The campground at Turtle Beach Park is known for campers so happy they often re-book as much as a year in advance
By Ned Steele
Nearly everyone in a beach town is a happy camper, and Siesta Key’s happiest of all just may be the lucky, plucky few who are literally … campers.
In RVs, motor homes, trailers and even tents they flock, from as close as down the road to as far off as Asia, to vacation under the stars at one of the Key’s little-known secrets, Turtle Beach Campground.
It’s a rarity for Florida – a cozy campground right off a public beach, and the campers it attracts are happy indeed. Even Marco Maximillian of Lido Key, who really didn’t have much reason to be.
Forced to live out of his SUV last month while his home was cleaned out by a pest control crew, Maximillian drove it straight to the campground and set up house. He was pleased with the decision.
“It’s very comfortable. You’re straight on the beach,” he said. “It’s the last paradise area. You just see concrete after concrete everywhere else.”
Working on the mainland by day – he scouts cars for television productions and overseas buyers – he returned to his campsite nightly to sleep in the SUV. The irony was inescapable: “The tent is on my house,” he lamented.
A few sites away his also-happy campsite neighbors, Gunther and Annette Schiedmeyer of Stuttgart, Germany, relaxed in their gleaming new RV purchased in and shipped from Hamburg. Their story was quite different.
“We started in Halifax, Canada,” Gunther explained. The couple had journeyed across Canada, down the U.S. west coast, and eastward from Pacific to Atlantic.
Now it was the 213th day of an epic odyssey celebrating their retirement. “We’ll go on through April,” he said. “Where next? I don’t know.”
From WalMart parking lots to national parks, they’d seen it all. But Turtle Beach stood out for them with its cozy size and, of course, the beach a few steps away: “Everything is great,” Gunther concluded.
Small size and proximity to surf and sand are indeed among the leading draws of the county-owned facility, said its daily overseer, parks and recreation specialist Martin Haire. “We have a public beach right next door,” he said.
“It’s a very niche campground,” added manager Greg Steinberg. “There are very few places like this; it’s a rare find on the east coast. For the price you can’t beat it.”
That price, including taxes and fees, is $74 a night in season. The price, the cozy (1.8 acre) size, and the Gulf make Turtle Beach a hot ticket: in peak season, reservations can be needed a year in advance.
The offerings include hookups to electrical service, water, sewer and cable. The grounds offer the amenities campers expect: Wi-Fi, hot showers, a wooded picnic area, washers and dryers, and a playground. For those who prefer to rough it a bit less, three restaurants are within walking distance Then there’s the Siesta Key extras: kayak launches and rentals next door, and the free trolley to the Village.
It’s not for everyone: the compact size rules out extra-large motor homes and rigs, but most vehicles do fit. And while your neighbors may be quite close, they will likely be … neighborly.
Visitors seem to like the life: many families and couples return annually. Stays run from a weekend minimum to a maximum of any 30 days out of a 45-day period. Their needs are tended to not only by Haire and Steinberg, but by a volunteer camp host who, in exchange for a free stay, checks campers in and out and provides basic maintenance.
For December and January, that volunteer is Rick Mangold of Gulf Gate, accompanied by his partner Judy Eidge. “I’m like a maître d’,” he explained. “I make sure everyone is happy.” When he’s not keeping things tidy, he and Judy like to swim, fish and bike.
The gig’s appeal, he said, is “the people – everyone is on vacation and in a good mood. People love to be here.”
That included Denis and Louise St. Amour of Gatineau, Quebec, sitting outside their 21-foot Roadtrek RV and planning their evening meal. It might be pasta, fajitas or tacos, they said, cooked on the RV’s propane stove or the electric grill outside. Or, they might just make it an evening out.
“We walk every day,” Louise said. “Everything is accessible.”
Count the St. Amours as among the happy campers of Turtle Beach Campground. They’ve already booked their stay for next year.