Lake living for Everyman at the Edge of Paradise

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1 The $3 million worth of construction and landscaping done by Larry and Sandy Harris are just some of the reasons lot owners at Smith Lake RV Resort agree with the Van Giessens signs. Lake living for Everyman at the Edge of Paradise Story and photos by David Moore It was on his second of four tours in war-racked Iraq that then-major Woody Wood began to envision a place of his own, somewhere peaceful, special, on a body of water. Dena who did an 18-month tour in Iraq as a civilian with the Army caught the vision when they married in At that point in their lives they d never heard of Smith Lake much less Smith Lake RV Resort. But that s where their vision materialized, where they bought their dream place on the water. Kathy and John Van Giessen, two of their resort neighbors, call their lake place the Edge of Paradise. Sandy Harris, who helped her developer husband Larry bring to reality his vision for the resort, calls it her favorite place on earth. It just melts your week away, she says. Unlike most RV parks, the Harrises don t rent space at the resort. They sell RV lots along with packages that include decks and pergolas, outbuildings and cabins, landscaping and lawn maintenance, membership to saltwater pools and access to the scenic 100-yard boardwalk Larry built into the shady rock bluffs stretching from the boat slips and amphitheater/pavilion to a second dock and swimming area on the lake. If you think Larry s an expert on RVs, think again. He s never owned one. But I ve learned a lot about them, he laughs. What he is an expert on is developing. Part Cherokee, Larry grew up in Crane Hill and owns Edgewater Land. Smith Lake RV Resort is his eighth development since the 1990s. Before launching the resort, Larry raised longhorn and Brahman bulls on the 58.5-acre spread. The big animals were a source of fascination to Sandy, a Chicago native. She d take them day-old bagels, which she slid onto their horns, nearly causing passers-by to run off the rural road. Larry credits Robin Cummings, president and CEO of Peoples Bank, with the idea for the park. Cummings 32 AUGUST SEPTEMBER OCTOBER

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3 Developers Larry and Sandy Harris, left, visit with Dena and Woody Wood on their deck, which extends from a covered pergola. had noticed growing interest in recreational vehicles and suggested that Larry look into developing a park. He and Sandy visited some RV shows, conducted a survey and saw the potential. Many people want to be on the lake but like where they live and don t want or can t afford to build a second home. But the idea of buying a small lot to park their RV on, having amenities and access to boat slips, and not having to cut grass and such, is alluring. We knew folks were looking for something like this, Larry says. So, four years ago in April, the last longhorn got its last bagel. Larry brought in his earth-moving equipment and began building his latest dream. Someone once said if your dreams don t scare you, then you are not dreaming big enough. Sandy insists that Larry dreams big enough. He scares me, laughs Sandy, who works for Dr. Steven Skinner at Cullman Dermatology. A tour of the resort attests to the estimated $3 million the Harrises have invested so far on the project: an amazing amount of stone work, thoughtful landscaping, the beautiful pavilion area, a new fishing pond, laundry facilities, a private sewer system and just in case a community storm shelter. Twenty-six of 28 available lots are sold. Larry is grading out space for 37 more some overlooking the lake from the hilltop and plans a second, more elaborate clubhouse. He fully prepares each site with attractive stone pads and utility hook-ups. Lots average 50 x100, though some are 9,000-square feet. The least expensive available site goes for $69,000, but some new sites will sell for under $60,000. Everyone so far has had Larry build decks and/or pergolas. Nearly everyone has an attractive shed though full cabins are available for parking golf carts, the preferred mode of transportation. Homeowner fees are $60 per month. If you already have your RV, Larry says, you can come out and have a nice place on the lake for $60,000- $70,000. Call it paradise for the Everyman. 34 AUGUST SEPTEMBER OCTOBER

4 Three of the owners actually live at the resort, though two of them travel extensively. The others, like Woody and Dena Wood, can t wait to arrive on the weekends. Lot owners come from as far as Mississippi and Tennessee. The Woods live in Hartselle and work at Redstone Arsenal. They pack Thursday nights and are Smith Lake bound after work Friday. Sometimes we come down during the week, Woody says, relaxing on their deck. We love the water, Dena says, That s what drew us. On this particular day, Woody was out fishing at 6 a.m. The Woods discovered the resort while Harley riding in October At the time, it was little more than unimpressive red dirt. The following May they docked their boat there and found paved roads and landscaping. We didn t know the vision Larry and Sandy had, Dena says. I said, Oh, my, gosh! She and Woody boated around for an hour, came back and took a lot. Our goal had been to find a place near the water, Dena says. This answers or fulfills, I should say everything we dreamed of for a second home. Certainly, Woody laughs, it beats the heck out of Iraq. If you re interested, John and Kathy Van Giessen have a motor home for sale. They had planned to travel after he retired from Nucor Steel, but those plans changed when they visited Smith Lake for Memorial Day 2012 and found the RV resort. They parked the motor home. Once we came here, John says, we didn t see the need to go anywhere else. The Van Giessens are one of three couples from Hoover. It s a 70-mile drive, and, like most owners, they re at the resort nearly every weekend. The closeness they share with the other owners goes beyond a mere feeling of community, they say. It s like a big family. They experienced it on that Memorial Day visit. People invited them to lunch, to have a drink. We fell in love with it, Kathy says from a leather sofa in the living room area of their 39-foot Sierra. It s so much fun. It s like a big family. We know everybody, John says. When you come to Like many of their neighbors, the Van Giessens travel nearly every weekend to be at their place on the lake. AUGUST SEPTEMBER OCTOBER 35

5 Larry Harris gets the credit for building the boardwalk; Sandy gets the credit for landscaping. As for the Van Giessens... they get lots of doggie kisses. the lake, it s time for the good life. The night before, four or five couples joined them for a deck party. They planned a deck crawl this summer, a mobile party from place to place. Earlier, Sandy organized an ice cream tasting; Kathy s homemade concoction won. The Van Giessens also won the Christmas decoration contest. John played Santa. He and Kathy laugh about the neighboring Ogden boys, Nathan and Jackson, 12 and 8. They re the resort s selfappointed sheriff and deputy and often stop owners for the likes of speeding in their golf carts. All are assumed guilty and get not only a stern chewing-out but perhaps a $500 ticket (none of which are paid). They re the cutest things, Kathy says as if she s talking about her own child. And, here at the Edge of Paradise, Smith Lake RV Resort, that s the way it is. Oh and about John and Kathy s motor home that s for sale? They want to buy a boat. 36 AUGUST SEPTEMBER OCTOBER

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