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From a Campground Dream to a Beautiful Reality

Kathi Caldwell-Hopper - July 24, 2012

Betsy Kretschmer and Sylvia Leggett came to NH over 15 years ago with campgrounds on their minds. They were not here to go camping, but rather with the dream of opening their own campground. They have realized that dream in a big way, but in a manner that respects the land and their neighbors in the Roberts Cove Road area of East Alton.

“We both have recreation backgrounds,” says Betsy. We had a dream of owning a campground but before we realized the dream, we went to work for Gunstock in Gilford for about 15 years.”

Betsy ran the cross country and campground areas for Gunstock and Sylvia was a program director. It was a good life, but always that dream of owning their own campground lurked in the back of their minds. They loved the land in the Roberts Cove area of East Alton, which was owned by the Roberts family. Irving Roberts and his family have a long history in the Alton area and really had no plans to sell any of their land. But once Irving got to know the sincere and family-oriented Sylvia and Betsy, he decided to sell them 56 acres directly off Rt. 28 in East Alton.

“We have kept our business, Roberts Knoll Campground, natural; we didn’t overdevelop the land,” Sylvia says. That undoubtedly made Irving Roberts pleased that he’d made the right choice in selling the land to Sylvia and Betsy.

Turning the acres from densely wooded land into a tastefully done campground was no easy project. First came zoning meetings, approvals and financing for such a large undertaking. The pair credits good friends in the NH camping industry for the help they gave, from advice to clearing land and anything and everything in between.

With a rented excavator, Sylvia worked at clearing the land while Betsy took a day job to help keep things afloat until the campground business took off. It was often backbreaking work, but the pair had a vision of how the campground would look and they stuck to it.

They attended a camping show and utilized word-of-mouth to let those shopping for a seasonal RV campsite know that about the new area, and within the first three years, Roberts Knoll Campground was full. This was good news for Betsy and Sylvia, and they soon realized they would need to prepare more campsites.

Phase two added more and larger campsites; today a total of 73 sites occupy the property. Nothing is rushed or high tech at Roberts Knoll. Indeed, it is the kind of place where a child can grow up summer after summer and return years later with his or her own children. In other words, it’s a place where fond memories are made to last a lifetime.

“We have a mix of campers,” says Sylvia. “We have young families to senior citizens. Most are from southern NH and northern Massachusetts and are hard-working people. They come here to relax on the weekends and when they have a week’s vacation.”

A tour of the campground shows the well-kept lawns, flower gardens and recreational vehicles that are in place for the season (most campers leave their RV on site during the winter but the campground closes after Columbus Day).

A quiet and peace sits over the wooded sites and everyone is respectful of everyone else. “Our campers feel an ownership in the campground and they take care of the property,” Sylvia adds.

Campers rent a space for their RV for the entire summer season. All the comforts of home, from wi-fi to cable to water, sewer and electric, are offered. Other amenities include a large pool, which is busy during the hot summer months. (The pool is handicapped accessible.)

Betsy and Sylvia added a huge pavilion (40 x 80 feet) area, which is the site of many potluck suppers, bingo games and parties, to name but a few fun events that bring campers together. With backgrounds in recreation, the pair have thought of everything that might be appealing to those who love the outdoors and want to play games, from shuffle board to hopscotch and a soccer area and volleyball court.

This summer is the 10th anniversary for Roberts Knoll Campground and Betsy and Sylvia have events planned to celebrate. “We will be doing a pig roast this summer, and on Sunday, September 9, we will have an open house. The public can stop by and tour the grounds and help us celebrate!” says Betsy.

Because they try to keep things simple, they do not employ a staff of workers as one might assume would be necessary to keep up with the grounds and maintenance of such a large campground. It means Betsy and Sylvia are always busy at one spot or another at the campground, but it’s a life they love. Added to this, the seasonal campers love the place and that sense of ownership helps keep things tidy and under control.

Along with many of the campers, Betsy and Sylvia are animal lovers and have their own beloved dogs. They have thoughtfully added the Bark Park, a doggie park where campers can bring their dogs. The park is fenced in and allows dogs to get exercise and play with other dogs. A doggie wash station is another feature that helps keep the dogs at the campground well groomed and cool.

Should campers wish to take their dog poolside, Betsy and Sylvia have provided a green awning area by the pool for dogs to sit in the shade.

Although the campground is closed in the winter, there is always something that keeps the pair busy, from snowplowing to marketing the sites for the coming summer season.

Ten years after that big first step of buying acres of land to build a campground, Sylvia and Betsy are well content, if a bit amazed, at all they have accomplished. They admit they have no big expansion plans at this point, and are happy to maintain their beautiful campground.

The pair came to NH with campgrounds on their minds, and today they are living the dream, due to their hard work and a big dose of courage to make that dream a reality. 

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