Fred Hansen works hard to make camping fun
BRANDON — Fred Hansen spends his winters in Florida, but he doesn’t enjoy his time there as much as the summers in Vermont. In fact, he hates it.
“I hate going to Florida,” Hansen said. “There’s nothing to do there. You just sit around or go out to eat, and that’s not good for you.”
Hansen is a self-proclaimed workaholic. He likes to keep busy and likes to keep everything neat and organized.
“I love waking up in the morning and getting out and working,” the 82-year-old said. “This morning I was out in the ditch weed whacking. Every winter I can’t wait to come back here and get to work.”
And he has a lot of work to do. Hansen purchased the Smoke Rise Campground four years ago in a tax sale from the town of Brandon and since then, he has been up to his elbows in work.
“When I bought it, there was waist-high grass and all the barns were run down,” he said. “The former owners were just tired of running it, I think, and it needed a lot of work.”
Hansen has been steadily building up the business since he bought it.
And he’s no stranger to running his own business. Hansen was the owner of Middlebury Beef for 47 years. Once a slaughterhouse, Hansen said he got fed up with increasingly stringent rules from the inspectors and turned the store into a truck stop.
“That was one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made,” he said. “I should have done it 30 years before that.”
When he sold Middlebury Beef to Maplefield’s in 2015, he retired, but quickly found that didn’t suit his will to work for a living.
“I just got bored hanging around every day,” the lifelong camper said. “I drove by one day and saw the for sale sign going up at Smoke Rise and decided to buy it.”
He got his first repeat clients the same day he bought it.
“I was going over the grounds and this man eating lunch at Cattails came over and asked me what I was doing,” Hansen said. “I told him I bought the place and he asked for my email and phone number. That summer he and his family rented every spot I had and they have rented the whole place every Fourth of July since.”
He immediately went to work trimming the grass and restoring and repainting the various barns and outbuildings on the property. Next, he installed new power lines, water and sewer to all the existing campgrounds before installing new sites for more campers.
Hansen said they get all kinds of people and campers at Smoke Rise.
“We have spaces for the small 18-foot campers to the great big 45-foot fifth wheels,” he said. “We get seasonal campers that stay from May to October and quite a few traveling nurses.”
They also get a lot of families and locals that come to stay for the weekend. The pool on the property gets a lot of use during the summer.
“Every weekend we’re filled up,” Hansen said. “We get a lot of older people coming up from Florida, South Carolina and Texas and such in the summer. A large number of them are repeat customers.”
CASELLA AND SOLAR
When the Segment 6 work started in Brandon, Casella needed a place to drop 60,000 cubic yards of fill dirt they were excavating from the project. Hansen had 35 acres sitting unused on his property that he offered to Casella.
“When I bought the place, me and my first wife were going to build a house here,” he told The Reporter as he drove his golf cart around the area where the fill dirt was being stored. “We’d been married over 50 years and she passed away a week after I bought the place. I’ll be 83 in January, I’m not going to build another house now.”
Instead, Hansen found another use for the land. After Casella finishes the Segment 6 project, another contractor will come in and crush the dirt, some of which has large chunks of concrete. A portion of that crushed dirt will go to leveling his new campsites and the rest will be leveled on the spot.
“They say when they’re done I’ll be able to go over the area on my lawnmower and not have a thing to worry about,” he said.
In addition, that area of Hansen’s property is now on the list of Brandon’s preferred solar sites for solar companies looking to put in new installations. The town’s energy commission has been looking for sites that meet certain qualifications, such as being out of sight from the public view, among other things.
“It’s a perfect spot for solar panels,” Hansen said. “It’s 35 acres that you can’t see from the road.”
A beautiful backdrop of trees surrounds the gentle sloping grounds at Smoke Rise Campground that Hansen’s wife Barbara said was “magnificent” in the fall. It has come a long way from what it was when Hansen bought the place.
“I’ve put over $600,000 into building this place since I took over,” he said. “I’ve still got about another $300,000 left before it’s done.”
In fact, Hansen is in the process of building out 20 additional 65-foot camping spaces.
“We’re also going to put in a new basketball court and a pickleball court,” he said.
There are a number of other campgrounds in the area, but Hansen said it wasn’t an issue because the need for campsites is growing.
“The camping business gets bigger and bigger every year,” the energetic owner said. “As young people start getting older they want to go out camping like their dads did when they were kids and it just keeps going.”
The technology behind camping gets better every year, as well, meaning that not all camping is ‘roughing it’ like it used to be. That increase in comfort, while being able to be close to nature, is a draw for many.
“Forty years ago when you went camping, you had a coffee pot,” said Barbara Hansen. “Now we’ve got a stove, stackable washer and dryer and four TV’s in our camper.”
However, if someone still wants to ‘rough it’, Smoke Rise has tent spaces available too.