Last year, Brad McGalliard was working at AT&T testing line connections to homes. His wife, CeCe, was a teaching assistant at Lincoln Charter in Denver, N.C.
But they felt something was missing in their day-to-day routine.
In March, they invested everything they had to buy Pine Ridge Campground, about 80 miles southwest of their former home in the Lincoln County community of Iron Station.
For Brad, 51, who previously worked as a lineman for Duke Energy, it was an opportunity to finally make decisions for himself.
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For CeCe, 48, it was initially about following her husband’s dream – but it’s one that she’s come to embrace.
Brad said he wasn’t satisfied with his job and worried about being laid off.
“I thought, ‘What can Cecilia and I do together?’ ” he said. “I didn’t want to be 52 and scrambling.”
When AT&T assigned Brad to work in Asheville for six months, he lived in a camper to save money. It was that experience, he said, that gave him the idea to take their lives in a new direction.
They have always been outdoorsy people, CeCe said. Family activities include kayaking, camping and hiking. Both participated in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
The McGalliards have three children: One is at Appalachian State University and the other two have graduated college.
They worried about the risk in buying the campground, but they pushed ahead.
As soon as they made the decision, the McGalliards put their house up for sale and cashed in their 401(k) for financing. They bought the campground for $1.5 million.
They spent their 25th wedding anniversary in Asheville at a campground ownership workshop. Then they had to pare down their belongings.
“We would wake up many mornings at 3 o’clock when we first took over,” CeCe said. “We never said anything to each other, but I think we both were very nervous. It was scary.”
New set of neighbors
Pine Ridge Campground is in Roebuck, S.C., right outside of Spartanburg, tucked away in the wilderness but not far from commercial life.
A hodgepodge of campers, trailers and cabins scatter the 20 acres. The campground attracts all types of people: Vacationers, including families and college students. Homeless families seeking stability. Truckers stopping by mid-journey.
“You have people who are millionaires, to people who have lost everything,” CeCe said. “Campers are the nicest people.”
The site offers 48 RV spots, many filled at all times. There are also cabins and trailers available for nightly, weekly or monthly rental. A swimming pool, fishing hole and game room offer entertainment.
Outside the long-term camping sites are gardens with potted plants and outdoor furniture – an attempt at creating a traditional home.
Yvonne Pryor has camped at Pine Ridge with her husband, Charlie, every fall for a few months for eight years. They travel in a camper from their home in Connecticut down to Florida, then up to Roebuck once a year to visit their son.
“We wouldn’t want to live any other way,” she said. “We have nothing to worry about.”
Pine Ridge has given the McGalliards the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. They provided a rest stop for a couple from Tampa, Fla., who left their home behind to bike across the continent. One time they shared schnitzel over a campfire with another couple from Germany.
CeCe said her best friend is now an 80-year-old snowbird who comes to Pine Ridge to escape frigid New York winters. He calls every Sunday.
The McGalliards live in a blue, three-bedroom house atop a hill overlooking Pine Ridge. Days start out on schedule – clean the bathhouses at 8 a.m., open the office at 9, begin that day’s project. But each day brings new surprises and challenges.
The hardest experience so far came only the second week of management when the main water line broke, flooding the campsite and leaving Brad and CeCe at a loss. They got it fixed in a few days.
“That was the worst day here, but it was still better than my best day at AT&T,” Brad said.
This experience has brought the couple together, they said. CeCe is a sunny person whose greetings and farewells always include a kiss and hug. Brad is more introverted.
“We work well together. She has a fantastic personality,” Brad said.
“And you know how to mow grass really well,” CeCe replied.
Brad said the campground is doing well financially, and that they are able to make ends meet.
“It’s not like we’re rolling in the money now,” he said, “but we’re more content.”
Campers see the pair motoring around in the golf carts they exchanged their cars for, greeting the campers like family and pausing to fix anything that’s broken.
Brad can hardly go 15 minutes without his cellphone ringing. When you live where you work, business never stops.
“It’s not a stressful job. We like to be busy,” CeCe said. “It’s so peaceful – once you get in here it’s like you’re in another world.”