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A Wayne County couple with a passion for camping is building a $1.6 million public campground beside the Erie Canal in Macedon.
Owners Barbara and Kevin Heald plan to open their Twilight on the Erie RV Resort LLC in June with at least 140 sites on 100 landscaped acres.
“We decided long ago that this was something we wanted to do,” said Barbara, who owns 51 percent of the business. “We started researching better than 10 years ago and really got serious about it six years ago or so.”
The husband and wife paid $370,000 to purchase the 100 acres from Thomas Maxwell, Wayne County real estate records show. The deed was filed Feb. 7.
The L-shaped parcel stretches from the south side of the canal southward around Bullis Park before going east to Route 21.
“I do landscape design for a living,” Kevin Heald said. “I’ve worked with plants since I was 7 years old. So it’s going to be beautiful.”
The Healds spent 20 years inspecting campgrounds throughout New York and along the East Coast for potential acquisition.
“There was always something I didn’t like about them,” Kevin said, “so I said, ‘Someday I’ll build my own and build it the way I want to.’
“I’ve done a lot of camping ever since I was a kid. … I always wanted a campground.”
The Healds owned and operated Red’s Landscaping LLC in Walworth for 30 years before recently handing that business over to their son. They are putting the final touches on the amenities at the campground in hopes of having it ready to open in June.
“It’s going to have a little bit of everything,” Kevin said.
A friend will be the camp chef and manage its kitchen.
“We’re going to do fire-baked pizzas and out-of-the-ordinary things,” Kevin said. “We’re going to lean toward the healthy side and try to keep away from the grease and keep the sugar away from the kids. That’s important to us.”
The camp will be handicapped-accessible throughout, he said.
Kevin has rebuilt a 1950s helicopter constructed as a simulator and will use it to provide rides for campers.
“It goes up in the air about 70 feet and does anything a helicopter will do,” he said. “It was (originally) built to fly. It was in the World’s Fair ... in 1964. We totally restored it.”
He bought the helicopter from a friend. He also acquired an old military vehicle that had been transformed into a “Munster Mobile” patterned after the family car in the mid-1960s television series. It is 26 feet long.
“It now kind of looks like a Flintstones mobile because I made a convertible out of it,” he said. “I spent about four months restoring it, and it came out pretty sleek. That’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s quite the machine.”
He now is trying to buy an old train and track from a Walworth neighbor.
“It’s very old, but it runs,” Kevin said. “He has it in his lawn, but he hasn’t run it in years.
“We’re going to do a lot of blues festivals and pickin’ along the Erie. Music is in Barb’s family. They all pick and play. There will be festivities going on just about every weekend.”
Each campsite is 40 feet by 60 feet, with gravel pads and a public sewer and water system. Cabins, WiFi and cable television are available, as are a gunite—or dry-mix shotcrete—swimming pool, an arcade-game room and a snack bar.
The camp has pond and canal fishing, as well as walking trails and hiking. A bike path runs along the canal.
“We’re right across the canal from the bike path,” Kevin said. “You know how many people travel that. There really are a lot of requests from people about where they can stay at a campground along the Erie Canal. There are two of them (in addition to Twilight on the Erie), but they’re way up north.”
Twilight on the Erie has been two years in the making as the Healds worked their way through the financing process and the real estate transaction. They originally wanted to put it in Walworth, but town officials resisted.
“It cost us a quarter-million dollars and they shot it down due to incompatibility with the neighborhood,” Kevin said. “We’re just a small company, and that put a hurting on us.”
The day after the rejection, Kevin said, the Macedon town supervisor called him.
“He said, ‘I have a piece of property that, if you can buy it, we will help you put the road in,’” Kevin said.
The Healds are working with the town and the Wayne County Industrial Development Agency to construct a road through the town-owned Bullis Park.
The Healds also enlisted the help of the Small Business Administration, taking out a 504 loan to cover excavation and construction costs. They used the SBA’s Service Corps of Retired Executives to formulate their business plan.
They worked with the New York Business Development Center, Steuben Trust Co. and the Wayne County IDA on financing.
The Healds also received valuable input from the Pittsford-based Campground Owners of New York.
“We started learning about the industry through going to their conferences and learning about what it would take and whether it really was the industry we want to get into,” Barbara said.
The Healds are getting into the camping business at a good time, industry trends suggest. Revenue from camping and recreational vehicle parks has grown by an average of 2.4 percent annually to $5 billion in the last five years, data from industry research firm IBISWorld shows.
The campground website has had 58,000 hits since it went live six months ago, Kevin said.
The Healds plan to move to the campground from Walworth and build a house on the canal.
“Because of the research we were able to do, and because of the ability to do pretty much what we wanted to do because we’re starting from scratch,” Barbara said, “we’re able to pull in all the components of every park we saw and what we loved about them, and take those best parts.”
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