While I have titled this blog as Branson, Missouri where we spent most of our time, our campsite was actually just across the state line in Arkansas. We were located on the shores of Table Rock Lake in one of the many Corps of Engineer campgrounds on the lake, Cricket Creek Campground. The trip was a short trip west from our previous location, mostly along US highways, which were still slow and twisted. Once we got through Harrison, Arkansas, we were on US 62 which is today a 4-lane highway where they have taken out most of the curves and steep gradients. Just before we crossed the state line into Missouri, we took off to the west for 5 miles down to the shores of Table Rock Lake. The reservation page on recreation.gov had listed the campground without water hookups, so we showed up with full fresh water tanks, only to find out the webpage was wrong. Every site had water hookups and 50 amp electrical service. Each site was also paved with nice stone work around the site. The site we had also had two stone picnic tables for some reason. Unfortunately, the trees blocked any views of the lake, but otherwise was a very nice, small campground. The only challenge was a tree right in the way of backing the RV into the site, making me having to make nearly a 90 degree turn into the site. Thankfully there was another site across from us, so I was able to use it to get the truck back around in front of the RV. I had to pull the RV up and back a couple of times to get it all straightened out and then it was easy to put it where we wanted for the week. It was also great that our site had a paved area to the side where we could put the truck. Kal really liked this feature. Thankfully, TV reception was not too bad although it would be nice to have CBS.
The weather on Tuesday was cool and partly cloudy, but thankfully no rain. So we headed south to the Visitor Center on the Buffalo National River south of Harrison, Arkansas. Years ago we had visited Buffalo National River with my sister on vacation, so it was a repeat. The time before we floated down the lower river in a canoe and kayak. However, that was late summer and this was early spring. Not only was the temperature too cool for floating down the river, but most of the river was closed due to high water from the all the rain. This time we were interested in doing some hiking. After getting information from the Visitor Center about hiking trails in all three sections of the river, we traveled on down to their picnic area where they had tables set up on the bank of the Buffalo River. It was a very nice spot for lunch. After lunch we decided to do just an easy 1.25 mile trail near the Visitor Center that started at the Collier Homestead which was settled by a family from Kentucky until the land was sold to the National Park Service. They have done a little work on preserving the small cabin on the site and their orchard behind the house is still there. The trail to a spectacular overlook of the Buffalo River was an easy trail. For those of you not familiar with the Buffalo National River, it was the first National River dedicated back in 1972. Up to that point, there had been multiple plans and attempts by the Corps of Engineers to dam the river, primarily for flood control and this finally put an end to those attempts. The Buffalo River is a pristine natural area for plants and wildlife all along the 135 miles within the park. If I had paid attention, we should have gotten out last week to see some of the lower areas of the park as we were quite close. I suppose all the rain was another reason we did not take advantage of it. In any case, we enjoyed the hike until we came back around on the return trail. This trail started with a steep downhill section along the bluff on the river with a couple of more nice views and then returned back to the farm site through the woods. Of course, this meant the return trip was mostly uphill and we both regretted not getting in more hikes over the past few months! By the time we returned to the truck, we had both had enough of hiking, so we returned to the campgrounds.
By Wednesday the rain had returned once again, although there was no severe weather to deal with. So it was another easy day in the campgrounds. Thursday also threatened rain, although we saw only a few brief showers, so we headed into Branson, Missouri to see if we could deal with our time share mistake. We really knew better, but 10 years ago we entered into a very small time share to try out that approach to retirement. This was before we had made the decision to full time in an RV. We purchased a single week every other year at a reasonable rate, that came with points that could be used in their transfer program. As it turned out, it was not cheaper to use a time share, even though the accommodations were a LOT better then we would book ourselves. We used the system only a couple of times over the years and now that we are living in an RV, it makes no sense at all. If it were not for the maintenance fees every other year, we would just ignore it. While these fees are not huge, they are irritating that we continue to pay for something we no longer want. Since the time share company has the right of first refusal, we figured we would give them their opportunity while we are in the area. However, the time share office is not open on Thursday and is only opened on Friday, so it was a wasted trip. So the day was not a complete lost we decided to check out one of the many fancy mini-golf courses in Branson, Dinosaur Canyon. They had two 18-hole courses that wound around the many dinosaurs and water features in the park. We played both courses before heading back to the campground and had a great time.
So on Friday, it was back to Branson to meet with someone to discuss the time share property. We got there early, but had to wait for a 12:00 appointment since we needed to see someone who was not a salesperson. So we headed out to check out another of the mini-golf courses, Pirates Cove. Like Dinosaur Canyon, Pirates Cove consisted of two 18-hole courses that wound around some fun scenes and water features. We took on their more challenging course, which not only included a hole on their pirate ship, but also through and on top of their “mountain”. The most interesting feature was a hole which was nearly impossible not to bounce the golf ball into the small stream running to the side. It turned out that this was actually the best chance for a hole in one, since the stream went under a small rock feature which somehow shunted the ball into a pipe that shot the ball at the hole. Very cool feature! We did not have enough time to play both courses, as we needed to get a quick lunch before heading back to the time share office.
What then occurred was the most amazing sales pitch I have ever witnessed. We had the “privilege” of meeting with an independent agent of the time share “police”, although he was still being paid by the time share company. He was under an “obligation” to inform us of the impact of a relatively new Florida law which is suppose to protect the consumer. We looked up this Florida law and could not verify anything that he told us about. It was his “duty” to inform us that this law addressed the three major problems with time share. First, was the inheritance tax when the time share passes on to our children, none of which are interested in inheriting the time share. Since time shares have been classified as “luxury items” that are not subject to the exclusion cap for estates and could be taxed as high as 30% of their value depending on the state. This Florida law, supposedly, remove this luxury tag and our estate would not be hit with this tax. However, I fail to see how a Florida law would have anything to do with how Alabama wants to define luxury. Second, is the maintenance fee which you have to pay whether you use the time share or not. Under this new contract, the company had to refund part of the maintenance fee so long as you relinquish your weeks early enough in the year that they can rent those weeks to non-members. According to our agent, it was “fortunate” that we bought our time share when we did. The property we owned had now gone through two owners and the current owner was based in Florida and thus subject to this law. Our maintenance fee was still tied to the original rennovation schedule for the first company and therefore was quite low by industry standards. If fact, according to him, the fee was going to jump by over 6 times the current amount and become a significant burden. Supposedly we had already been notified of this although we never got anything in the mail that we recognized. In addition, he could not show us what we should have received. However, under this new contract we would be getting most of this back IF we gave up our weeks each year in January. Now came the real sales pitch!! Under our current contract we earned a set number of points each year, which under the new owner was worth 10 times more!! In other words, our points, which supposedly would not change, would now be worth 10 times as much under the new contract. So instead of one week every other year, we would have enough points for 5 weeks a year!! This meant that instead of getting refunded for one week every other year we would receive 5 weeks of refund and still only being paying the original maintenance fee. So, instead of paying out each year, we would be making a lot of money on the maintenance fee. Does this sound like a reasonable business model for time shares to you?? Now remember, this guy was “not” a salesperson for the time share company and assured us the time share company does not want us to sign the new contract. It was important to him that we understood that signing the new contract could not be for purchasing additional points, which it was not. Each point we currently had would just be worth 10 times more. Now came the real kicker. In order to sign a new contract we had to invest additional money up to the current value of the property. Part of his hand waving now entailed being amazed by the low amount we originally paid for the property which on average everyone paid 5 times more for the same contract. When asked how this could be possible, he made up a wild story about someone must have defaulted on their deal and the company could only sell it for what was still owed them. I have never of this kind of restriction on any repossessed property. Because of this difference, we had “forced equity” which for some reason reduced the amount we would have to pay for the new contract. This is entirely backwards, since the “investment” was to bring us up to the current value of the property which should mean we would have to invest more not less. I bet you can guess what the final investment figure was after all his magic was done. If you guessed 4-5 times our original investment, then you were right. However, he was not done performing his magic. The third aspect of the Florida law was that once the company sold off all of a property, they had to establish a “resales office,” the purpose of which was never made clear. He made it sound like at that time the time share company would begin to buy back property, which makes no business sense at all, without ever actually stating this was their purpose. Projections are that the current property in Branson would be all sold in less than 3 years, which means at that time we could sell them back our property instead of having to hold it for a minimum of 5 years as required by the Florida law. So in 3 years we would be able to make a killing on our investment, which has not only increased significantly in value all ready, but would skyrocket because the company is building a new time share in Branson. For his finale he showed us how the crazy refunds of the maintenance fees would more than offset the monthly payments. So we would not only be able to make money on the maintenance fees every year, but we would be able to sell this new contract in 3 years for a minimum of triple our investment. Talk about a “no-brainer”!!! When asked if he would put all of this in writing, he quickly steered the conversation in another direction and we left after 5 hours with loan forms to fill out overnight and a promise to call to set up a meeting on Saturday. Of course, we never heard again from this idiot with his no-brainer deal. Bottomline: we talked with a non-salesperson who could not sell us additional points, but for an additional huge investment we could get 5 weeks a year and be in a position within 3-5 years of trying to sell back a property in no better position then we are today. I suppose I am one of the 5 percent of time share owners that could not see the benefits of this new contract. While it was a waste of time, they did give us a check for $150 for attending their “enrichment seminar.”
While the weather on Friday was not great, it was certainly better than Saturday, when once again it rained off and on all day long. Sunday was certainly an improvement and since we enjoyed the miniature golf so much, we decided to head back to Branson again to check out some of the other courses. First, we played the easier course at Pirates Cove since we got half off from the time before. This second course was also fun, but not as good as the more challenging course. We still had plenty of time on our hands so took off looking for another course. The first one we saw was at Bigfoot Fun Park, where the single 18-hole course was around other attractions in the park for young kids. While this course was not as good as Pirates Cove, it was more difficult. Not only were there a series of three holes in the dark with black lights, but they had a par 5 hole on top of the cave which it would have been easier with a wedge instead of a putter. In any case, we had a good afternoon playing around in Branson for our last day in the area. It was going to take a while to get over the bad memories I now have of Branson.