In Tennessee’s scenic landscapes stands a campground that embodies the values of family for campers, travelers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike—the Sweetwater KOA. This campground has become a cherished location for many. Jake TerMeer, the park’s manager, believes that this culture is what sets the park apart.
In an interview with Modern Campground, Jake TerMeer reminisced about the campground’s humble beginnings. He said Sweetwater KOA was constructed in 1976, starting from a small RV park to accommodating campers and RVers in “the style of cabins.”
The campground offers a variety of accommodations to suit every camper’s needs. Guests can choose from RV sites, rustic and deluxe camping cabins and tent sites for their stay. The RV sites are big rig-friendly, and the cabins provide a homely feel to their guest’s camping experience. Each of the cabins has its own personality and decorations – from Route 66 to The Patriot.
For those who prefer a more traditional camping experience, tent sites are also available. Moreover, extended stays and group accommodations are facilitated to cater to different requirements.
TerMeer said that they currently have 68 RV sites, nine cabins and four tent sites. The campground has evolved over the years, adapting to the needs of its guests, yet retaining its quaint charm.
One of the standout features of SweetwaterKOA is its dedicated staff, who not only work there but also call it home.
“With the staff being here long-term, it then becomes a home to them because our staff lives here in the campground in RVs as well,” TerMeer said.
“They developed a passion and a love for this place that not just any campground worker would feel. It’s not just a park that they’re going to go work at for six months during the summer and then take off and go to the next one.”
TerMeer believes the biggest difference between a good campground and a bad one all depends on the ownership, and the management, trickling down to the staff. Sweetwater KOA’s owner, KCN Campgrounds, has been involved in the industry for a long time and has a great understanding of how to run the campground and make it attractive to the different guests who come to stay.
“When you enjoy what you do, it trickles down to your staff. And once the staff feels the same way, they enjoy what they do because nine times out of ten, your staff lives in campers as well,” he said.
The campground is not just a place to stay but is also an experience. TerMeer elaborates on the activities they offer, especially focusing on children’s engagement. He said every weekend they have at least four different activities on Saturdays all day for kids and families to participate in, free of charge.
These activities include water wars and corn hole games for a friendly competition, as well as gem mining in the newly introduced Gem Mine to name a few. They also have a swimming pool open from May 7 to October 15 for a refreshing dip and a variety of recreational facilities like volleyball, basketball, a playground, walking trails, and more.
“These just come with the fact that you’re staying at our campground, which brings a lot of local families, brings them back time and time again, because that’s what they want, right?” he said.
The location of Sweetwater KOA also adds to its allure. “There’s a lot of good nature scenery within a very short drive of where we are located,” said TerMeer.
The KOA campground is situated close to several attractions like the Cherokee National Forest, the Smoky Mountains, and the Lost Sea Adventure, which is the largest underground cavern and underground lake in this hemisphere.
Looking ahead, Sweetwater KOA has plans for expansion to cater to a broader audience, including motorcycle groups and possibly electric vehicle owners.
“We do have plans in the works to expand this park. We sit on a 28-acre piece of land so we have quite a bit of land to expand and make our park bigger,” TerMeer said.
Sweetwater KOA is more than just a campground; it’s a community that welcomes everyone with open arms, promising a memorable experience amidst nature’s splendor.
“That is what creates a culture, and without a culture, you’re not going to have a successful campground. And that is what it’s all about, is creating the culture and maximizing the ability for people to enjoy the time that they are in your campground,” TerMeer said.