EDGE grant goes to G&R Campground

Terry RogersBusiness, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Leonard and Yolanda Young stand with Norman Dempster and Governor Carney after receiving the EDGE Grant

The oldest black-owned campground in the United States, G&R Campground was announced recently as a recipient of the Encouraging Development, Growth and Expansion (EDGE) Grant. The grant provides funds to promising early-stage businesses to level the playing field against larger, more established competitors.

“Selected as one of over 100+ applicants in the small business entrepreneur competition, we pitched our business to a panel of expert judges and worked hard to secure a win!” Leonard and Yolanda Young, owners of the campground, said. “On May 23, we got the opportunity to share the legacy of G & R Campground with Governor John Carney during the EDGE Grant reception. We were so happy to have retired G&R legend, Norman Dempster gracing us with his presence.”

Since purchasing the campground, the Young’s have used their own funds to keep it running, making many improvements and working to attract a younger demographic to the historic campground. They have upgraded the general store, added solar panels, hammocks, a park, outdoor games and a garden so that visitor’s experiences are maximized. The Young’s plan to use the grant funding to renovate the activity hall which will promote their mission to enhance the experience while also promoting eco-conscious celebrations designed to support local businesses. Some of the renovation includes structural repair and upgrading, flooring and lighting enhancements, accessibility features, eco-friendly design, energy-efficient lighting, waste reduction initiatives, outdoor landscaping and technology upgrades that will include Wi-Fi.

Not particularly “outdoorsy,” Leonard is the founder of DelawareBlack.com and the National Black Guide. Yolanda is the founder of Business Babes and a federal procurement consulting firm Walker Young LLC. The Newark natives have four children and have always looked for ways to create generational wealth. After their 2019 marriage, they began investing in real estate, first buying two mobile home parks in Alabama, traveling back and forth as they developed the properties. After posting about that project on social media, the couple was advised that Norman Dempster, the owner of G&R Campground, was considering selling the property he purchased in 1997.

“Once we learned that, we were intrigued,” Yolanda said. “We took a drive to check it out and immediately began negotiating to purchase it. We did not know that Norman was looking for a black buyer in order to keep the history alive, so it really did work out.”

G&R Campground has a very rich and diverse history. The name stands for Gun and Rod, after the Gun and Rod Club for black veterans which was a black version of the rod and gun clubs that were often whites only. When the club opened in Houston, they reversed the name so that it would be clear it was a black establishment vs. a white private club. The club was on the site long before Dempster bought it in 1997, a purchase he actually made for his mother in order to turn it into a campground, Dempsey said in an interview with “Newz and Trends with Dave and Len,” a podcast cohosted by Leonard.

“My mother was very religious, always going to church retreats,” Dempster said. “But the church retreats was only in Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York. Nothing here in the state of Delaware. So, I said, as a young man, if I’m able, I’m gonna buy a piece of property to have a campground where my mother could have her church retreat in Delaware.”

Dempster faced many challenges, building the campground piece by piece. He was unable to get financing from banks, so he had to use his own money. Once he opened the campground, he faced even more difficulties as camping wasn’t popular with African Americans and because it was deemed a “black” location, whites wouldn’t reserve spots there. It was almost three years before the first white camper, a man from Milford, booked a spot at G&R Campground. The Young’s faced first-hand how black campers were sometimes discriminated against.

“We planned at trip to Hersheypark in 2019 and used one of the RV booking sites to book an RV,” Yolanda said in an interview with Technical.ly.com. “We had already paid in full and literally two days before our trip, I’m confirming everything with the woman – and again, we’re fully paid – she declined and refunded our money and I’m thinking “Wow, this is weird.” I booked it under my husband’s name. My name is a little more “ethnic,” and so, you know, just interacting with her, it really felt like a slap in the face, like she didn’t want to rent her RV to us because they found out we were black.”

That same day, the Young’s bought an RV, but still were not big campers. Yolanda found it interesting that they had camped maybe a handful of times and now they owned a campground, commenting that they were more “hotel, bed and breakfast than tent.” Although Dempster struggled to find campers of color to frequent his park initially, the Youngs are finding that there are many black camper and RV groups, many of whom seek black-owned locations.

In addition to being the site of the Gun and Rod Club, the property was also a training and practice space for a Negro-league baseball team. The Young’s say many of the campers share stories about the campground.

The couple divides time between Newark and a cabin located on the site, one of several that can be booked. When they took over the campground, everything was manual with campers required to call in to reserve space. The Young’s have added an online booking system as well as contactless check-in. The biggest issue they face is internet speed which can be slow, which is one of the things they hope to use the funds from the EDGE grant to address.

Not much of the history of the campground has been documented so the Young’s hope to sit down with Dempster and others in the area to document the history of the Gun and Rod Club as well as the Negro league that practiced on the property. The campground is also the site of the popular June Jam, an outdoor concert held every June.

G&R Campground is located at 4075 Gun and Rod Club Road in Houston. Reservations can be made by calling 302-398-8108, emailing [email protected] or going online to their website.

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