Campground owners give back

Shuniah, Ont. — Nestled in the Municipality of Shuniah, Michael and Kristie Kuper will have to build another trophy case at their award-winning Thunder Bay KOA Holiday campground on Spruce River Road.

On Tuesday, the Kupers once again collected the KOA President’s and Founder’s Awards at the Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s annual convention in Orlando, Fla.

The Kupers, who had not attended the convention since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have won the President’s Award every year since its inception in the late 1990s and have multiple Founder’s Awards as well.

“It was pretty special once again that we got the President’s Award and the Founder’s Award,” said Michael Kuper as he and wife Kristie were driving through Florida. “The President’s Award is given through the corporation and the Founder’s Award, our customers get a satisfaction survey and that’s how that one is awarded.”

The KOA President’s Award is presented to those campgrounds meeting exceptional quality standards and who receive high customer service scores from their camping guests. KOA surveys hundreds of thousands of campers each year regarding their KOA camping experience.

The KOA Founder’s Award — named in honour of Dave Drum, who founded KOA on the banks of the Yellowstone River in Billings, Mont., in 1962 — is KOA’s highest service award. It is awarded exclusively to those KOA campground owners and managers who attain world-class scores in both customer service and the KOA quality review.

The Kupers have also won KOA’s We Are Family Award in 2009 and the Kampground of the Year Award in 2011, but they’re most proud of their work with KOA Care Camps.

“(KOA Care Camps) are quite dear to our hearts,” said Michael Kuper, who was the chairman of the KOA Care Camp Foundation in 2004. “We had about 53 camps (in 2004) that we donated money to that we raised at all the individual campgrounds. . . . Now all the money raised stays in Canada and we support the local camp which is Camp Quality at Loon Lake as well as eight or nine care camps across Canada. There may be more since I was chair.

“There’s still oncology camps that we support. . . . This year we did fantastic, we raised just over $17,000 for care camps.

“The We Are Family Award kind of goes hand-in-hand with the (KOA Care Camps). It was our passion and still is our passion. That’s why we do all these events.”

The multiple-amenity campground, which the Kupers took ownership of in 1998 from Kristie Kuper’s parents, features recreational vehicle lots, tent locations and cabins among the 200 overnight, weekly, monthly and seasonal sites.

The Kupers put in a new bouncy pillow pad and basketball court in 2022 joining the already existing saltwater pools, splashpad, driving range, mini golf, horseshoe pit, shuffleboard court and quad trails among the recreational activities.

Next season, the couple plans on installing dodgeball, beach volleyball and bocce courts among the ideas they garnered from the convention.

“The convention goes for four days and we have some guest speakers that come in — high-impact speakers — to motivate you with different ideas,” said Michael Kuper. “We have these breakout sessions where they’ll have somebody explain what’s new coming up in the Wi-Fi market or the golf cart industry or whatever it might be.

“On the final day, they have an expo where we have big vendors. They had the (Orlando Convention Centre) and it’s huge. It was just amazing the amount of vendors that were there.

“You have that all day and you go through to buy for the next season, whether it’s souvenirs or parts and pieces for your campground.

“On the last night, we have a big auction where people bring items to auction off and then they raise money for (KOA Care Camps) and (Thursday) was the auction and they raised over $2.4 million this year.”

Kristie Kuper said it was good catching up with their KOA family after a three-year absence due to the pandemic.

“It was so good to be back with all the honours and the managers and the corporate staff,” said Kristie Kuper, whose parents purchased the KOA site in 1981. “Over 40 years, they’re part of our family as well. It’s been a wonderful week. One of the best.”

John Nagy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal