the thing is not a business to us, but another part of our family. As far as our staff goes, these reviewers better watch out because we have the absolute best kids that work for us. Saying something bad about them is not a wise thing to do. We have always been a family business and those kids (a lot of them are kids of individuals who will read this) are like little brothers and sisters to us (maybe kids as we're no longer that young I guess!).
We've tried to provide a family type atmosphere to our guests because our end of the operation has always been a family atmosphere. The kids that worked for our parents in 1985 still come back to check on our dad as well as tell stories of our mom. They come to see the place where they probably had their first job, and second family. We'd like to think that it's the same reason that our guests return year after year, and week after week.
For years we had it listed on our website that we did not recommend our activity for families on the weekends due to the crowd we drew. There are still remnants of that crowd that we are working diligently on removing (damn the reviews!) but this year we re-did our website and removed that as well as told a little more of our story, to let people know that we are a family run operation that encourages family to take part in our activity.
Maybe it was the fact that we lost our mom far too early or the fact that when that happened, those same wonderful kids that we consider brothers and sisters took over the operation for us so we could grieve. Maybe it’s the fact that although many businesses are brick and mortar, ours has many moving parts including a heart that beats stronger everyday with the wonderful guests and staff we get to call friends and family.
Ask me how you change a "party" campground into a family campground and I certainly won't have any direct answer, but for us it's always been one and we won't stop improving the atmosphere until it feels the same way for all of our great guests. Partiers, Internet Trolls, and everything else I'm sure we'll see in the years to come are but side notes to the unbelievable people we get to serve and work beside every day. Plus, there is no state more beautiful as the one we live in, and the natural beauty of Red Lake Falls certainly sells itself, just ask Chris, Bri, Jack and Charles Ingraham!