ST. GEORGE — After selling recreational vehicles for the last 24 years, Scott Nielsen was looking for his next adventure.
That adventure is now well underway on an open plot of land in Hurricane across Sand Hollow Road from Diamond Ranch Academy. Tractors and backhoes are grading out what will soon be Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at Hurricane Sand Hollow.
Nielsen is looking to build something that is better than the average RV resort, especially for families. And a water park, rides and restaurants will be an attraction for locals.
“We’ve always sold the fun, now we’ll help with the experience,” said the 45-year-old Nielsen, who admittedly grew up a bigger fan of the exploits of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner than the bear notorious for stealing picnic baskets from campers. But Yogi and his nemesis Ranger Smith might seem more appropriate with the proximity to Zion National Park.
“Yogi Bear and Zion go together. We’re not really going after the senior citizens, though they’re welcome. We’re catering to the parents,” Nielsen, a father of seven himself, said. “This is a smaller version of Disneyland. It’s a theme campground where parents can bring the kids.”
In the first phase, the 52-acre resort will have 30 cabins and another 250 campsites, with most having RV pads.
But the real fun will be in a $5 million to $6 million water park as well as a miniature golf course and a fishing pond.
There are no roller coasters or other rides in the offering yet, but Nielsen said expanded rides and offerings are not out of the question in his future vision of a family resort. Nielsen makes comparisons to Southern California’s Knott’s Berry Farm, which started out with a few rides to attract people to berry stands and Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant.
It’s probably no coincidence, then, that the main restaurant at the park will be known as “Nielsen’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant.”
A fun progression
Even before he was 20, Nielsen was already selling cars.
But it wasn’t for him.
“I didn’t like that very well, so I went to RVs,” Nielsen said. “I never looked back.”
But even as successful as Nielsen RV was, with what he said was $56 million in revenue and 100 employees, Nielsen said he was ready to move on when Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis came to him with a large undisclosed offer he couldn’t refuse in March and sold Nielsen RV to CNBC’s “The Profit” host and made a profit of his own.
And while the screams of hundreds of prepubescent kids having fun may not seem less stressful, Nielsen said it will be for him.
“This will be less headache,” Nielsen said of the Jellystone Park project. “This will be lower key.”
Nielsen already had a vision for a “Glampers Inn RV Resort” at the Hurricane property at 505 Sand Hollow Road, but looking for even greater family inclusion, he contacted the people behind the Jellystone Park Camp/Resorts.
“There is no family camping in that area,” Jim Westover, vice president of the Jellystone Park resorts, told St. George News. “That is what spurred him to contact us.”
Jellystone Park is not necessarily new to the family resort game, having opened their first park at Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, in 1969. But they’re also more well-known east of the Mississippi. All but three of the 75 Jellystone Parks are east of Colorado, and Hurricane will be the first in Utah.
And Westover said the Utah location and proximity to both Zion and Sand Hollow State Park was a big selling point toward them signing a franchise deal with Nielsen. So was Nielsen’s pitch to take advantage of the growing trend of “glamping,” which is short for glamourous camping, that includes amenities like a hard cabin, electricity, climate control and mattresses added to the traditional camping experience.
“Things more westward are more dependent on national parks. Campgrounds in those areas are not realizing what they’re missing out on: The glamping business,” Westover said, noting that 25% of the resort will consist of cabins alongside the traditional RV pads and places to pitch a traditional canvas tent. “Nielsen sees it all as a growth opportunity, and this will be a staple.”
What about the drought?
Besides the camping sites and cabins are plans for the “fun” portion consisting of the water park and the miniature golf course.
Though the idea of a water park brings up an obvious question: What about the drought?
“We’ve taken a lot of that into consideration,” Nielsen said.
He said the net amount of water he takes from either the city of Hurricane or Washington County will be zero.
“I drilled my own well, and I own my own water. We purchased it and have the rights,” Nielsen said. “There’s more water in our aquifers than there is in Sand Hollow.”
Then there’s the water slides themselves. Nielsen said they will use the same supply of water that is constantly being filtered and recycled and won’t be ending in a large swimming pool. Rather, they will finish with 12 inches of water “that slows you down.” That water and the water on the nearby splash pads will all drain right back into the underground aquifer. “We’re not actually using a ton of water in that regard.”
The larger bodies of water – a lazy river and a fishing pond that will feature a beach – will also use the constantly filtered and recycled water supply.
The three major water slides will include a large “bowl” slide, while nearby will be a giant 30- by 70-foot jumping pad.
There will also be food offerings beyond the chicken restaurant. Nielsen said he is presently in negotiations to bring a Nathan’s Hot Dog restaurant to the Hurricane resort.
The design of the water park and other elements of the resort has become a family affair between Nielsen, his wife and seven children. He took all of them to the Jellystone Park resort in Larkspur, Colorado, as “guinea pigs” and they came back with ideas that will make the Hurricane park unique.
One example will be changes to the miniature golf course, after the kids were less than impressed with the Larkspur course.
“They thought it was like 18 holes of putting greens. They want ours to be more interactive,” he said.
As a result, the Hurricane course will feature interactive coyotes, frogs and cacti as well as a Moab-like arch and giant interactive snakes and lizards.
Nielsen’s wife also had input, reminding of the need for shade structures in play areas more necessary in the Southern Utah summer.
This is for real
Besides the water issue, if there’s another source of skepticism, it may be whether the water park happens at all considering the Southern Utah community has heard promises of a family water park for decades.
But Nielsen said his development has a big difference from Splash City: He has all the money on hand to build it.
“What hinders people is money. We’re not borrowing any money to build this,” Nielsen said. “This is already approved with the city, so really aside from a zombie apocalypse or a financial crisis, and I’m not even sure that will hurt us — we’re going full force.”
The slides have already been built by a company that Nielsen said has worked with Disney. Nielsen said the camping sites and grading will be complete by this winter and overall they are aiming to have the water park completed by March.
At least at the beginning, Nielsen and Westover said the water park will be very much open to locals, though that access may be later restricted to campers at the site depending on demand, though Westover still ultimately sees day passes for locals.
The Jellystone Park executive sees another benefit to the Southern Utah community besides a place to play.
“This will bring more jobs. This is going to be big,” Westover said. “Our typical person spends money outside the park as well.”
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