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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Harvey Mickelson received the Jack Denton Memorial Award from the Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (Arizona ARVC).
“I consider Jack Denton to be a towering figure in the RV industry, and I never considered myself to be on his level,” said Mickelson, who co-owns and operates J & H RV Park with his wife, Jo Ann.
“He was such a prince of a man. He was so helpful to others. I never thought I would get this award in my lifetime. It gives me a huge sense of pride. That’s why this award was so surprising and so humbling.”
Surprising, too, because Jo Ann Mickelson is co-executive director of Arizona ARVC and managed to keep the award a secret right up until the moment Arizona ARVC President Sheedy presented Mickelson the award April 17 during the association’s annual convention.
Jo Ann Mickelson herself received the Jack Denton Memorial Award in 2015.
Denton, who died in 2012, was a campground and RV park industry pioneer who founded the Flagstaff KOA and helped establish the precursor of Arizona ARVC, the Arizona Travel Parks Association (ATPA), as well as the National Campground Owners Association (NCOA), which later became the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
While Harvey Mickelson never held an ARVC board position at the national level, he has regularly donated his time to support Arizona ARVC and its members for more than a dozen years. He personally distributed hundreds of thousands of Arizona ARVC’s campground directories at the nine-day Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show.
He’d also fill up a trailer with boxes of Arizona RV and Camping Guides and deliver them to visitors centers, chambers of commerce, convenience stores and truck stops all over the Grand Canyon State.
“I would visit anyplace where they would give information out to newcomers on what there is in the area to see,” Mickelson said. “It helps to get them out in the far reaches of Arizona. The newcomers come in from out of state and they want to know where to go and where to find campgrounds. It’s one of the services we offer to our members.”
But while the Mickelsons have built J & H RV Park into a successful business and have won Arizona ARVC’s Park of the Year Award many times, as well as the national ARVC Park of the Year Award three times, Harvey Mickelson said their park had to have been one of the worst in the state when they acquired it in 1982.
“When we closed it down to renovate, we hauled out 11 abandoned vehicles, four engine blocks and two abandoned travel trailers before we could start digging and upgrading the utilities,” Mickelson recalled.
“It had become a real junkyard besides being a disastrous RV park,” he added. “The reputation of the park was so bad that Flagstaff’s planning and zoning department did not intend to renew the conditional use permit for the park.”
The Mickelsons were new to the private park business in 1982 and had to learn how to do everything through the school of hard knocks. But they persevered.
“I was a truck driver before we got the park,” Mickelson said. “But I was raised on a ranch where we pretty much did everything on our own. So by the time we got the park, it was a perfect fit for me being a handyman as well as a truck driver. We couldn’t afford to hire anybody at the beginning. My wife and I had to do it all.”
The Mickelsons survived their early years in the RV park business by operating a wholesale window and door supply company inside the building that now serves as their park office and store.
“The (window and door) business helped us rebuild the park,” Mickelson said. “We were not able to take a penny out of the park the first five years.”
But they eventually rebuilt the park into an exemplary business. “Planning and zoning are so proud of our park, they now send people to us to tell them how to build a park,” Mickelson said.
The Mickelsons also learned about the best practices in the private park business by attending Arizona ARVC and national ARVC workshops and by networking with other park operators, including Jack Denton, who regularly demonstrated how park operators can help one another, particularly when they are in close proximity.
“Some parks think the other parks are the enemy. It took me a while to learn that there’s a place for everybody. Once a park owner learns that, they don’t have to act like that, and we become more supportive of each other,” Mickelson said, adding, “(Jack) would send people to us who needed a pull through site, and we’d send him people who wanted to tent camp.”
In recent years, the Mickelsons have launched some of the more innovative initiatives in the RV park business.
In 2013, J & H RV Park became one of the first RV parks in the nation to ban smoking. The Mickelsons did this after one of their campers had to be rushed to the hospital because of health problems caused by second hand smoke.
But while the Mickelsons braced themselves for a negative reaction from the RVing public when they imposed the smoking ban, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People love our smoking ban,” Jo Ann Mickelson said. “They come stay with us specifically because we do not allow smoking.”
Smoking is not allowed inside or outside RVs at J & H RV Park. The rule applies to any kind of tobacco product as well as e-cigarettes.
The sole exception is a small patio area where smokers are allowed to have a puff if they must. But it’s far enough away from the other RVs so as not to be nuisance for non-smokers, as Harvey says, “We are not heartless.”
Harvey Mickelson also launched a special RV parking service, drawing from his years of truck driving experience. He calls it is “His marriage saving RV parking service,” which became increasingly necessary over the years as RV manufacturers built larger and larger towable and motorized units.
“You could tell in their eyes they were scared if they had to back into a site. So I would go out and show them how to get in or I would back it in myself. Many asked if I would go on the rest of their trip with them,” he said with a laugh.
Mickelson added that he has become so committed to the RV industry that he even spells his first name as “HaRVey” now as a tribute to the industry. Arizona ARVC returned the favor and presented him the Jack Denton Memorial Award with the same spelling.
For more information about the Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds or to get a copy of the Arizona RV and Camping Guide, visit www.GoCampingInArizona.com.
More information on J & H RV Park is available at www.flagstaffrvparks.com.
SOURCE: Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds press release