Life on Wheels

by | Mar 22, 2022 | Outdoor Recreation, Visit, Shop & Play

RV travel is booming, and Topsail-area campgrounds are ready for the guests who are flocking to their facilities.

Beyond hotels, five-bedroom homes and high rises, the humble campground provides a welcome respite for Topsail Island visitors. RV campers love the simplicity of a piece of land to call their own for a night or two, with neighbors around a campfire and the Atlantic Ocean not far away.

The RV Industry Association says 72 million Americans plan to go RVing in the next year, while sales of RVs have increased steadily since the beginning of the pandemic. Local campground owners say guests are flocking to their facilities.

RV campgrounds dot the landscape between Wilmington and Jacksonville. Some are open year-round; others close in the late fall after prime beach season and open again in the early spring. Some are corporate owned, and some have been family owned for decades.

Let’s take a look at some of the classic, family-owned RV parks in the Topsail area, each with its own diverse history.

The Sneeden family opened Surf City Family Campground in North Topsail Beach in May 1961. The Sneeden family still owns the campground, but the Smith family now operates it.

Surf City Family Campground

A. D. Hinson leased and ran Surf City Family Campground before passing it along to Oliver and Johnella Hinson, who ran the campground through the 1990s then turned it over to Brad Smith’s grandparents, Lonnie and Beulah Smith.

“We have families who have been staying with us for generations,” Brad Smith says. “Teenagers have met at the campground, and some have gotten married here and are now bringing their kids to the campground.”

Brad credits much of the 90-site campground’s success to his grandmother.

“No one calls her Mrs. Smith — its Grandma Shorty, and she is something,” he says. “She still works 12-hour days in the store, hands out candy to the kids, sweeps and reminds the kids not to come in wet off the beach.”

“I like the people,” says Beulah Smith, aka Shorty, a nickname bestowed upon her by husband. Grandma Shorty wasn’t initially keen on a campground, though she learned to love the new adventure. “We meet generations of families from all over, up and down the Atlantic Coast. They come for weddings, family reunions and vacations,” she says.

Reservations for most parks these days are made online, but Surf City Family Campground has “The Book.” To make a reservation, you have to call or come by. “It’s more personal this way; just the way they did it in the ’60s,” Brad says.

Church services offer another layer of community to camp guests at Surf City Family Campground.

Brad adds of Surf City Campground, “On Sundays, our whole campground stops for church. The front porch is transformed with folding chairs and a podium. Mr. Tommy, a long-time camper, holds a service for all who will attend, rain or shine.”

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Just off Topsail Island facing the Intracoastal Waterway a beautiful spot sat vacant until a camper friend told DC Lanier if he built a campground, they would come. Lanier’s Campground opened in 1975.

Laniers Campground

“My daddy built Rogers Bay for Dr. Hunter Heath, and then he bought Little’s restaurant in 1974, then Lanier’s Restaurant, and ran it for many years. He got a piece of land, started the campground, and it grew into what it is now,” says Donna Lanier, one of four siblings who have worked or still works at the park. “When we started, my grandmother worked there as well. She was the matriarch. You listened to what she said.”

The large, all-season park has a store, arcade, breakfast spot, laundry, boat slips and fishing piers. It’s one of the few campgrounds with a pool, Lanier says many local kids learned to swim there. The pool and grill are open to the public with seasonal pool passes available for weekday use.

“So many different people come through,” Lanier says. “People who are out to discover the world. That’s what my daddy liked – meeting all the different people. We started out camping as a family when all we had was a tent, then we got a pop up, then a travel trailer. He loved camping.”

Church is also important at this campground.

“Church is held every Sunday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Services started at campground when the game room became the church sanctuary,” Lanier says.

North of those two campgrounds sitting in a cove of the New River, Seahaven Marine RV Park opened 25 years ago by Kal Karmous and his father, Moustafa Karmous. Kal and wife, Irina Yashkova, took over the operations in 2016 when Moustafa retired.

RV Parks Family Campground

“We have a beautiful place where people can slow down, be one with nature and spend time with their loved ones while re-charging their batteries,” Irina says, pointing out the Mediation Garden, a shaded place for reflection. “Just past that garden, a group of guests planted a community garden with basil and rosemary and other herbs for all to enjoy. A new professional fish-cleaning station was built, then covered to cut out the hot sun, and lights were added, all at the request of our guests.”

Before they started running Seahaven, Kal and Irina were world travelers. Between them they speak five different languages and have visited more than 60 countries in part for their careers — Kal in the oil and gas industry and Irina as a simultaneous interpreter for NASA.

In beach communities, nearly everyone has a story about the fish that got away, but Kal’s story is about the tuna he didn’t expect to catch. In December of 2020, he and Irina took his boat out whale watching and just for kicks he added his tuna gear in case. A brief trip to the Atlantic, less than 3 miles from their boat ramp, turned into an overnight battle with a 250-pound tuna and a new captain on the ship. While Kal struggled with the massive fish, Irina, who had never been behind the wheel, kept it steady, forward and back, through the long night and brought them safely in shortly before sunup the next day.

SeaHaven RV NC

An avid fisherman, Kal makes a passionate case for adding bluefin tuna to the island’s list to entice fisherman. “Tuna fishing can draw people here and extend the season to year-round,” he says.

Like the other park owners, Kal and Irina agree that the campers are the best part of their jobs. They have met have generations of campers throughout the years.

“We enjoy hosting RVers from all over the world,” Irina says. “We’ve had visitors from as far as Alaska and Switzerland. We enjoy having U.S. Marines and their families who bring experiences form many cultures and traditions from around the world.”

Family Campground Surf City NC

Topsail Area Campgrounds & RV Parks
From large RV parks with 350 sites and full hook-ups on the sound to small campgrounds a short drive to the ocean, more than a dozen campgrounds dot the Topsail Island landscape and are as diverse as the campers who visit them.

Some campgrounds are owner operated, others are corporate, and amenities range from dog parks and community gardens to cafes and coffee shops. Water access is available at some parks with boat slips and fishing piers. Some campgrounds host church services every Sunday morning. Many offer on-site laundry facilities, swimming pools and playgrounds.

Blackbeard’s Treasure Campground, Surf City, (910) 328-1206
Captain Jim’s Campground, Sneads Ferry, (910) 389-4000
Clay Hill Campground, Sneads Ferry, (910) 327-3600
Fulcher’s Landing Campground, Sneads Ferry, 910-327-1300, fulcherslanding.com
Harbor Point RV Community, Sneads Ferry (910) 327-2700
Lanier’s Campground, Holly Ridge, (910) 328-9431, lanierscampground.com
Riverside RV Park, Sneads Ferry, (910) 512-0569
Seahaven Marine RV Park, Sneads Ferry, (910) 333-5773, seahavenmarinervpark.com
Silver Sands Campground & RV Park, Sneads Ferry, (910) 389-9554, silversandscampground.com
Stump Sound Campground, Holly Ridge, (910) 329-1414
Surf City Family Campground, North Topsail Beach, (910) 328-4281
The Pines RV Park and Campground, Sneads Ferry, (910) 327-1110, thepinesr-vparkcampgroundllc.com
Topsail Sound RV Park, Holly Ridge, (910) 329-0500
Turkey Point RV Park, Sneads Ferry, (910) 327-2700
Virginia Creek Campground, Hampstead, (910) 329-4648
Wood Creek RV Park, Sneads Ferry, (910) 327-0409, woodcreekrv.com

About the author

Kate Carey

Kate Carey

A former Ohioan and Buckeyes football fan, Kate M Carey has her toes firmly placed in the sands of Topsail Island. Kate writes fiction about people and the strange things they do for love and essays on the politics of everyday life. Her work has appeared in Noctua, Indiana Voice, The Tishman Review, Panoply, Camel City Digest, Savannah Writers Anthology, and County Line Journal. A guest columnist for Women AdvaNCe, she and her husband, an Episcopal priest, moved to North Carolina in 2015 and have adult children living in Ohio and Florida.
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