Denmark resident Kathryn Jackson Williamson recalls as a young girl in the 1960s spending summer months at her grandmother's Myrtle Beach home.

The house was in the middle of a campground her grandfather, V.F. Platt, a Conway pharmacist, had purchased.

"He liked to hunt," Williamson said. "He started in 1920 acquiring property."

Platt initially purchased property in Murrells Inlet and found out it was more costly to develop than he had planned.

A friend of his had a sawmill and told him about a good piece of property with timber.

This property was owned by a man in North Carolina, who was having money problems due to the Depression during 1929.

So in 1930, Platt swapped his Murrells Inlet land, along with some money, for what is now the nationally-known Ocean Lakes Family Campground.

He and his wife would end up buying more land, cutting timber and then buying land next to it.

At one time, they had their land built up to approximately 5,000 acres.

The Platts passed away in 1960, leaving the property to family -- Mary Emily and Nelson Jackson, Kathyrn Williamson's parents. Her parents opened the property -- Ocean Lakes -- on July 2, 1971.

"I grew up in Tryon, North Carolina, and my mom and dad developed the campsite," Williamson said. "It was just a campground. Dad let people have campers and allowed them to build a permanent Florida sunroom onto their campers."

In 1972, Kathyrn married Johnny Williamson and they started a family of their own, but she has watched the venture grow to what it is today, a resort-style campground with about 3,400 sites. It is touted as the largest campground on the East Coast and one of the largest in the nation.

But there was some challenges along the way.

Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989 and a 22-foot wave accompanying the storm wiped out the previously constructed sunrooms, requiring Williamson's father to become innovative.

"After 1989, we allowed people to build up with a garage, and now we have 950-square-foot houses," she said. "We have a lot of houses and we have a lot of transient campers."

The campground has almost a mile of beachfront and is about three miles south of the Myrtle Beach city limits. It is at the intersection of Highway 17 and Highway 544.

On an average day during the season, Ocean Lakes has 25,000-30,000 guests enjoying the countless amenities that have made it a local favorite and national vacation destination.

The campground rents golf carts, has stores, a laundry and "all the amenities of a town," Williamson said.

The gated and secure property just recently added a water park.

"That has been a big asset," Williamson said.

In addition to the "beautiful, wide sandy beach," the golf carts are also very popular.

The campground rents between 750 to 1,000 golf carts daily. Ocean Lakes has a fleet of 900 golf carts, and there is generally a waiting list for them.

"We have peak times during Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day," Williamson said. "During those times, we have to bring in more (golf carts)."

"We are real proud of how we have done it," she said. "A family-oriented campground was my dad's goal."

Williamson's parents passed away in 2010, leaving the property to her and her four sisters. She is the middle daughter in the family.

"My parents were real smart, and they organized the business so we have a family council that meets quarterly," Williamson said. "We have an outside CEO and a team. It runs smoothly."

"When my mom and dad both died in 2010, people were real surprised the business did not know a difference," she continued. "For 10 years, we had been owners before they died."

Today, Ocean Lakes employs a staff of about 500 seasonal employees.

"We are happy," Williamson said. "It is a real good business. The goal is to keep it going."

The campground has received both statewide and national attention.

In 2006, Ocean Lakes Family Campground received the Governor’s Cup for its economic impact on its community and the state.

In 2010, it received the Earth Day Award from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control for its iCare Program.

Then in 2011-2012, the campground was named the "National Park of the Year” in the Mega Park category, and it has received that honor from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds five times.

In addition to Ocean Lakes, The Jackson Companies, a parent company of Ocean Lakes, owns several other properties in the Myrtle Beach area. These include the Prestwick Golf & Country Club, Crystal Lake Mobile Home Village, Ocean Lakes RV Center, Ocean Lakes Golf Cars, the Jackson Farm, Sunway Charters and SayeBrook.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Follow on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

8
0
0
0
5

Business Reporter

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

Load comments