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Families want to preserve campsites at Akeley campground

Akeley's city campground, described by one camper as "a gem", offers campsites right on 11th Crow Wing Lake. Reservations are needed a year in advance, and even during the week it is filled with guests. (Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise)1 / 2
Family campsites at the Akeley City Campground, like this one, mean weekly revenue for both the city and businesses in town, say campers who asked the city council to limit the number of conversions to seasonal rentals. Lorie Skaprness/Enterprise. 2 / 2

Campers who spoke at the July 11 Akeley City Council meeting say the city's campground should be left for family campers to enjoy by the week instead of having seasonal rentals.

Camping on the shores of 11th Crow Wing Lake has become a family tradition for the Gary and Emily Gutenkauf family of Brainerd.

"We love the area," Emily said. "Gary found this park and brought me down to see it. The next summer we came up two times and every year after that we have stayed at least a week. It's our yearly family vacation. We all hang out together and have friends, my parents and my husband's parents come up too."

As more people reserve seasonal sites, Emily said she wonders if they will be able to get a site as good as the ones they have enjoyed in past years.

"When we started coming, we'd call two weeks in advance and they'd have a spot for us," she said. "The last two years I've had to reserve a year in advance. On weekdays, the campground used to be a ghost town and the weekends were packed, but this week the campground has stayed full."

The family used to camp in site No. 8, which has been converted to a seasonal.

Bernie Penner of Brainerd also is in favor of limiting seasonal sites.

"We have 12-year-old kids in our group that are forecasting that their grandkids are going to be coming here," he said. "That's the talk up and down the street. You guys have a gem here. We like the town. I'm guessing that in two or three years the dollar store will boost your other businesses because guess where I had to go this morning to get eggs and butter? If the campground can stay as much transient as possible versus seasonal that's what's going to keep this town alive. People are in and out. That's a customer flow, not just at the campground but in town."

"Your campground is so popular, people have to book a year ahead of time or more," Gutenkauf said. "You guys are going to lose a lot of money making seasonals. We love the campground, and will pay whatever you ask. We're staying at site No. 11 and love that site. Now we heard it's going to become seasonal, too. Who made that decision? We already lost sites No. 8 and 10 when they became seasonal. You say it's easier to get your $2,500 for the year but you could get $4,000 or $6,000 easy. Then there's the revenue you're losing in town. Retirement people only come up every so often. They're not going to restaurants, gas stations or spending $40 or $60 at the dollar store. The seasonal thing will kill the campground. We want to be able to see families be able to come up and enjoy them. Some seasonals only come a handful of times. The rest of the time it's just sitting there and no one is able to enjoy it."

Campground manager Curt Dormanen asked the council who has the first chance to get a seasonal spot when one becomes available.

Mayor Brian Hitchcock said seasonal spots become open if the person who had the spot doesn't pay their fee by the deadline and it's a first-come, first-served situation.

"We make a lot of money on site No. 11, so if we put it as a seasonal we'll be losing money," Dormanen said.

Reservations for next year are due by the end of the season, with a deposit due by Jan. 1 to hold the spot.

Council member Dan Riggs said campers who have a seasonal site often pay a storage fee to leave their campers for the winter.

In case they aren't able to get a good site in Akeley next summer, Gutenkauf said they looked at other locations in the area. "If we have to go to Nevis or somewhere else we will," he said.

He asked if the rumor the campground may go all seasonal is true and was told it's not.

"If you look at $45 a night you could be getting instead of going seasonal for $2,500 for the summer, you're losing $2,000 to $4,000 per site," he said. "I am begging you No. 11 doesn't go seasonal and No. 8 and No. 10 go back to regular sites."

Hitchcock thanked the men for their input and said the council will take it into consideration.

After the meeting, City Clerk Melody Boettcher clarified that sites No. 1 through 11 are designated as seasonal, but any of the 48 sites that are open can be reserved for the season.

Campground upgrades in the works

Dormanen said he would like to have a campground manual as well as rules and regulations for the campground on the website. Hitchcock said those would be good projects.

The city has been plagued by website issues, including company they used last year filing bankruptcy without telling the city.

After the meeting, Boettcher explained that software issues are hindering implementation of online reservation payments right now but hopefully the problem will be solved soon.

"It's a snag with the credit card processing company," she said.

Those who want to reserve a site now may call the campground managers at 218-252-4570, send an email to camp@akeleymn.com or stop at the campground office. A deposit of $20 per site is required, with a $250 deposit for seasonal sites.

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