When Robert Ross got the news he’d be deploying back to the Middle East in July, it seemed he and his family would have to forgo plans for their annual summer camping trip.
“We normally take a camping vacation every year, but I was given very little notice for my upcoming deployment, and we thought that there was no way we could plan or be able to do a trip this year,” he says.
But Ross, who is an Army staff sergeant and active reservist, and his family – which includes wife Kim and three children, ages 17, 13 and 11 – were in luck when they were selected to receive a free 10-day camping trip courtesy of CrossRoads RV and Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts.
“This came at the perfect time,” says Ross, noting the trip was scheduled for the Memorial Day holiday, which also coincides with the couple’s 19-year wedding anniversary.
Still, as the first family to participate in CrossRoads RV’s “Operation Appreciation,” Ross says the family wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
Before the family made the trek from their home in Fort Wayne, Ind., to the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at Barton Lake, near Fremont, Ind., they had camped primarily in pop-ups.
CrossRoads RV President Don Emahiser (second from right) is pictured with park staff at Jellystone Park Camp Resort at Barton Lake, which generously made one of its sites available for CrossRoads to place one of its Hampton park models. As part of its “Operation Appreciation” project, CrossRoads is offering free weeklong stays in the park unit for active-duty military members and their families. Photos courtesy of CrossRoads RV.
“We are pop-up camping people, and (CrossRoads) had sent us an e-mail of the floorplan of the camper,” Ross says. “When we got here and saw it, we were quite surprised.”
CrossRoads RV – which is spearheading Operation Appreciation – donated a Hampton 38QB park trailer retailing for more than $43,000 to the cause. The park model is 40 feet, 11 inches in length and offers 8 feet of ceiling height. It features a bath-and-a-half, a kid’s suite in the back with a 32-inch LCD television, a junior dinette that can be converted into another sleeping area and flip-down bunk beds. The trailer sleeps up to six people.
“It’s a larger unit, with a special kid’s room in the back, with a toy box, and in the front, there is a queen bed for mom and dad and a residential refrigerator,” according to Dave Boggs, director of marketing for CrossRoads RV. “The unit is stocked with pots and pans and bedding, etc., and the families will just need to bring other supplies as far as food.”
Operation Appreciation came to fruition in late May after CrossRoads RV President Don Emahiser, a Navy veteran, came up with the idea about six months ago to allow active-duty military families the opportunity to stay in a luxury park unit at a camping resort for up to a week this summer free of cost. He pitched the idea to the owners of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resort at Barton Lake, who generously agreed to donate one of their lot spaces for the Hampton park model.
Family Thunderstruck by RV, Resort Amenities
The Ross family says they were blown away by both the Hampton park model and the Jellystone Park resort.
“There are so many family activities Jellystone has to offer, from wagon rides, craft activities for the kids, a waterpark and swimming pool … playgrounds, volleyball and basketball courts and horse shoes,” Ross says. “We are so impressed with the level they (Jellystone Resorts) go to as far as the family activities they offer.
“The camper is almost like a hotel,” he adds. “There are two bedrooms; bunk beds for the kids; two bathrooms; and a full kitchen.”
In fact, when the Ross family began compiling a list of supplies future Operation Appreciation participants might find useful to bring, it was difficult to come up with anything that wasn’t already provided in the park model.
“They provided everything for us,” Ross says. “Basically all we had to bring was our food and toiletries. There was already a fully-furnished kitchen and plenty of things to do.”
The Hampton 38QB park trailer being used by military families as part of Operation Appreciation comes equipped with just about everything they’ll need during their stay. Robert Ross describes the park model as “almost like a hotel.”
While staying in the Hampton 38QB, the Ross’ were visited by other campers. One couple, in particular, was so impressed with the park model that they have encouraged their son, who is a Marine, to e-mail CrossRoads RV and book his own Operation Appreciation trip.
“It’s definitely worth the trip. Not only are you offered the opportunity for a free week of camping, but when you get ready to deploy, it’s a great way to get together and spend time with your family,” Ross says. “It’s just been fantastic for us that we get to spend nine days as a family and not have to go to work – just complete family time dedicated to each other before I have to go.”
Honoring the Service of Service Members
Ross’s sentiments about the importance of being able to spend time with his family before he deploys is exactly why CrossRoads RV spearheaded the Operation Appreciation campaign, according to Boggs.
“Military families like to camp, but sometimes the money is not there for them to do so,” he says. “It’s about giving back to the men and women who have done all they’ve done – giving up their time with their family, missing so much that has changed with their kids, and for the kids not seeing mom or dad for a year or so.
“It’s just to give back for all of their sacrifices,” Boggs adds. “It’s (Operation Appreciation) a week to build memories.”
CrossRoads RV hopes those memories will last with the servicemen and women who partake in the complementary camping trips with their families.
“I think military families know camping is important. They might be separated from their husband or wife and children for an extensive period of time. Camping is quality time with family,” Boggs says. “The memories they have from this campground are going to last them when they go back and fight for the country.”
And Boggs adds that Operation Appreciation is important for the RV industry, too.
“We are bringing light to an area that is kind of neglected,” he says. “We (as an industry) don’t think about military families as much as we should.”
Operation Appreciation is already booked for the year, Boggs said, noting that at least 30 families will benefit this summer.
While plans to continue Operation Appreciation beyond this camping season have yet to be determined, Boggs says the popularity of this year’s campaign is prompting CrossRoads RV to consider expanding the program to include other campgrounds in other states.
Whatever CrossRoads RV ultimately decides, the company’s generosity won’t soon be forgotten by the Ross family.
“It’s been a fantastic week and it’s just fantastic to think that the country and all the different organizations who have contributed to Operation Appreciation still show so much support for the military when they could just hang a banner and say, ‘thanks,’” Ross says. “It’s fantastic to still see this level of support, and it’s humbling that they do that.”