BROOKSVILLE — George Young spent weeks readying for his trip back to Kentucky. He and his wife, JoAnn, rummaged through their RV, packing belongings into boxes. Things that didn't make the trip were ticketed for a garage sale.
After 15 winters at Brentwood Lake Camping, the Youngs were leaving, never to return. With the campground under new ownership, big changes are on the way that the couple and many of their seasonal neighbors fear this will kill the kindred spirit of the sleepy little RV park tucked away in the woods north Brooksville off of U.S. 41.
Gone, they say, will be the friendly morning gatherings under an old oak tree at the "Liar's Corner," where a steaming urn of coffee always welcomed conversations on sports, politics and other news of the day. Gone, too, will be a community where neighbors helped each other patch roofs and fix broken plumbing and regularly gathered for potluck suppers and to sing hymns.
For the Youngs and their fellow snowbird campers, Brentwood has been an affordable slice of heaven where even a fixed income was enough to make life comfortable. But George Young is convinced all that is about to disappear.
Brentwood is set to become Belle Parc, an upscale RV vacation resort catering to owners of big-dollar camping rigs. Though new owner Jim Trefz says it is not his intention to drive longtime customers away, improvements were needed in order to make his investment financially viable.
For current residents, that is little consolation.
"I don't quarrel with anyone wanting to make money. That's their right. But the way the are treating people is wrong," the 77-year-old Young said recently as he sank into a lawn chair next to his 33-foot trailer. "This campground has been a big part of a lot of people's lives.''
Trefz is a partner in HTH Development, the company that bought the park on Feb. 1 from Laine and Elaine Brayko, whose family had run Brentwood since it opened in the 1960s.
He agrees that the 5.7-acre site nestled in a dense hammock of oak and hickory trees has a lot of charm. But a lack of maintenance and a lax attitude toward appearance was a turnoff for many potential visitors.
"As nice a location as it is, there is a trailer park feel to it," Trefz said. "People with nice RVs would come through and see all the shabby RVs laying around and turn right around and leave. We felt we had to make some changes."
Plans for the campground include upgrades to sewer and electric service, plus additional amenities such as a new recreational room.
The 100-site campground also will become more exclusive. Beginning next year, RVs more than 12 years old will not be permitted at the park.
Young, who owns a 22-year-old park model trailer that he says is in excellent condition, feels the rule favors wealthy RV owners at the expense of longtime seasonal residents such as himself. "It's not fair to anyone who works hard to keep their RV up," Young said. "He just wants us out of here."
Trefz disagrees, saying that the age limitations have been a standard in the RV park industry for some time.
Another contentious point has been Trefz's intention to move vacant RVs into storage during the summer months when their seasonal owners are away. Trefz says he needs them moved in order to complete upgrades on the electric and sewer system.
Perhaps the biggest sore spot is the announcement that rents will increase between $50 to $70 a month next year, a move that many of the park's seasonal residents say will drive them out.
Irene and Charles, who have been wintering at Brentwood for years, said such a jump from their present rent of $280 a month would stretch their finances to the breaking point.
"That's a lot of money to people on fixed incomes or disabled," said Charles Payne, who said the couple will have to sell their RV. "It's going to be tough on a lot of people here."
Trefz said that he is sympathetic to his older customers and says he will help where he can, including providing assistance in getting their RVs ready to be put into storage.
"I'm willing to work with them," he said. "But at the same time they need to know that a lot of what I'm doing will benefit them. They're going to see a lot of improvements that will make living here much nicer."
Bernie Poole, who has been living at Brentwood since the early 1980s said he has no doubts that the campground will be very nice once renovations are complete. Nonetheless, the 68-year-old can't help feeling that something special will be lost.
"These people have been like a family to one another," said Poole, peering out from beneath a well-worn cap. "They've shared good times and bad times together. But that's the way it is with progress. With everything you gain, you're bound to lose something."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or 848-1435.