Friday, November 13, 2015

Western Horizon Membership Resort Changes and Our Future Plans Intact

I had not intended to write a post today, nor about membership parks, but changes have occurred which warrants my input...and warnings.

First, a little history...

We first purchased a membership (in 1985) at the now defunct Cutty's Resort in LaPorte, Indiana. It wasn't long after that when we received a notice saying that the resort was taken over by All Seasons Resorts, and would be closed. Our membership was being moved to the (also now defunct) Rodgers Lake Resort at Dowagiac, Michigan. We didn't worry about it too much at the time, as the change was actually better for us, as it was closer. At some point, we were offered an upgrade to Presidents Club, which gave us more resorts to visit, as well as privileges. That resort and system stayed intact until sometime in the mid-90's, when bankruptcy forced it to be closed and sold off.

By then, we were in Mesa, AZ, and hadn't had any contact with All Seasons Resorts for several years. We found out what was happening through our friends in Mesa, who were also members, and had kept up with the happenings. Out of 76 resorts that they had under their system at their peak, everything was now bankrupt and down the tubes. The entire system was forced to shut down for a year, at which time they opened up another another name, Travel America, with only six resorts showing on the new web site. The last time I looked, that was also gone.

In 1986, we also bought into White Oaks on the Lake in Monticello, IN. at the time, my kids were not far from there, and the resort offered nice "chalets" that had enough room for us all to meet there. That never happened but one time in twenty years, so even that was a waste. In fact, because of our working, and then moving totally out of state, the use we got from the resort was nil. We "might" have visited "maybe" a half dozen times in twenty years. But...we were constantly looking to the future, and bought it as an "investment" for future traveling during our retirement years. was supposedly a "deeded" membership, which we thought would protect our investment. Wrong again!

Shortly after we moved to Mesa, we were informed by letter that Western Horizon Resorts had taken over White Oaks on the Lake. Whereas White Oaks was a single membership park, and not an organization of parks, the Western Horizon Resorts group were several resorts throughout the country. We thought this was a great deal. They also offered us an "upgrade" to be able to use the AOR and Sunbelt groups of parks, so this expanded our travel abilities even more. We bought into the hype. Of course, each time we lost or changed a home resort, we also had to change our home resort at Coast to Coast, because without a home resort, you can't be a member there, either!

In the late 80's we also purchased a lot at the Yogi Bear Camping Resort at Plymouth Indiana. It came with a nice wooden deck, a storage shed and a fire ring, as well as a roughly 50-foot wide lot. We had to bring our own RV, but could have put a park model on the lot as a vacation getaway. We were living about 50 miles away at the time. Our goal was to use it at least a couple weeks in the spring and the fall, and on occasional weekends in between. With no dwelling on the property, our property taxes would be cheaper. But they are also in snow country and shut down all the utilities between October and April. You can still get in the park, but won't have water or sewer! So you really only get six months of full use out of the park.

We kept it for a couple years, but decided that for the $600+ yearly maintenance fee, we weren't getting enough use out of it, and sold it for what we paid for it. A deeded piece of real estate is OK, if you don't mind staying at the same place all the time. We had other plans.

More recent events...

As of this past spring, we were notified that Western Horizon was shutting down White Oaks on the Lake. We were offered a couple of individual resorts as alternatives, or we could join a Midwest section of Thousand Trails containing 13 resorts. Unfortunately, none of them were suitable, as we didn't plan to continue living in the Midwest. After a few emails back and forth with Western Horizons, we were offered a membership at their "home office" resort at Blue Mesa Ranch. We thought this was great as it met all of our needs in being at least 125 miles away from the resorts in the Southwest that we "would" use, as well as being the home office of WHR, AOR and Sunbelt Resorts! They also reduced our maintenance fees from $289 a year to $250 a year and "froze" them. What could go wrong?

As a reminder, we were supposed to be able to use any Western Horizon Resort for up to two weeks at a time at NO COST (other than our yearly maintenance fees of about 69 cents a day). Since then, we found that some resorts are charging a utility surcharge of $1 to $3 a night to cover mainly electric usage. OK...we could deal with that. To use any of the AOR or Sunbelt Resorts, it was a $9 nightly fee, and Coast to Coast reciprocal privileges with other resorts not in these three systems, was up to $10 a night, but on a point system now that equates to that much. You may think that is reasonable, but read on.

Earlier this week we received a notice from Western Horizon Resorts, informing us that Blue Mesa Ranch had been taken over by yet another company, Colorado Dream Vacations, LLC, as BMR had also had it's share of financial problems, and this "new" company was (supposedly) going to bail them out, as well as make "much needed" improvements, both physically as well as financially. The new owner/President was named as Lance Loken. We are familiar with that name because it was a Jim Loken who is also in the resort ownership business, including with many of the resorts already in trouble! From what I can see, the resort simply changed hands within the same family as a legal sideways move! Am I wrong?

Changes in affect...

According to a search of Google on "Western Horizon Lawsuits" I found several forums where it says that many things that were promised never happened, in maintenance issues and otherwise. One of the things they currently say they are changing is that BMR will no longer be open to the public. They say they are going to build a new guard gate, and reserve the resort for members only. If they are in such dire need of funds, is that really a good idea to create more expense while at the same time refusing other income? The public (non-members) can be charged full prices for everything in the resort, and that can add a lot of money to the coffers!

And if their moves don't work, what is to say that they will also fail, and lose the resort to yet another entity, that may not honor past memberships at all? Don't say it can't or won't happen! I've seen at least two of our past parks turned into housing developments!

So now, they say that there were too many different prices and features in past memberships, and they are offering us three new options. (1) Pay $299 a year for this one resort at Blue Mesa Ranch, and $5 a night to stay there, plus a hidden $3 reservation charge! This does not include any of the other WHR parks that were in the system! They are ALL in financial trouble, and no definitive answer has been given as to our access to them, even though they are all based in the same exact offices! (2) We could also pay $499 a year, which would allow us to stay at this resort only, with no nightly charge, but the reservation fee would still apply! Or (3) we have the option to opt out and leave our membership on the table...losing not only the $9500 (plus past maintenance fees of roughly $7250 over the past 29 years) already paid, as well as access to the other WHR resorts, AOR Resorts, Sunbelt Resorts AND Coast to you have to have a home park (at WHR...where else?) in order to join AOR or Sunbelt! With no home resort we also lose Coast to Coast!

Our own humble (as much as they can be) opinions...

First of all, as former resort managers, we fully understand all the problems and issues with running membership resorts. Ever since their inception in the early 70's they have been highly dependent upon volunteer help within the resorts to help cover costs. The memberships were never enough to cover all the costs of resort development plus the maintenance costs. That's why many of them continually offered "upgrades" to offset these costs. And also, there was a lot of mismanagement and imbezzling of funds going on that they never want to admit. Some salesmen literally walked off with cash and the membership was never confirmed and sometimes denied. As a manager, I know that such things happened before we got to the resort we managed!

Also, the costs of maintaining off-site offices and personnel just add that much more to the overhead of every individual park! The resorts that do well end up having money stolen from their coffers to help support the ones that are failing, until that is not an option anymore! It isn't just one resort that must sustain must help to pay managers and people that will never be seen on the resort, as well as to bail out the failures within the system! And they have tried to do the development of the resort all from that one membership fee that you and others paid! Then, your continued maintenance payments pay for the maintenance. But if they don't sell enough memberships, not only the development costs are short, but also the ongoing maintenance fees! No business can operate like that!

Also, the internet was not around when the concept was devised. The volunteers are still willing to help, but that's not enough anymore. People have become leery of the high sales pressure membership sales (in both resort as well as time-share sales), and with the economy being what it is, people are simply not shelling out the money for long-term commitments like they once were.

Those that had already bought in, but changed their minds for various reasons, were also dumping the memberships on various sales platforms for next to nothing, just to get out from under the ongoing maintenance fees. That drove down the price that savvy buyers were willing to pay, hurting the financial situation even more. Many just dropped their memberships without selling them with the attitude of "catch me if you can" as my credit isn't that important to me!

Also, the Internet has literally exploded within the last few years, with all kinds of sites and apps to show people how to camp for no cost or little cost. Sites like, and the advent of new low cost membership sites like and, as well as discount sites like, have eaten into the sales of membership resorts.

A third item, is that since the recession, there has been a surge toward lower cost methods of travel. Large RV sales have gone down drastically, while smaller Class B and B+ van conversion campers have increased. With smaller RV's you have less cost and can go a lot more places! This also affects the sales of memberships, because the membership resorts have turned out to be more luxury resorts for those who can afford the larger motorhomes and fifth wheel RVs, but often don't travel any further than their resort because of fuel costs.

Some resorts, especially close to the cities, have made it at least uncomfortable for smaller RVs and especially home-built conversions...if not downright against their rules. Even our resort in Mesa where we lived for ten years, has a rule of "no soft-sides or pop-ups", and no home-built conversions of any kind. In other words, if it wasn't factory built with solid sides, standing room, and self-contained...AND less than ten years old...they don't want you there! Also, some people simply want to get away to the same place all the time, for whatever their reasons, and don't mind where the resort is, as long as it's convenient for their needs. In other words, they aren't "travelers". Just because you live in an RV, doesn't make you a true RVer!

Even when available, is "free" really free?

Here's the reality...although the thought of "free" or low cost full-hookup overnight stays seems great to start with, we have learned that there aren't any guarantees with any of these memberships. That "free" option can be taken away from you at their whim, just by changing the rules, and forcing you out, as I feel is happening to us now.

But for "true" RVers like us, who travel for the sake of traveling and NOT to the same destination all the time, these resorts aren't always where we want to be! We looked at one resort, which is not that far off our travel route, and which we would only use for one night enroute to "someplace else", and then we read the directions. It totaled nearly 25 miles off the way...which would have to be doubled to get back on our route again! At 10 MPG, that's another 5 gallons of gas, at $2.25 per gallon, which amounts to another $11.25 just to be able to get to that resort to stay there for a night! Add $9 for camping fees, another $3 reservation fee, plus another $1.65 a day just to belong to the "system" of resorts, and suddenly you are up to $24.90...(not including any utility surcharges...just for a place to park your RV for just one night! That's nowhere near "free"!

And for those on computer, there is no guarantee of cell service or decent WI-FI that far off the main road, either. We run an internet business. We HAVE to have way or the other! In park WI-FI is often so slow as to be not dependable.

In comparison, I looked at, and found a totally free parking spot, right on the route we would be following! And there are at least a half dozen others around it that are closer to the main road than the membership resort! I may not have the brightest light in the attic, and I'm not made of money, either, but even if I were, why on Earth would I squander it on foolish stuff that I don't need!

We have no kids traveling with us, so we don't need a lot of entertainment to fill an evening. Everything we need is available on our computers. All we need is a place to stop and eat, and grab some sleep. Even if they had amenities, we wouldn't use them! We have solar power and propane appliances. Everything that we need to do for one night can be done right inside our RV, including keeping the compressor refrigerator running and using the microwave for short periods of less than a half hour. When we leave, the van can help recharge the trailer batteries until the sun comes up high enough to add its input. The privilege of staying in an organized campground is NOT worth nearly $25! I would much rather reserve that money for something that IS worthwhile, like more traveling, or entrance fees to see something that we would get a lot more enjoyment out of than driving 50 miles out of our way to park at someplace which we have no time to enjoy!

Our direction...maybe...

So, I think you know where I am going with this. We have until January 1st to have the form back to them, with either a payment or a box checked that we have had enough and want out! Doing so would put a total of at least $50 a month back in our pockets and allow us many more options to go where WE want to go, and not where we have added costs and feel obligated to go just because we are already paying for it!

Don't get me wrong...I am not against memberships in general. Memberships which are not tied to specific places within the same management can be a very good thing. The places like and, as well as PassportAmerica, are individual members who have chosen to become a part of that organization. As with any group like that, members will come and go as members do, but nothing about the membership is dependent upon the financial stability of any member nor as a group of members. The membership costs next to nothing, as compared to membership resorts, and it benefits all concerned. Both businesses as well as people will come and go as they always do, but the organization itself will remain stable.

There are also much more stable camping organizations to belong to than membership resorts. We recently joined Escapees RV Club, more for their mail forwarding program than anything else, but have found that they also provide many other benefits which make it VERY worthwhile! Even they have a resource for finding free and low-cost campsites, contributed to by members. And it only costs $10. But you have to belong to the main group first, which is currently $39.95 per year. Yes, there is a charge for using the RV sites, but then again, they operate as business, and don't expect the membership cost to fund all the development of those resorts, nor do higher maintenance fees pay for the maintenance of the park nor offices and personnel that you will never see! Some of the resorts are company owned, and some are privately owned, but they all have to operate as individual entities. Even if one runs into financial trouble, it isn't going to affect the entire system like with membership resorts that the members pay to develop and maintain! And if one should ever fail (highly unlikely), it simply drops out...without taking your money with it!

There are also other organizations that seem to have learned a lot over the years and made changes to the way they do business, in order to meet the members needs. One main benefit of some is in the ones who refuse to let their memberships be sold at discounted prices through other sources. They actually buy the membership back or sell it for you. They also divided their system into districts, to accommodate the fact that people weren't traveling as far when the gas prices were higher. That also localizes the expenditures to certain areas and prices can be controlled better (i.e., why pay coastal prices for land and maintenance when you only travel in the Midwest?). One that comes to mind is Thousand Trails. We have not been members of them at any time, so I can't speak from first hand experience, only from observations that I have made from watching the industry from an objective position. Thousand Trails seem to have their act together and appear to be financially stable. If I am wrong, please, someone who is a member in the know, correct me!

Please note that there is a big difference between membership resorts, and being a member of a club! Escapees is a club. BoondockersWelcome is a club. Harvest Hosts is a club. Passport America is a club! Membership resorts are a whole different animal, and the way they operate is completely different than a club! Don't confuse the two!

I'm sure some of you have also purchased memberships in resort camping organizations, and I would like to hear your input regarding your experiences. If you haven't joined, why? If you have joined, would you do it again, knowing today's resources? What are your recommendations when looking at one for possible purchase?

In summary...

We will be making up our minds within the next two months, but based on everything I know, and have researched, the membership camping no longer fits our needs, and even though it would mean losing the $9500+$7250 that we have already invested, I have no problem cutting our losses. There's no sense in putting good money after bad.

As far as the second part of this post...yes...our plans are still intact. Losing the membership aspect won't affect us in the least! This is mostly due to the fact that for the past two years I have been researching the subject and reading the blog posts of many others out there who are already doing what we want to do, and the majority of them DO NOT depend upon membership resorts! You can't stick your head in the sand and refuse to read, and expect to learn anything about anything! Because of my constant reading, I know that there are actually better ways of traveling, and for less cost, than depending on membership resorts! I couldn't care less whether they ALL go out of business, other than them taking a considerable portion of my money with them when they go!

So please, let me know your thoughts on the subject!


Bradford H. said...

Excellent post with lots of practical information, John. There are a lot of reasons people aren't buying into resorts and like you said, the word has gotten out about how many of them have shafted people. I saw it happen in Iowa, as well.

I was unaware about how condescending resorts can be about what you camp in. I've experienced discrimination in public campgrounds but thankfully, it's never caused much of a problem. (people don't like my white van)

I think you and Sharon are wise for cutting your losses and moving on. Your style of camping just wouldn't fit with some fixed resorts. That's a good thing - perhaps a compliment! (You're too young and creative to camp around stodgy old folks with their crank down awnings and swing-out TVs) You two will be moving around and having exciting adventures. RV'ing on the cheap is more flexible for ya'll and I think it will be a lot of fun!

I agree there are a lot of good clubs out there one can join without being tied down to a certain lot that one might not even get to use! Happy Camping!

John Abert said...

Hi Brad! Sorry about the delay in replying, but hopefully the next post will explain why. As with any new adventure, a new path must be found. We want a path that includes some boondocking, but not hiding out in remote desert areas for months at a time like hermits, either! We enjoy being around the right kind of people, and having a few unlimited electric power! But we want to be set up for boondocking for those times we may stop somewhere for lunch, or need to find a Walmart parking lot in between other resorts. Our intent was never to live like we are homeless! But in finding our path, a little bit of experimentation and searching is necessary. If and when we ever find a place that feels like a home should feel, we may slow down enough to enjoy it, while still never growing attached enough to prevent us leaving if we chose to. Anything else would be a detriment to our freedom.

Gene and Jean said...

We were Resort Member since the early days at White Oaks - Monticello, IN. We enjoyed it there since we lived only 5 miles away. We will never travel to Colorado. So we are cutting our loss. Wonder if there is any tax deduction possible in this?

John Abert said...

That's a question for an accountant. We didn't persue the issue. We always thought that if it were a deeded membership, that they couldn't do anything without paying something back to the members, but apparently that isn't the case, either. As much as we thought about dropping the whole thing when they gave us the opportunity, we went ahead and paid the minimum fee of $299. But they still haven't made it clear how this affects the other WHR resorts. All they have addressed is AOR, Sunbelt and Coast to Coast. So far, it has been very poor communication with members on exactly what is happening with WHR. But we decided that since we are traveling full-time now, and mostly in the western states, that whatever we get out of the remainder will justify the fees. But we still don't like the way the entire change has taken place. It's almost like they are purposely hiding information from the members!

Happy Traveler said...

We were told that AOR and Coast to Coast would not honor anything to do with Blue Mesa Guest Ranch and all the money we paid is simply money in their pocket under a different name.

John Abert said...

We came across another site with a similar name, but it is not the same resort. All three systems (Wester Horizon Resorts, Adventure Outdoor Resorts, and Sunbelt Resorts) all have their billing address at the offices of Blue Mesa Ranch. However, there has been little information provided from them on what effect the latest transition has on the other divisions. Since they all seem to be run from the same office, I don't know how one can be excluded from the other. Also, since you have to have a home resort to belong to Coast to Coast, it would be hard to believe that tbey are not on top of the situation in excluding renewals on resorts or systems that were no longer valid. We had no problem getting our new literature packets from both AOR and Coast to Coast.

We will be passing through Gunnison at some point this summer, and I WILL be getting some answers before we pay for another year! If they think we are going to blindly continue to pay a membership fee without answers, they had better think again! And if it doesn't include all the resorts that we bought into, they won't be renewed next year! I may just spend some time calling the WHR resorts and getting some answers from people outside the Gunnison sales office! I've learned to never trust anyone trying to make a buck from you, or keep from losing it!

But seriously, double check the resort names. I believe there are two of them that use the words Blue Mesa in their name, and you might be referring to the wrong one. The other one is not a membership resort and has nothing to do with AOR or Coast to Coast. Google is a wonderful source of information if used properly.

John Abert said...

We came across another site with a similar name, but it is not the same resort. All three systems (Wester Horizon Resorts, Adventure Outdoor Resorts, and Sunbelt Resorts) all have their billing address at the offices of Blue Mesa Ranch. However, there has been little information provided from them on what effect the latest transition has on the other divisions. Since they all seem to be run from the same office, I don't know how one can be excluded from the other. Also, since you have to have a home resort to belong to Coast to Coast, it would be hard to believe that tbey are not on top of the situation in excluding renewals on resorts or systems that were no longer valid. We had no problem getting our new literature packets from both AOR and Coast to Coast.

We will be passing through Gunnison at some point this summer, and I WILL be getting some answers before we pay for another year! If they think we are going to blindly continue to pay a membership fee without answers, they had better think again! And if it doesn't include all the resorts that we bought into, they won't be renewed next year! I may just spend some time calling the WHR resorts and getting some answers from people outside the Gunnison sales office! I've learned to never trust anyone trying to make a buck from you, or keep from losing it!

But seriously, double check the resort names. I believe there are two of them that use the words Blue Mesa in their name, and you might be referring to the wrong one. The other one is not a membership resort and has nothing to do with AOR or Coast to Coast. Google is a wonderful source of information if used properly.

Tj Jones said...

Thank you for your time writing all of this. We too bought into W.H. but thankfully was lucky enough to be literally "asked to leave" aka kicked out of WHR while at an AZ resort due to causing a park uprising over fees for services not delivered. When I say kicked out I mean a total refund of all our payments/fees and asked to leave first thing in the morning, except our base membership which they couldn't take as we bought it second hand.
I've recently seen a group on the 'net that's come together and is supposedly filing a class action against WHR/Loken. We'll see what comes of that.
I agree with you that the membership model can be fraught with charlatans and just plain bad business people but it does seem that at least 1000 Trails has it figured out for now. I've stayed in a couple of their resorts under ROD and really liked them. I don't know what it's like to be a member but am thinking of looking into it when we decide to go back on the road again. We've belonged to Passport America and it's ....okay as long as you're careful. Stayed at some pretty sketchy parks listed in their database that the description listed as "wonderful".
Anyone who's going by Gunnison expecting answers, good luck with that! I don't know if they'd know the truth if it bit 'em in the arse, but they WILL happily take your $$$$.
Keep up the good work John!

John Abert said...

Thank you, TJ, for the compliment and information. In retrospect, I wish we hadn't sent all the money we did over the years on memberships, but before the Internet came along and leveled the playing field, the memberships and books were all we had back in the 80's. Now, we hope to pay very few camping fees at all, whether in resorts or otherwise. We have enough sources and savvy these days to boondock for free most of the time. The Days End Directory, available to Escapees RV Club members has over 800 pages (in pdf) of free places to park for the night. Between that and free BLM land, we hope to pay very few camping fees. I know some people insist they have to have hookups... but why? Most RV's today have either generators or solar, and carry enough water and waste for at least a week at a time, so why pay for places to park? Unless you are in an area with high heat and humidity and have to have air conditioning. But the western states have all the cool dry air you need by just changing elevation, which can easily be done in two hours or less. I couldn't care less if ALL the membership parks went out of business, because we don't need them anymore! We've found better and cheaper ways to travel full time than paying their exorbitant fees and then having them change the rules and add to the fees! And we have found that we don't use all the activities that some parks have. We're retired! We don't have kids traveling with us anymore. And some parks spaces are so close together that you can hear your neighbor snore (or do other things). I'd rather be out in the boonies with plenty of space around me, and not have to pay for things that we never use. But thank you for commenting, and for reading my blog.

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Unknown said...

John my wife and I have read your blog and we thank you very much for the information and insight you have provided. We have also been a victim of WHR in Gunnison,Colorado. We will be researching your suggestions. We are in our early 70's and look forward to enjoying our camping adventures as you have. God bless and may you enjoy your future adventures.

Jim Kelley said...

Jim Loken was in it for the money he bought to many Resorts to fast he did not know anything about campgrounds how to set them up or how to run them, when he was in over his head he kept raising prices, selling more and more memberships, he has stole money from all its members and is now out of business. what goes around comes around so he has his to look forward too.

Marilyn said...

They have my money, too. Bought in Jan 2001 and now have a worthless lifetime membership. If there is a class-action suit to be brought, please count me in and let me know.

Patience said...

I too joined WHR in the fall of 2001. I paid $7000+ upfront, then my annual fee was only $25. Indian Waters in Indio, CA was my home park. The powers that be sold that park, so I changed my home park to BMR in Gunnison. I was full-timing, so I felt like I would eventually get my moneys' worth. I sold my MH in 2008, but kept paying the $25/yr just in case I ever bought another RV. I got the letter and checked the box to opt out. I included a bit of a tirade about how I felt about their treatment of members. I was hoping that many members also opted out so that they lost a big chunk of their cashflow.

Tee said...

TEE MARCH 20,2017
We purchased our WHR membership in 2002. We paid the full price the day we there for a shake down. WHR even offered a premium package which I signed up for A few months after signing up we started receiving notice that their packs were being sold. Since we paided up front we only had to pay $25.00 per year for dues. I should of known it was to good to be true. If there is a class action law suit count me in.

Tee said...

TEE MARCH 20,2017
We purchased our WHR membership in 2002. We paid the full price the day we there for a shake down. WHR even offered a premium package which I signed up for A few months after signing up we started receiving notice that their packs were being sold. Since we paided up front we only had to pay $25.00 per year for dues. I should of known it was to good to be true. If there is a class action law suit count me in.

zell said...

My husband and I also would like to be included in a class action suit. We bought in to Western Horizon because they had a home park for us close by. Soon after buying in, the park was sold off. We are close to retirement age and were hoping to finally be able to use our membership full time as we traveled. Thank you for letting us know of the free options out there. Western Horizon has let us down.

John Abert said...

Sorry for the delay in responding. I was just going through my dashboard on blogger and realized I have comments pending. As an update, as of December of 2016 we informed all camping memberships with ongoing maintenance fees that we will no longer be participating. These memberships included Western Horizons, AOR, Sunbelt Resorts and Coast to Coast (since we no longer have a home resort). None of them gave us any hassle over it... they all sent a confirmation letter and that was the end of it. As we have time, we will post again on this topic.

John Abert said...

Thank you for your comments, and I apologize for my late reply. Please see the update in the reply just above this comment, and thank you for letting us know your thoughts.

John Abert said...

Thank you for your thoughts. As former managers for the now defunct All Seasons Resorts (we had 866 acres, a full service restaurant, a 10,000 SF recreation building that brought in bands for dances once a month, and a 50-acre lake, AND managed a sales staff), we were able to see first hand what goes on behind the scenes with membership campgrounds. Sometimes it is bad owners/managers that cause the problems, but it also has to do with changes in society.

At the time these memberships were thought up (1976), there was no internet, so people didn't know any other options, except what they learned from printed material and word of mouth. As technology took over, information began to be exchanged freely, and other options became more apparent.

Today, there are all kinds of apps, Facebook groups, blogs, videos, web sites and other things specializing in showing people and teaching them about how to get free camping, and all the services relating to it, such as dumping stations locations, where to find propane, and many other things. The people who take the time to use their smart phones and computers to join these groups and learn about camping without the need of paying camping fees have educated themselves to steer away from spending money needlessly.

With the recent advent of cheap solar options, campers no longer need to rely on electric hookups in campgrounds (nor noisy generators), and are also realizing that many of the amenities that are being paid for by the maintenance fees are not even being used, so it's wasted expense! Many RVers are retirement age and don't even have kids traveling with them! They seldom use playgrounds and other attractions designed for families. And if just traveling through and needing some sleep, why pay campground fees when there are so many other free options?

The combination of all this has made it very difficult for the conventional membership resorts to sell memberships in sufficient volume to provide the upkeep for all the amenities. Without memberships and maintenance fees, there is no operating capital. These changes in society and technology are not the fault of owners/managers, and even the best owners/managers cannot overcome the trends brought on by these changes.

I foresee a time in the near future when all of the conventional membership resorts will no longer be there, simply because other less expensive options have come forward. The memberships will go away by natural attrition, and they will no longer have the funds to operate. Even now, the private member resorts are being forced to let the public in at a higher rate, just to add income to their coffers. People would rather pay the higher rate for only when they use the campgrounds, than be tied into thousands of dollars to buy in, and then ongoing maintenance fees whether they use the facility or not.

We could see the writing on the wall and got out before All Seasons filed for bankruptcy (again) back in the mid-90s. They lost all of their resorts, and had to shut down completely for a year. They opened again under the name Travel America, but only with 6 of the 76 resorts that they had in their peak, and even that didn't last long. The one we managed has been closed and vacant ever since, and it's a shame, because it could have been nice, even though the layout was totally wrong for efficient operation. That was the fault of the original developer, who had never owned a campground before, and knew absolutely nothing about efficient layout of a resort! Unfortunately, that happens way too often, and the managers are expected to compensate for what the developer didn't think about!

Thousand Trails is about the last remaining survivor of those types of membership resorts, but has been more open to making the changes necessary to survive. So far, they seem to be doing OK.

John Abert said...

Thank you for your thoughts. Unfortunately, without a lawsuit (or even with one), I doubt you will ever get your original membership fees back. We were so disgusted with the way things were going that we made up our minds that we weren't going to put good money after bad, and cut our losses... even though we have probably lost close to $25,000 in original membership purchases and ongoing maintenance fees over the years. We simply wanted to get out from under the ongoing maintenance fees. We wrote them a letter, citing at least ten reasons why we would never use the memberships again, and we wanted out. They simply conformed dropping us from the member roster and didn't bill us anymore. The relief of getting out of that situation was worth the loss of the membership fee. I wouldn't want to go through all the hassles of a court battle and all the future frustrations involved in stretching it out. We just have to chalk it up to a lesson learned and let it go. My freedom and peace of mind is worth every bit of it.

John Abert said...

Thank you for commenting. I have addressed many of my thoughts in previous comments, but I do believe that what you did was the best thing. Best wishes.

John Abert said...

Thank you for commenting. I have also recently added new (and very late) replies to other comments, so be sure to read them all again. Lawsuits against these kinds of things are seldom successful and only drag a bad situation out longer. I know it hurts to lose thousands of dollars, but simply opting out of paying any more fees is probably your best bet.

I would like to say something about the $25 dues, though. The decision to offer those was bad judgement on the part of the owners. You see... original membership fees are supposed to cover the cost of development of the resort. The maintenance fees are supposed to cover the cost of day to day operations. When that wasn't enough, the owners come up with new "upgrades" promising special privileges for those who bought into them. But even those haven't been enough to cover all the costs.

So in essence, the owners were shooting themselves in the foot by offering cheap maintenance fees, as those are what were needed to keep the resort operating long after the development fees were spent. They were in such desperate need of immediate funds that they misjudged the importance of long-term fees in the struggle to get immediate money coming in.

This is typical of what is happening with most of the membership resort systems these days. They are doing desperate things to stay alive!

John Abert said...

I have added new replies to other comments in this regard, so be sure to read through the comments again. We have found that becoming involved with blogs, videos and web sites relating to the topics in which we are interested, is the best and cheapest way to enjoy traveling... which we now do full-time. Make use of the technology, especially the smart phones and apps, to learn about all the free opportunities and services that you need. We have already crossed (most of) this country twice, and very seldom paid a camping fee. We used free sources to locate places to park, and verified the situations with Google Maps and Google Earth. We located dump stations, propane, cheap gas, food stores and more, right from the driver's seat, and knew what the parking was like before we ever arrived.

I can't say enough about the importance of smart phones and technology in RVing and camping at the least cost. Our technology has more than paid for the price of our $850 smart phone many times over, in saving us from spending more then we should, or keeping us out of bad situations. From keeping an eye on the weather with active radar, to pulling up an 800-page .pdf file of free parking spots all across the country, our smart phone is a necessary item for our travels, and I wouldn't be without it. It provides a reliable 4G unlimited internet hotspot through Verizon, which also feeds our other computers, so it serves as our TV source, our communications through several channels, our emergency scanner, one of several cameras, a magnifier for printed maps, our recipe sources, and so much more. It literally has paid for itself many times over.

John Abert said...

Hi Tee! Sorry about the late reply. I just found your comment on my dashboard. I normally get email notices about comments coming in, but I must have missed this one. Hopefully, the other replies have addressed the issues. Thanks for your input!

John Abert said...

This seemed to be a very hot topic, so I wanted to bring everyone up to speed on our status in this regard, even though it's many months late. We actually opted out of Western Horizons and all of their associated sites, as well as Coast to Coast (which we cannot belong to without having a home resort). We did this before the 2017 billing cycle came up, and we did it by simply sending an email laying out over ten different reasons why we no longer would use it or want it. We received a follow up letter soon after that confirmed we would be removed from their billing system. We haven't heard from them since, and have seen no need to use ANY membership resort in ANY system since then.

We don't have kids that would use resort amenities, and with having solar power now, we find it much more to our tastes to use the federal or state lands and amenities at much less cost than fully appointed membership parks. Also, there are many new sites and apps with low cost or no cost parking that have appeared in recent years to take the place of memberships in expensive resorts.

We have also disposed of both of our time shares with Westgate and Diamond Resorts, by doing the research and following the instructions to obtain the release paperwork and quit-claim deeds, for a one-time fee of $250 to each organization. With 99% of them not allowing pets, and of those that do wanting a non-refundable pet deposit that is outrageous, we will never use them again.

If anyone has any follow up comments or questions, please ask, and we will try to help if we can. Thank you all, for your interest in this topic.

Mark Martinez said...

We won a 3 year membership to WHR in 1997 and upgraded to a lifetime ( 3 lifetime ) membership for $3500. We got our money's worth as we used it numerous times over the years. About 3 years ago we were told at a membership meeting that the resort was being sold. Our lifetime yearly dues which were $269 went up to $299. Now as of a week ago (4/2/18) we were told that we would have to re-buy into the resort at $3995 + $399 processing fee in order to remain members!!!! Compared to some people I guess we have not lost as much, but we too will be letting our membership go. I can't trust this industry with any more of my money. If you want to talk or vent reach me a I am interested in other stories also. If there is a suit going, count me in and I would like some information. By the way at the meeting we were told that only 1200 WHR members would be allowed in the new operation and that brand new memberships are $12000-$15000 YA RIGHT!!!! and they are almost gone. SURE!!!!!

John Abert said...

Hi Mark! Thank you for the input! Between all the upgrade programs, changes in rules and even outright deception by companies that were regarded as reasonably honest, stories like yours are all too common. Many of those companies are now getting desperate to survive in a world in which they have become dinosaurs. And yet, they still try to remain legal and loyal to the customers who still use them. Knowing what I know now, I am sorry I ever got involved with them, but in the days before the internet, they seemed to be the best way to go... at the time. Unfortunately, many younger people bought into them so they could have them paid off by the time they retired and would really use them, and by that time, they became obsolete!

We got out of ours by simply writing an email to them and laying out our ten+ different reasons that we would never use it again, and they let us out of our obligation to it. I hope everyone else can do the same. We don't even like the membership parks or any organized campground, and very much prefer to use the state and national parks, where sites aren't crammed in so close to one another. And many times, we pay nothing at all for up to two weeks at a time through other free sources. I can only encourage ALL RVers to get away from organized camping situations and get out and travel and learn how to do it for next to nothing, rather then continually pay outrageous camping fees! It CAN be done!