ESTES PARK, Colo., — Rick Spear and his wife, Shelly, were barely into their 30s when they purchased the Jellystone Park in Estes Park from Rick’s parents.
But in the seven years that the Spears have owned and operated the park, they’ve increased their business by 50 percent, demonstrated exemplary park management techniques and served on education and advisory committees to help other Jellystone Parks across the country.
In recognition of their efforts, the Spears won the Camp-Resort of the Year Award for the Western Region as well as the Jim Webb Spirit Award from Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), the Milford, Ohio-based company that franchises 80 Jellystone Parks across the U.S. and Canada.
The Regional Camp-Resort of the Year Award is LSI’s highest honor at the regional level. It is given to Camp-Resorts whose facilities and operations exceed all Jellystone Park standards. Recipients must be Pinnacle Club members, meaning they rate 95 percent or higher on the annual LSI assessment of their facilities and operations. Award recipients also must have achieved strong growth in business, implemented sustained improvements and be leaders in the industry.
The Jim Webb Spirit Award is presented to park operators who have played a major role in the success of the Jellystone Park franchise network.
“Being part of the Jellystone Park network has been great for our campground,” Rick Spear said, adding, “There are a lot of campgrounds in Estes Park because of the tourism industry here. But Jellystone helped us differentiate ourselves from the other parks in the area and the value we give to our customers.”
Only Jellystone Parks have Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, and children love to interact with them. Jellystone Parks are also famous for providing fun, family activities and themed weekends that include everything from crafts and games to wagon rides.
Themed weekend activities at the Estes Park location, which typically run from May through September, include 80’s, Mardi Gras and Carnival themed weekends with cookouts, dances and parades, while a Chocolate Lover’s Weekend features chocolate pudding Slip N Slides.
A Christmas in July weekend features campsite decorating contests, campsite caroling as well as cookie and ornament making activities. The increasingly popular Halloween themed weekends include costume and campsite decorating contests, trick or treating and haunted hikes.
“Families are always looking for a fun, clean and safe place to camp,” Spear said, adding, “Yogi Bear helps provide that recognition across all generations that we are a fun and entertaining campground where all are welcome.”
Spear was only a year into his studies at Colorado State University when he started working for his parents, Tony and Kathy Palmeri, at the Estes Park campground. “I would work for my folks during the summer breaks,” he said. “That’s where I discovered my passion for the campground industry.”
Rick met Shelly at the campground when her family had a seasonal campsite there. Their friendship evolved into marriage and the Spears wound up managing the campground for several years before they bought the park from Rick’s parents in 2011.
“We had this experience managing the campground before we decided to buy it,” Rick said, “so we knew what we were getting into.”
But since they purchased the park, the Spears have made lots of improvements and found innovative ways to grow their business, one of which was converting the three-bedroom, 2,000-square foot house that Rick’s parents used to live in into a family reunion cabin.
“We moved into the basement and rented out the house,” he said, adding, “It has three bedrooms and can sleep 14. It definitely helps with family reunions in the summertime.”
In 2012, the Spears added a new game room and a mining sluice to the campground. In 2013, they added laser tag, and in 2015 they installed four more cabins.
Their investments have paid off.
“We are over 80 percent full from Father’s Day to August 10th, even during the week,” Spear said, adding that families come to enjoy the park’s organized activities as well as to visit neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park.
Spear said the summer camping season in Estes Park seems to be starting earlier and finishing stronger. The Jellystone Park in Estes now offers four consecutive Halloween themed weekends in September.
But in addition to running their own campground, the Spears also find time to help other park operators in the Jellystone Park network, which is why they were selected to receive the Jim Webb Spirit Award.
“We try to be team players,” Rick Spear said, adding that he has volunteered on the Yogi Advisory Council in addition to serving on an informal education committee to provide LSI with guidance on educational programs and workshops that will provide the greatest benefits to Jellystone Park franchisees.
Looking to the future, the Spears plan to spend the next several months building a new barn to store their maintenance equipment and supplies. They also plan to install full hookup campsites in the park’s tent camping area so that it can accommodate RVs.
“We have higher demand for RV sites,” Spear said, adding that his RV sites are less affected by inclement weather than tent sites.
“RVers will still come when it’s raining,” he said. “A tenter, however, would rather postpone their vacation. So you see variance in demand for tent sites.”
For more information about the Jellystone Park of Estes, please visit www.jellystoneofestes.com.
SOURCE: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts press release