MURRAY — Camping season has hit a major pothole for thousands of Utahns who bought into the Camperworld vacation club. The campgrounds are closed, the company's awash in debt, and now many of its 3,000 members are up in arms over a "surprise" fee.
Utah families, like the Warkentins, spend thousands on their trailers and look forward to camping each summer with their children and grandchildren.
"You can relax and sit by the camp fire and roast hotdogs," Diana Warkentin said.
"We love camping," her husband, John Warkentin, added.
But they've learned their vacation club membership with Camperworld has hit a big speed bump: the company is awash in debt, and its campgrounds closed.
The Warkentins and their friend Larry Allen spent thousands of dollars on the memberships, allowing them to camp at several Utah parks.
All three told KSL News they are paid up through 2017 — or so they thought, until they received a special assessment notice and learned Camperworld is $4.5 million in debt and members need to pitch in $880 by April 20.
"They're trying to let the membership pay for mismanagement," Allen said.
Other members sent emails to KSL Investigators. They're concerned because they can't pay, they want answers, and some are considering legal action.
They're trying to let the membership pay for mismanagement.
–Larry Allen, Camperworld member
John and Diana Warkentin said they were upset when the notice showed up. They went down this road a few years ago with Camperworld, they said, and paid up then. Now they and Allen refuse to pay one more dime.
"Any company that owes that much money is never going to climb out of the hole," Allen said.
With no luck contacting company management for answers, KSL News drove to Camperworld's office in Murray. There, we bumped into another member waiting outside the office because the door was locked. Robert Nash had come looking for answers, too.
"Their public relations is extremely poor," Nash said.
We continued to knock on the door, and while waiting out side we looked up the company website. We couldn't find much information there, other than a notice to pay $880 by April 20.
After several minutes, the office door opened up — and so did new Camperworld sales director Don Hackett.
Hackett said members are not to blame for the company's financial troubles.
Camperworld is going to continue, they're going to collect enough money to continue, but you've got a member who couldn't pay the $880 what happens? They lose their membership. It's horrible.
–Don Hackett, Camperworld
"We don't need dues to go up at all. We need people to pay dues," he said. "Our members aren't at fault, but their memberships are horrible. They were presented with, 'Give me more money, and I will freeze your dues permanently.'"
Without enough incoming annual dues, cash flow became a fiasco. The company closed campgrounds, cut expenses, and Hackett believes most members will pay the new assessment to keep things afloat.
But what will happen to members who decide not to pay the new assessment?
"Camperworld is going to continue, they're going to collect enough money to continue, but you've got a member who couldn't pay the $880 what happens? They lose their membership. It's horrible," Hackett said.
Depending on which plan a member has, the company said it will lower the assessment fee to $500, down from $880, and give members the option to pay annual dues.
However there are different plans, so members should check with the company to see if they qualify for the reduced fee.