Buckeye, Ariz., July, 2015 – With 20 years of experience as a freelance producer for Paramount Studios, ABC Studios and Warner Bros. TV, Scott Swanson of Buckeye has no trouble finding work in Hollywood.
His credits include various episodes of the “Gilmore Girls”, “Everwood”, “Person of Interest” and “Eli Stone”, as well as numerous other TV shows and pilot productions.
But even though he gets calls every few weeks from people encouraging him to escape Arizona’s summer heat for an assignment in the cooler climes of Hollywood, Swanson has found a job that’s even more appealing: running Leaf Verde RV Resort, his family’s 377-site RV park in Buckeye.
“It’s a lot of stress to deal with executive producers. It’s a lot of stress to deal with actors. But here, I’m free of all that,” Swanson said. “It’s like being on a cruise ship.”
That’s not to say that running an RV resort is not without its challenges.
Swanson’s grandfather, Andy Anderson, a co-founder of the famed Iowa Beef Processors (IBP), built the park with other family members in 1985, partly out of frustration over not finding a park with RV sites large enough for his Prevost motorhome towing a trailer.
But soon after the family member managing the RV park retired, it fell into disrepair. Sanson and his mother, Sandy Catalana, came back to run the park five years ago.
“Our original plan was to fix it up, kick out the riff raff, and put it on the market to sell,” Swanson said. But things didn’t work out the way he had planned.
“I rented a motorhome and stayed here a couple of months,” Swanson said. “I decided I should take the season off from television and stayed through the winter season. I started enforcing the rules. I made some enemies along the way, and I had a mass exodus because of the enforcement of the rules. But I also started seeing improvements that needed to be made. I was like the “Undercover Boss”. But in the process of fixing up the park, I fell in love with the place.”
Since 2010, Swanson and his family have invested more than $1 million in improvements, including new electrical, water and sewer connections, renovating the heated swimming pool, a dog park, new laundry facilities as well as improvements to make the resort compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
These improvements and Leaf Verde’s exceptional customer service have helped the resort earn all around “A” ratings in the Guest Rated consumer surveys in 2013 and 2014. Only 34 out of about 4,000 campgrounds, RV Parks and resorts across America received all around ‘A’ ratings in those surveys for both 2013 and 2014.
Leaf Verde is also expanding its offering of activities, which now includes card games to arts & crafts, to live entertainment provided by retired musicians who stay at the park.
Business, meanwhile, has rocketed 210 percent since 2010, and Swanson believes the winter of 2015-2016 will be the park’s strongest season yet.
“We are now a major economic force in our community,” Swanson said. “We’re Buckeye’s largest hotel for RVers. We pay transient occupancy tax. I had 5,488 visitors last year staying anywhere from one day to several months, spending money in the local economy. Last season we had a waiting list of people wanting to get into the park.”
Swanson has also become active in the RV Park industry. He joined the Board of Directors of the Arizona Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, which hosts GoCampingInArizona.com, the statewide travel planning website, and he was recently elected president of the association.
All of this is a fry cry from Swanson’s work in Hollywood. “Of course, I do miss the adrenaline and the free flowing creativity of things in Hollywood,” Swanson said. “But I don’t miss the high stress, some of the self-entitled people or the 18-hour days.”
Running an RV resort with 377 sites and more than 700 guests in peak season is not necessarily a cakewalk either, but it’s a job Swanson enjoys.
“Managers at RV resorts have many roles,” Swanson said. “Here you are like the city manager, the mayor, the chief of police, a psychologist and a judge, all rolled into one.”
Swanson said he loves to hear laughter and his guests having fun. But he also has to be firm like a cop when it comes to enforcing park rules on quiet hours after 10pm.
“I feel I have a duty to my overnights to provide a quiet place where they can get a good night’s sleep. I don’t want people driving and falling asleep because they didn’t get a good night’s sleep at my park,” he said.
But even though most of his guests are empty-nesters and retirees, Swanson said there is somethings high school-like drama between guests at the park, which prompts him to intervene to soothe hurt feelings or simply help people find ways to get along with one another.
One time, he had a winter guest tell him he wouldn’t be coming back the next season even though he loved spending the winters at his resort. Swanson talked to him for awhile and discovered the real reason the guest didn’t want to come back was because he had gotten into an argument with friends next door. Swanson suggested he simply move his rig to another site in the park. It was a solution the guest hadn’t thought about, and when Swanson offered him the other site, his face lit up.
“He really didn’t want to leave the park. He has too many friends here,” Swanson said.
Friendships, in fact, are the reason retirees keep coming back to the same parks every year. “Two recent widowed men came back this past season and told me they have more support from people here at this park than they do at home,” Swanson said. “You can’t put a price on that.”
Still, even Swanson has a hard time believing he is giving up producing jobs in Hollywood for a chance to work at his family’s RV resort.
“If somebody would have told me when I graduated high school that I would be running an RV Park in Buckeye when I was 50 I would have told them they were out of their mind,” he said.
But, Swanson said he loves working at the family park, and providing a safe, enjoyable place for travelers and snowbirds to stay.
For more information about Leaf Verde RV Resort, visit the website at LeafVerde.com.