Scottville commission eliminates seasonal campsites. 

October 5, 2021

Scottville commission eliminates seasonal campsites. 

By Rob Alway

Rob Alway is editor-in-chief and owner of Mason County Press. He is also an elected city commissioner/mayor pro-tem of the City of Scottville. He writes this column as a way to communicate with constituents as a commissioner.

SCOTTVILLE — The Scottville City Commission voted to eliminate seasonal campers at Riverside Park during its regular meeting Monday, Sept. 4. The vote was 6-1 with Commissioner Aaron Seiter voting against it. I voted in favor and I will explain why.

My job as a commissioner is to represent the citizens and taxpayers of the City of Scottville and to make decisions that are in the best interest for those citizens and taxpayers, as a whole. The Scottville Riverside Park campground is a business operated by the City of Scottville. As a person who has been self-employed for the past 30 years, I have an understanding in how to manage a business. 

Riverside Park’s campground is in need of much repair and upgrading. Electricity needs to be updated. Water lines need to be replace. The roadway on the south side of the park needs to be paved. And, ideally, sewer hookups need to be installed. Additionally, one of the bathhouses needs attention.

Upgrades and repairs require money. The fine balance of making money is to a) cut expenses and b) increase revenues. The park already runs on a tight budget, so there is only one other option, increase revenues. 

City Manager Jimmy Newkirk and Riverside Park Manager Jennifer Faris have spent extensive time studying the park this past summer. A new computer system allows them to keep track of each campsite and how much it is used along with how much revenue each site produces. 

Prior to coming to the City of Scottville, Mr. Newkirk spent over 20 years working for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources as a park ranger/manager in the state park system. I would consider him an expert in the operations of a campground. In addition, our Riverside Park manager also has extensive knowledge in campground management. 

After studying the park’s 2021 season, it was very clear that the campground could make a much higher profit by eliminating seasonal rentals. Based on 2021 rates, the city has 12 seasonal rates sold at $2,250 each and one at $910 for a total of $27,910. With those sites being sold at a nightly rate with just 52 percent occupancy (this is a very conservative estimate), the estimated gross is $40,755, a $12,845 difference. 

That’s a significant increase in potential, and likely profit. I say “likely” because it is a projection. However, in the month of August alone, 72 separate individuals were turned away due to the park being sold out during that particular time period.  Besides losing potential nightly campers on a particular seasonal campsite, the net profit is reduced for seasons as well due to the city covering electricity and cable television. Research by our park manager and city manager have shown that it is rare for a nightly camper to use the cable TV and it is used almost exclusively by seasonal campers. 

Increased revenue was not the only reason for my vote, however. The seasonal camping system at Riverside Park has been flawed for years. Once a person gets one of the limited seasonal campsites, they basically keep that site until they give it up, meaning that the dozens of others on the waiting list have to continue to wait each year. They have used the same campsites for years and many have developed the attitude that they are entitled to those sites and seem to believe they own that site. Several seasonal campers baulked at our city manager when he informed them that they would have to move their campers at the end of the season so the city could perform needed repairs to the sites. 

Over the years, temporary structures (besides campers) have been placed on these sites. Some of the campers even sit on cinder blocks rather than using the stabilization equipment that is built into the camper, giving a sense that they are permanent fixtures. Plus, the seasonal campers have been allowed to store their campers at the park for $150, which is a steal considering I found a local self storage facility starts with outdoor storage at $49 a month. 

Campers still have the option to rent a campsite by the month. The 2021 rate for that was $650 per month (the rates will increase in 2022). The nightly rate for 2021 was $32 per night, which means that renting a site for 30 days at $32 per night would be $990. There’s a $340 savings to rent the site by the month. The seasonal rate for 2021 was $2,250. Three months of camping at the $650 per month rate would have been $1,950 this year. That’s less than the seasonal rate. 

We have made great strides in our city the past few years. There are many people — not just the city commissioners and staff — who are working very hard to make sure Scottville makes a comeback. It is happening. There has been a major turnover in downtown building ownership over the past year. Many of these buildings have already seen new businesses coming in and several more buildings will be occupied with businesses over the next year or two. Starting a business takes time and just because a building sits empty, doesn’t mean something isn’t happening. Our city government, under the guidance of the commission, has been enforcing our local ordinances requiring people to clean up blighted properties. This has made our town a better place to live and has increased property values. Our police department is cracking down on drug dealers and drug buyers. Our city manger has found the sources of significant water losses due to outdated water meters. These updated meters mean the residents of Scottville will see lower water bills in the future because they aren’t paying for the lost water. 

The citizens of Scottville deserve to live in a town that moves forward. For too many years the city has seen lost income due to a variety of factors that could have been controlled. While some may not agree with some of our decisions, such as eliminating seasonal campsites, the decisions are made to ultimately improve our city.

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