New owners at Brookside
Brookside Campgrounds, locoed about 3 1/2 miles southeast of Blooming Prairie, has new owners, Marshall and Mary Kraft at left. They purchased the business from Karla and Dondi Stender. Staff photo by Howard Lestrud
The baton has been passed from the Stender family to the Kraft family.
In accepting the mantle of ownership for the Brookside Campgrounds, Marshall and Mary Kraft promise to provide the same stellar service as provided by Dondi and Karla Stender.
Brookside is located in Mower County, about 3½ miles southeast of Blooming Prairie, bordering the Cedar River.
The Stenders have owned and managed Brookside for the past seven years. The new owners come from Iowa as did the Stenders.
The new owners and former owners all sat down with The Times to talk about the past successes of Brookside and also to peek into the future.
The actual change in ownership occurred on April 25. Brookside is considered among the finest in the camping world.
Being avid campers for many years, the Krafts began looking for a campground that would suit their desire to get into the camping business. Brookside is the first campground the Krafts have owned.
With their two children, Kari, 33, and D.J., 20, fostering their own careers, a contrast from the campground business, Dondi and Karla decided to put the business up for sale.
D.J. will graduate from the University of Platteville in January of 2024. Kari lives in New York City but will soon be leaving for mission work in Beirut.
Both the Krafts and the Stenders are opening new chapters in their lives. The Krafts have never owned a business and now have a mission of helping others enjoy the outdoors.
The Stenders are staying at Brookside until after Memorial Day to lend a hand to the new owners. Traveling is now the Stenders' mission.
After traveling the Upper Midwest, the Stenders will return to Brookside in early October to help the Krafts close the business for the winter. First on the traveling agenda for the Stenders will be a drive up the North Shore of Minnesota.
The Stenders have never seen Duluth and farther north. "We just haven't had time," Karla and Dondi said, adding they thank the community and promise to stop back when they can.
The Krafts have moved into the three-bedroom home located near the entrance to the campgrounds. Dondi and Karla are currently residing in their RV behind the office area.
Reflecting on the history of Brookside, the Krafts learned that Charlotte and Dale Braaten began clearing land for the campground in 1965 and opened it officially in 1966. They owned and operated it for 20 years until 1986.
New owners ran the campground until Oct. 15, 1990 when Charlotte's son Steve and his wife Becky purchased the business and operated it until April 13, 2013.
The Braatens sold the campground to a couple from Forest City, Iowa. The Stenders then became the most recent owners with the Krafts now holding the keys of operation.
The Krafts held residence in Des Moines until four years ago when a job change sent the Krafts to Princeton, Minn. Mary is a registered nurse, working in St. Cloud at St. Benedicts, a rehabilitation and long-term care facility. Marshall worked 22 years for Ruan as a transportation operations manager.
COVID two years ago forced Marshall out of a job. He quickly landed another job with Versatile Transport of Becker.
"We know that running a campgrounds is a lot of work, but we enjoy people and are looking forward to the challenge," Marshall said. "We now will be closer to our family," he said.
The Krafts have an adult daughter, Haley and two grandchildren, Lillian, 9 and Vivian, 5.
Nestled in a heavily wooded area in Mower County near the beautiful Cedar River, Brookside has been a popular landing spot for many families over the years.
Seated in comfortable surroundings at the campground store, the Krafts make mention of how quiet, safe and secluded the campground is. The campground spans 46 acres and has 148 sites with 101 of them seasonal. More than 100 primitive camp sites are available.
The camping season is typically May 1 to Sept. 30 and if the weather cooperates, the campground may open in mid-April and stay open until mid-October. Brookside draws campers from Blooming Prairie, Austin, Albert Lea, Rochester, Owatonna, Hastings and beyond.
Seven years ago when the Stenders took over ownership of Brookside, Dondi and Karla agreed that it was love at first sight. The Krafts agree with that feeling.
All campground sites have picnic tables and fire rings. All RV sites have electric and water with sewer hookup available on some. A large pavilion is available in one group area to rent for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, reunions or other events.
Because of its location bordering the Cedar River, campers can fish in the river and shove off in their kayaks or canoes.
Clean restrooms with private showers for camping convenience are offered to campers. In the lodge, campers will find games, snacks, ice, propane, free Wi-Fi and other conveniences. Firewood is for sale as are other small grocery items.
Weekends are themed throughout the year, Christmas in July and Halloween in August. Pot lucks will be scheduled every second Saturday of the month.
Brookside offers 20/30/50 amp full hookup (W/E/S), large pull-through sites, group areas, tent sites with water and electric, primitive tent sites, dump station, convenience store, heated swimming pool (50x20), kiddie pool, basketball and volleyball courts, gaga ball, horseshoe pits, game room, shaded sites, hiking trails, picnic areas and kayak/canoeing access.
A pavilion is also available for family get-togethers. The campground is also pet friendly.
Marshall has already started to get the train ready for rides. Marshall said Brookside will also continue wagon rides for the kids on Saturday nights.
Both Marshall and Mary said Brookside's location and atmosphere draws campers. "We are family orientated," said Mary.
The Krafts direct compliments toward the Stenders for re-investing to make the campgrounds better. Two cabins are available. Four rental campers are available. The campgrounds are open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The pools will be open Memorial weekend.
COVID struck the campground industry in May of 2020. Brookside could not open because of a state mandate. Later, the mandate was lifted and the camping business took off once again for the Stenders.
The Stenders, even so, lost a third of their business because Memorial weekend was wiped out because of COVID.
Dondi and Karla said people were eager to get outside and this caused a spike in camping.
"We were ready to work a couple of more years but the opportunity to sell came and we went for it," said the Stenders. Dondi said they had three serious lookers at their business.
The Stenders wintered this past winter in Florence, Ariz. They plan to return there this fall.
"We made lots of good friends because we were involved in our community," said Dondi. "We love small towns," he added.
The Krafts couldn't agree more about loving small town life.
They are considering an open house in possibly June.