May 21, 2012


Campground retirement

New owners of Country Hills fulfill longtime dream

CampBob Ellis/staff photographer
Jim and Denise Walker, owners of the Country Hills Campground on Muckey Road in Lapeer, stand next to the pond in their campground.

Staff Reporter

LAPEER— Jim and Denise Walker are living their dream.
The couple has sought refuge in their retirement from corporate jobs by owning and operating Country Hills Campground in Lapeer.
In January the Walkers bought Country Hills after they camped there and liked it.
The campground is 83 acres of grassy hills, wooded areas and ponds and the location for seasonal and weekend campers. On Saturday there were 85 seasonal campers cleaning up around their RVs, mowing the lawns, sunbathing and enjoying the camp’s ponds.
The site can accommodate 120 campers and also has 10 sites for tent camping.
The camping season begins April 28 and ends Oct. 7. Seasonal campers are often from the Syracuse or Binghamton area, looking for a getaway. Weekenders often come from Canada on their way south, say the Walkers.
The peaceful setting of the sprawling grounds draws the campers back year after year.
Rick Kutz, a Kirkwood resident, has been returning to camp seasonally at the site for seven years.
“It’s a pretty place and the camaraderie of everybody around here is great,” Kutz said Saturday afternoon as he stood outside his camper that featured a built-on deck prominently displaying his last name.
For the Walker, camping was an escape from their routine day jobs with corporations. Denise worked in finance and Jim worked for a telephone company, Frontier, for 37 years.
The two lived in Walton, escaping each weekend to camp at various sites throughout the country with the Family Motor Coach Association.
They recall trips to their favorite campgrounds, Turning Stone Resort in Verona and Association Island outside of Canada. They would meet interesting people and have memorable experiences.
Jim Walker, who had been in the Navy, recalls meeting a man who was a Navy SEAL at the time of the Navy’s inception of the program. Denise Walker remembers meeting a man from Georgia who gave her husband his “Georgia wine,” which turned out to be moonshine.
The Walkers loved camping so much they found themselves dreaming of one day owning their own grounds. At each place they visited they would think about what aspects of the campsite they would incorporate into their own site, if they were to own one.
“We would go to the campground and we would sit and look and say, ‘Let’s see, what would we do if we owned this campground,” Denise Walker said
It took two years to find the right campground.
Denise Walker points to their campground store, which offers emergency supplies she knew would be in high demand while camping, such as fire starters or special toilet paper for RVs. They also feature Friday night dinners for campers who may be hungry after a long drive into town. Breakfast specials and ice cream offerings are also a hit and the communal dining in the kitchen lends to an atmosphere of camaraderie.
A new pavilion on site that measures 24 by 64 feet, will offer another place for campers to gather for meals. The pavilion will be open by Memorial Day, say the Walkers.
Kathy Neuman was laying out in the sun on her motor home’s deck Saturday, while her Chocolate Lab named Maggie sought refuge in the shade of the vehicle. Neuman said she and her husband, Joe, looked all over for a campground and when they found Country Hills in 2009 they stopped searching.
“We loved it. It’s peaceful and the wildlife is crazy,” said Neuman, adding she sees turkeys, fox, baby rabbits, deer and a variety of birds at the site.
Another camper, Chenango Forks resident Jim Brenneis, has been coming to the campground for 25 years. He said his five children enjoyed the site and lauded it for being family friendly and not commercial. The site lacks video game rooms, focusing instead on outdoor activities like paddle boats or canoe rides.
Brenneis liked the campgrounds so much he married his second wife there four years ago.
“We set up a huge tent and made a big party of it,” Brenneis said, adding it was the second time anyone got married at the campgrounds.
The Walkers say they have the best of both worlds, being able to get away in the winter to do their own camping and being around the activity they love the rest of the year. They plan to visit their children in the Carolinas and Florida this year.
The Walkers say that although their hours are longer now, running from about 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., their lives are stress-free. Denise Walker no longer has to adhere to deadlines and her husband does not have to worry about being called out on emergency work in the middle of the night.


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