Crystal Lake Campground in Lodi, Wis.
By Alan Bair
You have to trust the advice of a fellow who has grown his business, Crystal Lake Campground of Lodi, Wis., from 65 sites to 407, and into one of the most popular camping destinations in the state. Thinking about dropping by Crystal Lake unannounced to spend a night or two? Not going to happen. Not when Styer's diverse collection of camping options are all booked two to four months in advance.
At Crystal Lake, just outside of Madison, campers can choose not only traditional tent and RV camping sites, but also A-frames, duplexes, mobile homes, cabins in the woods and a series of unique-looking beachfront structures that provide one of the most memorable camping experiences—yurts.
Styer explained that the first time many site visitors see the yurts, their response is always surprise and excitement. "Any time you hear "Wow" or "Cool" or "Sweet," you know you've done your job," he said.
Yurts have been used as shelters for centuries, typically by nomadic people in Asian cultures, particularly Mongolians (who refer to a yurt as a "ger"). They generally consist of a wooden frame made of latticed wall sections, with a door frame, roof poles and a crown. The whole kit and caboodle is traditionally covered with pieces of felt or animal skins.
The modern yurt was adapted in 1978 by Oregon-based Pacific Yurts. Since their reintroduction to American culture, they have been popping up in myriad personal, corporate and government settings across America and internationally.
Portable and freestanding, Pacific Yurts are made of hand-selected, kiln-dried wood and are sheathed in tough architectural fabric. Comfortable and durable, even in weather extremes, the yurts provide minimal impact on the natural landscape, making them a popular choice for vacation homes, temporary housing, home offices, spa enclosures, golf courses, park systems, military bases, tropical resorts, meeting facilities, ski huts and many other applications, including, of course, campground rentals.
"As I spent more time in this industry, I came to understand that you have to do things to change the camping experience for people," Styer said. "The camping industry has really been evolving in recent years because of the baby boomers. Boomers are always looking for new experiences."
Styer has continued to grow his successful business by listening to, and accommodating, his guests' desires. Today, visitors to Crystal Lake Campground can entertain themselves with boating, fishing, swimming in the lake or an Olympic-sized pool, miniature golf, Jacuzzis, a skatepark, climbing wall, rental trykes, an array of water toys, even an adult lounge.
"People aren't interested in just sitting around a campfire and watching the stars," Styer said. "They want to be entertained, so we have to provide cool stuff—like yurts. A lot of my guests enjoy most of the aspects of the camping experience, but they aren't willing to give up their creature comforts."
Yurts fit Styer's definition of "cool" for a variety of reasons. First, they're comfortable, spacious and can be well-appointed—features that have taken on growing importance among his customers. Styer outfitted his eight yurts with air-conditioning, refrigerators, microwaves, TVs with DVD/VCR players, CD players and custom-built beds. He has 20- and 30-footers, the larger of which sleep up to 12.
Of course, of equal importance to Styer is the revenue his yurts bring in. Not knowing exactly how to price the unique shelters when he first opened them to guests, Styer started at $75 a night.
"Everybody's response was, 'That's reasonable,'" he said. "When you hear that, you know you aren't charging enough, so I raised the price to $100 and was still hearing it was reasonable. So I went up to $130, and ultimately $150 for the 20-foot yurt."
The 30-foot yurts rent for $200 per night, and Styer said they are booked all summer long. Campers who don't make a reservation several months in advance are out of luck, he said.
"When we first got our yurts, we'd tell callers about them, and they'd say, 'What's a yurt?' I'd tell them to go visit the Pacific Yurts Web site and call me back in 10 minutes," Styer said. "Sure enough, they would, and most would make a reservation. Once people stay in one, that's what they want next time. I have a lot of repeat business for my yurts, and the rest comes from word-of-mouth."
Styer said that adding yurts to his lodging options has proven to be a sound investment. The affordable structures paid for themselves in 36 months, and after five years are showing no signs of wear.
"I haven't had any issues, and they look as nice as the day we put them up," Styer said. "Ours are right on the lakefront, right in the middle of the beach, where they're exposed to intense sun and unobstructed wind, and they've held up beautifully."