Summer 2023 Issue
On the Job with Spacious Skies Campgrounds Founders Ali and Eric Rasmussen
Ali Rasmussen’s love of the outdoors date back to her childhood. “It started with annual camping trips in my middle school days,” she recalls. “I was most familiar with tent camping, backpacking and hiking and I took some really cool local trips as a teenager when I backpacked around Australia.”
In those days, Ali laughingly admits to thinking of RVing as “fake” camping. Things have changed now that she’s all grown up and a mother of three. As the co-founder of pandemic-inspired Spacious Skies Campgrounds with her husband, Eric, camping – in all of its forms – occupies a major part of her life. Owning campgrounds was never in Ali’s career plans. “At one time I was training to be a professional opera singer, but I did most of my work behind the scenes in the music industry working for a public relations and marketing firm that brokered a lot of popular bands,” she says. “When that hit a dead end, I enrolled at Duke University’s business school studying marketing and strategy.
Eric was working on a real estate MBA at the University of North Carolina just down the road. “When we started dating, we knew we would do something entrepreneurial together, we just didn’t know what,” Ali recalls. It took a pandemic for Ali and Eric to find their answer. “I was trapped with three kids ages six, three, and eight months in the middle of stay-at-home parenthood when my mother-in-law sent us an article about the increasing popularity of RVing.” Although they couldn’t imagine traveling in an RV with the kids, Ali and Eric bought their “pandemic camper” in May 2020 and hit the road.
“We spent at least 30 nights on the road that summer camping one night at each location as we tried to get to know the lifestyle,” she says. “It’s fair to say it was chaotic. But there was something about that adventure that made us realize that the camping life and spending time in the outdoors represented everything we love personally.” It wasn’t long before they found their first campground to purchase. “We viewed the purchase through the lens or a real estate transaction,” Ali says. “We thought we would buy four or five campgrounds and hire a real estate management company like normal real estate transactions.” Eric stayed home with the kids while Ali traveled to Alfred, Maine for the closing of their first purchase – Walnut Grove Campground. “I wanted to be at the closing with the sellers to meet whomever the property sent to take care of the campground. But when the property management company failed to send anyone, Ali found herself setting up a campground on her own. “I couldn’t leave the property without it being managed, so I called Eric and told him I wouldn’t be coming home right away.”
Ali excelled at her crash course in campground management. Within two weeks she had staff onsite and everything was under control. That was late May 2021. Now, two years later, Spacious Skies Campgrounds owns and manages 14 campgrounds with locations from Maine to South Carolina. As the company expands, Ali and Eric have settled into a rhythm. “I’m in charge of operations which means I’m away from home when we’re setting up new campgrounds, doing renovations and preparing for openings,” she explains.
But Ali’s not alone on these operations missions. For the most recent transition, she brought in six women to help. “We’re a majority female company and I cannot speak highly enough of the amazing women on our team,” she says. “They are badass, strong and not afraid to get their hands dirty!” Ali also believes in supporting the local communities surrounding the Spacious Skies Campgrounds. “We engage local artists to create outdoor works, murals, photos and more,” she explains. “Each campground has its own little icon that speaks to its personality in the form of collectable merchandise, among other representations.”
Embracing the camping life wholeheartedly, Ali travels in a teardrop camper named Schwoody. Her miniature Australian shepherd named S’mores keeps her company. “I’ve dyed my hair teal – the company color – and S’mores has a spot of teal, too.” Initially, Ali and Eric weren’t sure which direction their entrepreneurial dreams would take them, but clearly, they found the right road. “We feel so passionate about the moments we help create for families, couples and for solo campers,” says Ali. “Our team members understand what a privilege it is for us to touch so many lives. It’s the culture we’re trying to build, and it is what drives us day after day.”
As for those young children at home, they’re now eight, five and three years old. “They LOVE camping,” says Ali. “Camping days are our best days and they are our best little Spacious Skies ambassadors!”