History of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts
Founded in 1969, the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts brand has grown to now include more than 75 independently owned and operated locations across the United States and Canada. Although the Jellystone Park franchise is now a thriving business that welcomes millions of guests each year, its humble beginnings started in a small Wisconsin town.
Jellystone Park founder, Doug Haag, poses with Boo Boo™ (left) and Yogi Bear™ (right)
The Big Idea
Like many business ventures, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts began with one man, an idea, and enough gumption to take a risk. Doug Haag of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, was already a successful advertising executive in the summer of 1968 when a drive down a local highway changed his future forever.
As Doug drove past numerous cars packed with families pulling pop-ups and trailers, a thought suddenly occurred to him. All these camping families needed a place to stay and might want something better than a run-of-the-mill campground situated alongside a busy highway. What if there was a “destination” campground where families could spend their vacations swimming, playing, and enjoying nature?
What’s in a Name?
Doug Haag decided to make his idea a reality and partnered with a friend and local contractor. Together they purchased 30 wooded acres in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin for about $3000 (yes, a price of $100 per acre). They then needed to decide on a name for their endeavor. From his advertising experience, Haag knew that “in order to draw campers, we needed a clever and recognized name for our campground. My partner and I and our families had many discussions about names. Paul Bunyan, Lewis & Clark, Hiawatha, Pocahontas, Robin Hood, sports stars, and historical figures. We went through them all, but nothing seemed to fit.”
Then on a cold Saturday morning in January of 1969, Haag’s three young kids were watching cartoons in another room and he heard these words coming from the TV: “Okay Boo Boo™. Let’s get our pic-a-nic baskets ready. The campers are coming!” A beloved cartoon character, Yogi Bear™, living in a campground called Jellystone Park. What a great fit for a family vacation spot, he immediately thought.
The Bear Rights
As Yogi Bear was a famous character and a well-protected copyright, Haag knew had work to do. He made an appointment with the Vice President of Screen Gems, then-licensor of the Yogi Bear and Jellystone Park names and trademarks. He traveled to their New York City office and presented his campground concept along with a few hand-drawn sketches and a lot of enthusiasm. With some persuasion, Screen Gems saw the value of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park and approved the license.
A Grand Opening
The rest of the winter was spent making signs, building a Yogi Bear statue (out of chicken wire and plaster) and creating park literature. Haag met with the president of Hardee’s, a fast food chain, and purchased leftover Yogi Bear merchandise that had been used for an in-store promotion.
Construction on the park began in April 1969 and three months later, the first Jellystone Park opened in Sturgeon Bay to much fanfare. “There was no way we could have imagined the chaos that was to happen that opening weekend,” Haag said. “Three times as many people as we had sites for came to camp! We allowed them to set up in the field nearby, in the playground, anywhere they could find room!”
The opening rate was $3.50 to camp and the cost included all of the park’s attractions: a swimming pool (Yogi Bear’s Old Swimming Hole), a fishing pond, and a playground.
Today’s Jellystone Park locations continue that spirit of providing amazing family entertainment experiences by offering guests a range of attractions ranging from pools, water slides, and splashgrounds to wagon rides, mini golf, laser tag, jump pads, and lots more.