Leadership Profile: Ben Jansen
"Love wins if love is allowed on the field."
Owner, Lassen RV Resort Campground
Ad Hoc Member, ARVC Membership and Marketing Committee
What inspired you to get into the campground business?
It started about a decade ago when my wife Danelle (an equal partner and powerhouse in our business) was invited to go to Burning Man with a friend of hers and I stayed home with the kids. When she came back, she said it was such a transformative experience that it was something that she needed to do for the rest of her life. At the time, I had impressions of Burning Man that were deeply incorrect impressions that I think a lot of people may still possess. I didn’t know if I wanted to go camping with a bunch of crazy hippies. But the next year I went and had a similar sort of transformative experience. It is highly organized, and highly principled, due to the amount of people who want to “burn.” We discovered what the combination of camping and art and community and engagement can do, so we slowly started to transform our perspectives. We said, “How can we bring this transformative experience from Burning Man into the world in a way that is beneficial to ourselves and our community and our customers? We both have operations backgrounds in different industries and ongoing talents and interests in art and music and culture, so we initially thought about starting an artist’s colony, but that wasn’t feasible. Then, we thought, “What if we bought a campground and RV park and tricked it out with interactive art and brought the principles of Burning Man to a camping experience that's already there?" So, we spent three years visiting parks and went to the National School of RV Park and Campground Management before buying a park. When we first set foot at Lassen RV Resort and felt its energy, we knew this was the right one.
How would you describe your campground?
We’re a large park in northern California between Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta. We’ve got 68 acres with 20 acres of it being campground, so our spaces are quite far apart. People can come to a place where they’re surrounded by trees and nature in a community that’s quite rural, quite wilderness. One of the slogans for our campground is “Lassen RV Resort—Way out there. Worth it.” We had some customers who drove in excess of 10 hours to get to us last year. They came and said “I’ve never been in a better campground in my life. I will drive here 11 hours every year.” We work hard to give customers a “curated” experience in the park, and in the community.
What’s an example of a Burning Man principle that you apply at your park?
There are 10 Burning Man principles. One of them is radical inclusion. When people drive up to our park they see a rainbow on the front gate with a big sign that says, “We Welcome All.” It has one hand that looks Caucasian and another one that looks brown. It’s a way of saying “I thought of you when I designed my park this way or when adding a gender-free bathroom (in the works).” It says, “I’m not just welcoming you, I’m thinking of you.” People from backgrounds and identities not seen in the “norm” may feel actively welcomed if they see a rainbow or something that references them. It’s only a beginning to not just believing that we welcome people, but to show with our actions and systems that we intentionally accept each and every person and where they come from. And our customers show us daily they feel relief and acceptance when they see our signage and our art that indicates diversity and inclusion. Work campers from last year also gave us a great slogan, “Y’all means ALL,” and we try to practice this daily.
What has inspired your passion for making sure that your campground is inclusive?
I was adopted and my birth father was a member of the Ponca tribe in Nebraska. It took me a while to find my birth parents, but I did finally connect with the tribe, so I know what it’s like to grow up Native American but be totally disengaged from your tribe until you’re an adult, but all the time knowing that you’re a part of this greater experience. I also grew up in a mixed-race family. My parents adopted a bunch of kids, and we would also host kids, mostly African American children from the “inner city,” who wanted to get out and camp and do things like that. My adoptive parents were awesome and taught us everyone is equal, which was incorrect in practice, but a nice ideal. At the time, “color blind” was a popular white culture notion that didn’t play out then, or now, but it was a really good intention in our household. Growing up, the truth about systemic racism was made very apparent eventually when we grew to be teens, when our supposedly liberal town showed its underlying bigotry in several ways. Hard lessons, but it didn’t make us cynical, just determined to shift the balance to equity and justice, which includes everyone. I also have an amazing son named Noah who is transgender. He transitioned over five years and is now super compassionate about those who don’t understand the issue and identity, and he’s very active in social justice issues rooted in compassion, even at age 19. He knows we’re in this together.
What steps can campground owners take to make sure their park is inclusive?
If you really want to be open and welcoming, do some work on discovering and uncovering the unconscious bias in your life so you can truly start to see what you don’t know. There is absolutely no excuse for ignorance nowadays with the available information and allies out there who want to share ideas and action. The way to become more inclusive is by practicing being aware of and then transforming bias into knowledge so we can choose differently. We need to make sure we’re delivering services, signals and intentions to our customers that they are seen and cared for and respected as human beings–like what a clean bathroom says about how you care about customer health. Don’t just believe you’re welcoming and accepting of others, prove it day in and day out by uncovering your own ignorance and bigotry–we all have it, and we all must heal it. It’s not comfortable, so be kind to yourself in this endeavor; love wins if love is allowed on the field.