OACOMA, S.D. — What was once a bare strip of land along the banks of the Missouri River in the Oacoma area is being transformed into a new campground surrounded by natural beauty and fishing.
Ever since he was a kid growing up in the river town of Chamberlain, Brad Rasmussen always dreamed of opening a campground. The Chamberlain native and his wife, Sara, jumped on the opportunity to purchase 16 acres of land with another local couple. As the campground that sits along the western shorelines of the Missouri River nears completion, four individuals have been putting in countless hours of planning and manual labor to welcome Oacoma’s newest campground, Camp Kiowa.
The grounds are about 90 miles southeast of Pierre along the Missouri River.
“I’ve always loved camping, and I felt that I would be a lot more proud to build one myself instead of just buying a campground,” Brad said. “It’s a lot of work, but it is rewarding to see it come together.”
So what goes into building a campground? How is a bare portion of ground built into a beautiful area for people to rest and relax?
Before the Rasmussens began mapping out their plans and the layout of the campground that is slated to open in early July, an idea to partner with a couple who is experienced in the realm of constructing and operating a campground dawned on the Rasmussens. That’s when Zane and Angela Reis, a couple who resides in the Chamberlain and Oacoma area, came into the picture.
The Reises are no strangers to the process of operating a campground, as they recently finished building a campground called Camp Pleasant, which sits about five miles west of where Camp Kiowa is located.
“Since we’ve been coming back to fish on the river, we saw they were working on their campground in Oacoma, so we stopped over to let them know what our plans were and asked if they were interested,” Sara said of Zane and Angela Reis. “They were on board right away, and it was great because they had already gone through all of the steps with the Planning and Zoning Commission to open their campground.”
The process of building Camp Kiowa began with the two couples purchasing the 16 acres of land along the western shoreline of the Missouri River, followed by a series of extensive meetings and hearings with the Oacoma Town Board to complete the zoning process. The couple splits ownership of the campground between 50-50.
According to the Reises, the campground required the approval of a private unit development to get the campground annexed into the city of Oacoma, which granted access to the city’s sewer system. With no opposition from the nearby landowners, the campground was approved in the fall, clearing the way for construction to begin in December of 2019. As the Reises are familiar with the process of constructing a campground in the Oacoma area, Zane credits the past experience for helping the buildout of Camp Kiowa move along smoothly.
“There are some things we did a little different this time with Camp Kiowa, because we learned a lot from our first experience,” Angela said. “We were able to map out some of the plans a little better.”Building a campground may seem fairly simple, but the Reises and Rasmussens can attest to the challenges that may not meet the eye. Among the challenges of the buildout of the campground, Zane pointed to the sewer and drainage system as the most difficult. However, Brad’s previous work experience in sewer and water systems provided a big bonus for that portion of the build out.
“It’s a lot of work, and you have to make sure your measurements are accurate, so you can fit your roads, pads, camp sites and storage sheds,” Zane said. “There is a lot of sitting down and penciling out plans before you even begin breaking ground.”
The last few steps left for the campground owners is planting grass and finishing the gravel roads. As the Reises and Rasmussens continue to put in full days of work on the campground, Camp Kiowa nears completion with an anticipated opening day that’s slated for July 1, depending on weather and progress. Upon completion, the campground will offer a total of 100 camping sites. Each camping site is 40-by-100 feet, which were designed to fit a boat and a camper, Angela said.
“At our other campground, we made 40-by-80 foot sites, but our pads were 70 feet long, so it can be a little hard to fit your boat and truck on them,” Angela said.
A unique feature to Camp Kiowa will be the option for campers to utilize on-site storage sheds. The idea to add storage sheds was led by Brad, who said they will provide campers an opportunity to park their boats and store fishing and camping equipment. The Rasmussen family will own all of the storage units that are on site.
“We have 10 storage sheds being built right now, and for the campers that stay for an extended period of time, so they can leave their boat and other things they brought with them,” Brad said. “If you have your camper already set up and you are coming from Mitchell or Sioux Falls, you can jump in the vehicle and come out here if all of your fishing supplies and boat are up here.”
When the build out is all said and done, the seasonal campground — which will be open on an annual basis from April 1 to Nov. 1 — will feature 100 full hook-up sites with water, sewer and electricity. In addition, a picnic shelter and playground for families and children will be built in the near future.With just over half of the camping sites already reserved for mid to late summer, Camp Kiowa anxiously awaits its first campers. Thanks to Facebook and other advertising, Camp Kiowa has attracted more campers reserving spots than the Reises and Rasmussens imagined would this early in the summer.
“It’s been fantastic so far, and at Camp Pleasant, I had about four to five reserved spots when we first started up. But this year we are already half full,” Angela said. “There really isn’t a bad spot on this campground, so we are excited to get up and running.”
Known for its world-class walleye fishing and scenic views, the Missouri River is a prime location for a campground. To no surprise, it played a big role in the Rasmussens and Reises decision to select the land that the new campground will be sitting on. While there is no shortage of breathtaking views in the Oacoma area, the flat strip of land that is now Camp Kiowa stood out to Sara.
“This is a perfect place for a campground, and we’re less than 300 feet from the river for everyone to enjoy and have access to,” Sara said. “It’s pretty flat, so you have a clear view of the bridge and bluffs.”
In a community of roughly 3,000 people, combining Chamberlain and Oacoma residents, travel and tourism is an economic driver for the area considering the size of the towns. With the Missouri River splitting through the communities, the outdoor and recreation opportunities attract guests and tourists across the country, providing a big boost each summer when fishing season is in full swing.
Natalie Meuruato, executive director of the Chamberlain and Oacoma Chamber of Commerce, said welcoming a new campground or lodging facility to the area has a positive impact on nearly every sector of the local economy. With summer on the horizon, Meuruato is eager for the opening of Camp Kiowa.
“With all the recreational and outdoor assets that we have here with the river is neat, and it is important to have campgrounds for people to have the opportunity to take all of that in,” Meuruato said. “It brings a lot of people to our community, and they may buy gas, stop at the bars or restaurants, but they help contribute to our economy in a big way. This is a beautiful area, camping is a great way to experience the beauty.”