BUTTE — At least seven mobile home owners have been told to leave the KOA Kampground in Butte, leaving some who have lived there for years scrambling to find another place.
Joseph Tice, a new majority owner of the campground off of Kaw Avenue, had a letter distributed to them last week saying the final conversion of the property to an overnight campground was beginning. He is giving them 90 days to leave.
Tice said Kampgrounds of America Inc., which oversees the national franchise business, said KOAs are more successful if operated solely as overnight campgrounds, so he has decided to stop renting spaces to mobile homes on a monthly basis.
“KOA has years of data that support their opinion that you either have a campground or a mobile home park,” Tice said in a telephone interview from Pennsylvania, where he lives. “Campers don’t mix well with mobile home parks.
“They showed us some compelling numbers that said if you convert the whole park into a campground you will increase your revenues,” he said.
He said he bought the campground in April and it was very hard to ask the more permanent dwellers to leave. He said he has offered to help them find a new place and give them a partial rent refund.
But three of the residents say they were taken by surprise and don’t know where they will go.
“Ninety days is not a long time before you have to move,” said Joyce Murie, a retiree who has lived in a mobile home at the campground for 38 years.
Her neighbor, Jeanie Baldwin, said she has lived there about six years and has a grandson living with her now. She said she pays $225 a month to rent the space her mobile home sits on.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” she said. “I can’t afford anywhere else. Rent (elsewhere) is so high with first month’s rent and last month’s rent and a deposit.”
The letter she received said if the site is vacated within 90 days and rent is up to date at the time, she will get a $175 refund check. It is meant to help with moving expenses.
It said property to be vacated included mobile homes, RVs, shed, attached structures and anything not belonging to the campground.
An accompanying letter from Tice said the decisions were made with much consideration to their being longtime renters.
“These decisions are never easy, but I must meet the needs of my business and the conditions of maintaining my franchise,” that letter said.
Murie said she she had a new awning put on her mobile home a few months ago, when she believes the campground was under new ownership, because the old awning caved in under heavy snow. Insurance paid for most of it but it cost her $500 directly, she said.
She wonders why nobody told her not to bother.
Murie said the area has been KOA property during her 38 years there and was owned by a couple for most of those years. She said another couple owned it for about three years before selling it a few months ago.
Arlene Salcido said she has lived in a module unit on the site for eight years.
“My husband died a couple of years ago and that makes it (having to move) even harder,” Salcido said. “I get Social Security and I work a couple of days a week, but I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Tice said the conversion toward a complete campground started several years ago and having the last seven or so more permanent units removed was part of that.
There will be more space for nightly rentals of RVs and campers passing through, he said, and that would increase lodging taxes paid to the county and visits to bars and restaurants.
He said his goal is to move to Butte, but he has a daughter still in high school in Pennsylvania.
“It was a very difficult decision,” he said. “There are some people who have been there a very long time and it was a very, very hard decision.”
Murie said the monthly residents keep money coming into the campground during the long winters, when hardly anyone else stays there. But she’s not making the decisions, she said.
“I don’t think there is a thing we can do,” she said.