A little over a year ago, when Viki and Kevin McGee decided to opt out of corporate life, they didn’t expect to become part of an American legend. But, with the purchase of the Gunsmoke RV Park just outside Dodge City, Kansas, they found themselves caught up in a story that’s known around the world.
“We were too young to retire,” Viki says. The couple decided to invest in the Gunsmoke RV Park, despite some negative reviews on various websites. “Due to the death of one of the previous owners, maintenance in the park suffered,” she explains. “Kevin worked his tail off making improvements and just cleaning up the park grounds.”
Another important decision was teaming with SEPI Marketing Corporation and the MobileRVing reservation system, Book MYSites, to bring the park’s website and reservations into the modern world. “Previously, reservations were literally managed on little pieces of paper and a paper map of the campground,” Viki says. “The reservations system helped organize us and eliminate lost reservations and double bookings. The new website provides a better online experience and more professional appearance for the park. Brian McGuinn and Mir Alsaghah had us up and running with both in a matter of weeks. It was a great experience. They rock!”
One of the ways the couple employs to increase business is to let people know about all the attractions in the area. “We act as a mini visitor’s center by providing information to our guests upon arrival about the area,” she says. “Once they learn about all the attractions, they often decide to stay an extra day or two.”
Dodge City enjoys instant recognition around the world, thanks to its association with legendary Old West figures such as Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, as well as the television shows and feature films that have kept their fame alive. “Gunsmoke,” starring James Arness as Marshall Matt Dillon and Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty, was set in Dodge City and enjoyed a 20-year run, 1955-1975 on CBS, the longest running primetime live action series of the 20th century, garnering numerous awards and nominations. From 1956-1959, Dodge City also served as the setting for “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp,” starring Hugh O’Brian, on ABC.
The area’s fame has created a unique blend of “real” history and film history attractions. Familiar locations including the Long Branch Saloon, Boot Hill and a recreation of the original Front Street give fans of the television shows the experience of “being there.” The Dodge City Trail of Fame, taking its inspiration from Hollywood, leads to some 30 large bronze medallions set into the town’s sidewalks, honoring everyone from Earp, Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate, to the many actors who played Dodge City characters on TV and film, including Burt Reynolds, Errol Flynn, Peter Fonda, Dennis Weaver and Dodge City native son Dennis Hopper. The medallions are joined by lifesize-or-larger bronze statues of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday playing cards, and James Arness in his role of Matt Dillon.
A trolley tour takes visitors by these attractions during the summer months, however many people opt for the walking tour offered year-round by Special Deputy U.S. Marshal Charlie Meade. Born in the back of an ambulance driven by the town’s Marshall at the time, Charlie says he was “born” a lawman, and developed an avid interest in the city’s history. He was recently inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame, honored as a Cowboy Historian. Meade has been conducting history tours on the Trail of Fame for more than a dozen years and always has some good stories to tell.
“I’ve met them all,” he says. “James Arness, all the actors. A lot of them come to town to dedicate their medallions on the trail.”
Viki McGee says the tours are popular with her guests. “We’re exactly three miles from the Boot Hill Museum which is pretty much dead center in Dodge,” she says. “But we also have other attractions that aren’t history related. The Boot Hill Casino is just down the hill, about a third of a mile from the campground.” The town also boasts a distillery, a brewery, a farmers market, horse and auto racing, and an active
“We have lots of activities that you wouldn’t think of, including several family oriented attractions,” Viki says. There’s a cool little zoo in town, and it’s free. The Long Branch Lagoon Water Park is hugely popular with families in the summer.” Kids of all ages enjoy seeing the buffalo and longhorn cattle corralled at several locations around town.
Viki says that one of the toughest things they faced during their first year of ownership was finding a work-life balance. “We are on site 24/7 and during the summer, our office is open from 8 am-9 pm every day,” she says. “This next year, we may look at work campers to help.”
Gunsmoke RV is open all year and attracts many repeat visitors, Viki says. “We’re very busy in the summer, especially during the Dodge City Days celebration, but we also get a lot of snowbirds coming through in spring and fall.”
Overall, Viki and Kevin are happy with their first full year results. “The new website designed by SEPI and the MYSites reservation system have really helped with marketing and keeping us organized,” Viki says. “We should end the year with at least an 18% increase in sales. It’s nice to see our hard work paying off. But there is so much more we want to do to continue improving and growing our park. We look forward to what we can accomplish this next year.”
For more information on Dodge City attractions, you can go to the Gunsmoke RV Park website and Visit Dodge City.