Effort to create a new RV Park and Campground meets unforeseen hurdles, rumors
After Matt and Nichole Simpkins' two sons moved out of their home in the northern Nevada mountain town of Elko, the couple began looking for something else to keep them going.
"I don't know what made us decide to do a campground," Matt said.
The Simpkins say they fell in love with Lincoln during their travels to visit family and friends in Butte and Missoula and began looking for suitable property in the area for their Lost Moose Meadows Campground. They had hoped to find something just east of Lincoln, due to the draw of Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild, but ultimately settled on 30 acres about two-and-a-half miles west of town, next to the Montana Department of Transportation shop.
This spring, as the couple built a shop and went to work clearing the property of sagebrush, their project became the source of considerable speculation.
"We've had people drive up and ask, 'who are you and what are you doing.' We welcome that," said Nichole, who appreciates the chance to meet people from the area and to explain what they've got going on.
Rumors made the rounds earlier this year that the couple were here to open a mine, or were building a truck stop, or a KOA complete with a convenience store, or a mobile home court, or even an exclusive facility catering to luxury RV's.
But the Simpkins plan is just to provide more camping options for the RVs and campers that travel Highway 200 every year. Like those travelers, the Simpkins are avid RV campers and understand the challenges of trying to find a spot with full hookups that can accommodate large motor homes.
"This is a high traffic count highway. Coming up here camping, you just see camper after camper going by," Matt said. He pointed out that pull-behind campers are now pushing 70 feet, and that there are an awful lot of people who pull through but may not stay because there aren't spaces with hook ups.
"The ultimate plan is to have a 40-site RV park with full hookups," Matt said.
In time, they expect to offer 18 pull-through sites that are 80-feet long and 15-feet wide, and another 22 back-in sites that are 60-feet long and 15-feet wide on two loop roads. The campground won't have year-round tenants and will be open seasonally, from April 15 through Oct. 15.
"We might stretch it if the weather's good, because we wouldn't mind accommodating hunters too," Matt said.
The campground will include an office at the campground entrance, a dog park and playground for guests, and a set of restrooms between the loops of camp sites.
The couple bought property last year with an eye toward breaking ground in the spring this year and having the campground up and running in time for a soft opening on the Fourth of July. But that wasn't to be as COVID-19 continued to drag down the "whole pile of hoops you have to jump through" for agencies like Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Helena-Lewis and Clark County Consolidated Planning Board.
"We thought we would be going a lot quicker this year," Nichole said.
The big hurdle they now have to overcome is a major subdivision review, which will get its first public hearing before the Planning Board later this month, on Oct. 19.
Nichole understands some people may be put off by the fact they are doing do a major subdivision application, but she said that's the only application the county has.
"It's not that were putting in a subdivision for all these homes, it just that that's the application we're going with because they don't have an application for a campground," she said.
With a "major subdivision," the Simpkins face the same requirements as if they were putting in 40 homes, including their own wastewater treatment system.
Matt said there have been concerns raised about the volume of waste the campground will produce, but noted they'll be dealing with far less than a regular subdivision. "There might be times when were at 100 percent capacity, but its going to be rare."
He said they must meet DEQ requirements, which specifies that any waste they put into the ground has to be below residential strength. "So, whatever we do put into the ground is tested and reported on a regular basis."
The campground will also be considered a public water source, which will require a chlorination system for drinking water.
Another concern involved access to the site, given the 70-mph speed zone and a somewhat blind corner near Lone Point Road for vehicles heading east. To mitigate possible issues, the campground entrance will be on the east side of the property to give other drivers more time to see RVs and campers as they turn into the campground. Campers will exit on the west end of the property. Matt said both the entrance and exit are on shared easements, but the necessary widening will only affect their property rather than their neighbors' easements
"We've had not only the DOT engineers look at our project, we've also hired private engineers and done road surveys and everyone agrees it all looks ok," Matt said.
Matt said they are requesting one variance to the requirements.
"One of the things they require for a 40-home subdivision is a massive fire system," he said. The requirement calls for 120,000 gallons of water storage and a 1000-gallon-per- minute pumping capability. "If we were putting in a 40-home subdivision I could see where you'd want the streets lined with fire hydrants, but that's not what we're building."
Although their effort to develop the campground has met with hurdles and some entertaining rumors, the Simpkins are staying patient, and hope that when all is said and done, their campground will pay the bills and bring money into the community
"We're just doing this on our hearts and all of our savings," Nichole said.
The public hearing on the Lost Moose Meadows subdivision is set for Oct. 19 at 6 p.m., via Zoom and the Lewis and Clark County Commission is slated to hold a public meeting on the campground proposal during the Lincoln Government Day Meeting at the Lincoln Library Friday Nov. 5, at 10:30 a.m.