PHOENIX, Ariz. – Scott Swanson, owner of the Gila Bend KOA Journey in Gila Bend, Arizona, received the prestigious Kampgrounds of America 2018 Rising Star Award during KOA’s Annual International Convention Friday in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Gila Bend KOA Journey was selected for the honor from among more than 500 KOA locations in the United States and Canada.
Since Swanson and his mother purchased the Arizona campground in September 2015, they have been busy transforming it into an inviting snowbird destination and overnight park for travelers.
He said one of their first and best decisions was to affiliate with KOA, which provided the marketing, website and “safe harbor” that comes with the partnership.
“I’m in the middle of nowhere, so there was a need to become associated with something that has a sense of security and high-value standards,” Swanson said. “If you’re driving down the street and only see a purple sign for Dougie’s RV Park, maybe you go another hour to Yuma or Casa Grande.”
“I needed them, so I was thrilled with the fact that they would entertain me to become part of KOA,” a brand that has RVers saying, “Let’s follow that yellow sign.”
Beyond its reputation, KOA also adds value to the campground by providing technical support, a reservation system and business advice, he said.
The relationship with KOA and a flurry of campground investments has boosted business in a big way. Swanson said occupancy jumped 60 percent from the 2015-16 season to 2016-17. The 130-site, 25-acre campground recorded five sold-out nights in February.
He sets aside 60 back-in sites for snowbirds and has 40 pull-throughs for overnighters. He also has four deluxe tent sites. One tent site is built to American With Disability Act (ADA) standards and has an elevated tent pad and ramp for wheelchair access.
A new bathhouse and the campground’s first pool (designed with water aerobics in mind) opened this fall. The bathhouse features men’s and women’s restrooms and showers.
Two unisex bathrooms with showers are off the pool area along with one ADA-compliant family restroom with shower. There’s also a 6-by-9-foot room with a stainless-steel dog-washing station complete with a hair dryer.
A new 2,500 square-foot veranda is now open, cable-TV and Wi-Fi networks have been installed and facility improvements and landscaping have been completed.
One of the first improvements was a Kamp K9 upgrade. Over the years, Swanson and his dog, Winston, visited dozens of campgrounds across the country, researching what works and doesn’t work, and he said they know what a good off-leash dog park needs.
Consistent with their desert ranch theme, he built three corrals for Kamp K9. A sign for all-dirt Corral No. 1 says it is reserved for “non-social dogs and non-social owners.” The other two corrals provide access to dirt and grassy areas.
“Scott has been a great new owner to work with,” said Isabel Frederick, business development consultant for KOA. “His energy and attention to detail is second to none.”
“He has made some major investments in the campground, but being the smart business man he is, he knows it will pay off in the long run,” she said.
“He is also very adamant that his campground is ADA friendly – from making an ADA accessible tent site to his plans on making his playground ADA friendly as well,” Frederick said. “I continually use him as an example to my new owners and recommend they contact him. He is more than willing to share his ideas, successes and failures.”
Swanson became a KOA campground owner after 20 years as a freelance TV producer. Swanson left Hollywood in 2010 to manage the family-owned campground in Buckeye, Ariz. He said he grew to love the business and he and his mom decided to buy the Gila Bend property in 2015.
After the Buckeye park was sold in 2016, Swanson and his mother, who lives 75 miles away in Scottsdale, decided to invest in more improvements at the Gila Bend property.
Yet with all of his remodeling, Swanson said he wants to remain true to the colors and character of the Sonoran Desert.
His master plan calls for developing a “Reptile & Arachnid Encounter,” a facility to display the creatures of the desert.
He envisions small building full of terrariums for snakes, lizards, spiders, toads and even Gila monsters. He and an associate have earned Venomous Snake Handler’s Certificates from the Phoenix Herpetological Society, training that comes in handy for relocating snakes from the property, not killing them.
In 2018, he’d like to build a small tortoise sanctuary. Creating a botanical garden is planned for 2019, working with students at the Landscape Architecture Design School at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
In 2020, Swanson would like to construct a small six-person observatory featuring a telescope for travelers to scan the dark skies over Gila Bend.
“The Gila Bend KOA is my backyard, and the guest that stay here are my guests,” he said. “There are lots of things to see and learn about our region.”
“Our Rising Star Award is intended to spotlight campground owners who are relatively new to campground ownership, but who have embraced the lifestyle and are doing everything right,” said KOA President and CEO Pat Hittmeier. “Scott Swanson and his Gila Bend KOA Journey are perfect role models for our other new owners. It’s obvious that he loves his KOA campers and his park.”
To find out more about the Gila Bend KOA Journey – KOA’s Rising Star Award Winner for 2018 – go to https://koa.com/campgrounds/gila-bend/.
For more on the KOA system of 500 campgrounds throughout North America, go to www.KOA.com.
SOURCE: Kampgrounds of America press release