Interview with Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort owner Brent Gasser

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort has been a Wisconsin Dells mainstay for over forty years. Located off of Interstate 90/94 on sixty acres, there are 250 campsites, 50 rental units, and room for group camping for over 1000 people. Recently, I had the chance to spend time with owner Brent Gasser, whose family brought one of the first Jellystone Park™ campgrounds to life. 

Tell me a little about how things all began Brent. Are you originally from the Dells?

BRENT GASSER: I’m actually third generation from this area. My grandfather was a farmer on this land where we’re sitting today. My father did asphalt paving, it was a three state asphalt paving company, and then our family formed this off of our farmland. We created the concept in 1971when the franchise company came to us to purchase the land. They wanted to buy the land and build Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™. It was a brand new franchise concept by Columbia Screen Gems, now known as Warner Brothers. Instead of selling the land, my parents decided to build the property into their own resort in 1971 and became a franchisee. There are now eighty in the United States and Canada.

They came to you because you had the property here?

Correct. They came to us looking for land to purchase and instead my family decided, with the disintegration of the family structure, and with the need to have more options for families to spend time together outdoors, they decided to build the property themselves. Manage it and own it wholly, just paying a franchise and licensing fee.

So before then it was just a forest?

Actually it was vacant farmland. We had a landscape architect transplant 3000 trees to this property to make a forest. When we built the park, there weren’t any trees. Everyone said you are crazy building a campground on the interstate with no trees, but it was a brilliant strategy because the location couldn’t be duplicated. It took time, but look what it looks like forty years later.

Was this the first Jellystone Park™?

No, we were the third operation built. The franchise company built the original one in Sturgeon Bay, WI, and the second one was in Orlando, FL. 

I’m guessing you were a Yogi Bear™ fan back then?

As a child I grew up watching Yogi Bear™ cartoons, along with The Jetsons, The Flintstones. If you look around the office here you can see it’s decorated with most of the cartoon artwork. Being a baby boomer, it was a natural fit for our family, because it’s a very family friendly cartoon character.

Speaking of family, tell me a little about yours.

My wife, Cate, is a school teacher at the Baraboo High School. She teaches food service there. Our oldest daughter, Katrina, is in Minneapolis, at a production company called Bebe Bella; she just graduated from college and has a job there. We have identical twin sons, Brennan and Christopher that are eighteen months younger than our oldest daughter, and they are seniors in art school in Minneapolis. Our youngest still works here in the park, her name is Natalie, and she is in her senior year of high school.

So, has it always been a family run business?

It’s always been run by the family. I was thirteen when I started working here, when we were building the park actually. I helped do some of the construction of the park, and then throughout my high school years I worked here every summer. I went to college at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Got a degree in business, minor in Psychology, and an emphasis in Spanish. I came back here and assumed the role of the manager.

Eventually, about ten years later, purchased the property from my parents, So, I’ve been the owner since approximately the early 80s. It was an interesting journey to say the least. (laughs)

I’m assuming you started off small and then expanded over the years?

Yes, it started off with strictly camping and a small store, and a small concession stand. Today we now have a five thousand square foot retail store with Warner Brothers Yogi Bear licensed goods, only available at this park. We have a water playground on site, which has twenty-five water features, a structure with four water slides, an activity pool with a yellow spiral slide twenty-five feet high, and also a hot tub on the property.

We created this concept, my parents and my family, so when we built the property, we knew what we owned and we wanted it to layout to the interstate to get maximum visibility. My mother was a great visionary, in which she understood what mothers were looking for, and more specifically, what she wanted for families. My dad was the construction engineer, so they created all this. At the time there were zero plans for building a Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™, because there only had been two built. So they looked at the one in Sturgeon Bay, they looked at the one in Orlando, and then figured it all out themselves.

This entire park was built in sixty-three days from start to finish, almost impossible! (laughs) It’s since been expanded. The pavilion has been added, the bar, the gate house, the water area as I mentioned. We added onto the store, and a zillion campsites and a zillion cabins. The original concept is still very much like it was.

Tell me a little about the accommodations you offer.

Rates start as low as $25 a night for a family of four, which is a phenomenal value. We now have six styles of camping and six styles of lodging available for our guests. The choices would be, budget tent campsites, water and electric hook-ups for all types of camping units, RV campsites with 50 amp electric, water & sewer for the big rigs, package sites such as Red Carpets, where they can get free unlimited mini-golf and boats with their site, a paved site, a grill, a patio, and personal visits by Yogi Bear. Then there are theme sites, similar to what you have at Disney World, with characterization on your site. Special checkerboard picnic table, again comes with free amenities – mini-golf and boats free – we have paddleboats & canoes on beautiful Mirror Lake, and they also get a photo with a character for free.

There are six styles of cabins. Yogi™ Yurt has two queen beds and are a modern adaptation of the ancient shelter used by Central Asian nomads. Cindy Bear™ rustic cabins which sleep four, Yogi Bear™ bungalows which sleep six and have air/heat, TV/DVD & Boo Boo™ Chalets. There are three styles of chalets. The 4 and 6 sleeper chalets have full bath, full refrigerator, and microwave.  The 8 sleeper has Master Bedroom with its own TV, kids room with 2 bunk beds, living room with another TV & futon for a another couple. This unit also has full bath & kitchen and comes complete with cooking utensils and all bedding. We also have lodges on the property that sleep six people with full kitchen, bathroom and living room and are centrally located near the water playground. These units also have cooking utensils and bedding included.  All units have porch with swing, BBQ grill, fire ring and picnic table for outside dining!

Sounds like you have something for everyone’s lodging needs.

Yes, we built the park in phases. In 1993 when we built the first cabins, no camp ground in the United States had them yet. I decided to test market the concept because I knew they were becoming popular in the industry in Europe, so we built three. They were very successful and we continued building for the next 20 years.  Today we even have free WIFI throughout the entire 60 acre resort.

So after your guests arrive, what are some of the unique things that they can do here for entertainment?

We do twenty weeks of special events. The big thing we do different here is that every week there is a different theme. This week for example, today starts our Hawaiian Paradise week. The whole property will be decorated Hawaiian. On Saturday night we’ll have a party around the pool with Hawaiian dancers that are in full costume. Fire and knife juggling, singing, music, we’ll have about 1500 people attend that event. In addition, we have free hors d’oeuvers specially prepared by my wife, a large task for that volume of guests. In fact, this weekend has been so popular, we created a second week, called the Caribbean Getaway Week which will give the guests a Caribbean vacation experience. These events are only for our guests on the property and these events are all free. The events change weekly, and you can find them all on our website,

Other popular events are our Christmas Week in June, Halloween in July, Mardi Grai in August, and our Chocoholics Anonymous Week. We also have one birthday for every character every year. A new one this year is our Jr. Ranger Safari Week. We recruit all the children to help be Junior Rangers and then they took a safari through our golf cart trail where there were “live animals” that they could view and visit.

Another thing that was new this year, that was different then the past, is that we recreated the 1958 Yogi Bear™ Ranger Smith™ Chase. Yogi Bear™ is known for stealing picnic baskets, as you probably know if you watch the cartoons, and he will go throughout the park walking. Then, at the point where Ranger Smith™ sees him, Ranger Smith™ will then grab Yogi Bear™ arrest him and take him off to jail. All the kids are helpers and are given Jr. Ranger badges beforehand. It’s an extremely popular event because the kids are engaged in the activity of helping catch Yogi Bear™, and helping keep the park safe.

Sounds fun! It seems like there is a lot more going on here then what I originally thought.

Many people are surprised, that’s why we are a resort and not just a campground. Other things we do different, that many people aren’t aware of, is that we do wake-ups with Yogi Bear™. Yogi Bear™ will come to your campsite, bring a bowl of cereal and milk, and wake up your children. We also do birthday parties on site where you can get a birthday hat, a cake, and Yogi Bear™, Cindy Bear™ and Boo Boo™ will come to your site and bring a little gift for the children.

How many characters do you have?

We have Yogi Bear™, Boo Boo™, Cindy Bear™, and Ranger Smith™ – that’s the Jellystone Park™ family. Yogi Bear™ is the boss of the camp resort. Boo Boo™ is his conscience and best buddy; he helps keep Yogi Bear™ out of trouble. Ranger Smith™, of course, is the guy that keeps the park from Yogi Bear™ antics, and Cindy Bear™ is girlfriend of Yogi Bear™.

What’s your favorite character?

I really don’t have one. I like all of them because I think they are all very positive for children. I think today’s cartoon characters tend to focus on the negative and cynicism. Yogi Bear™ only focuses on the positive, making people feel good about themselves. As well as Boo Boo™, Cindy Bear™, and Ranger Smith™ – they are all very good role models for children, unlike today’s role models. That would be true of the whole Warner Brothers cast of characters, of which there are several hundred.

Can you tell me a little about how the whole concept of Jellystone Park™ originated?

Jellystone Park™, the way it was created, was by Mr. Bill Hanna, who I have personally met on many occasions. He has since past. His creative partner was Mr. Joseph Barbara, who I have also met once. They created the concept because one of their best friends was a baseball player; you might recognize the name Yogi Berra? They went out to Yellowstone Park on an excursion once and came up with the idea that they should create a fictional Jellystone Park™, inspired by the real Yellowstone Park. 

So, it was based off Yellowstone Park and translated to Jellystone Park™. They trademarked it through Columbia Screen Gems, who was the original film producer. It’s been bought and sold like six times that I can remember, but currently owned by Warner Brothers - which has been a great combination because Warner Brothers is huge.

Does Warner Brothers have a lot of input, let’s say if you wanted to do something with the characters, do you have to run it by them and make sure it’s OK?

Absolutely. As this is a licensed property by Warner Brothers, we are one of the worldwide trademarked license holders. On this property, every time we use the image in marketing or any product that is produced by our franchise company for resale, it all has to be approved by Warner Brothers in California. It’s an excellent concept in that they keep the integrity of the character very true to the 1958 origins. They are very specific in how it is licensed and how they want the character to be portrayed, so we follow it very stringently.

Have you ever have any problems where you wanted to do something and they said no?

No, in fact, they have been very creative with the character. We are licensed as Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™, but also known as Yogi Bear’s Camp Resort and Water Playground, because we have a water playground, unlike many of the others in the United States. Being in the Waterpark Capital of the World, we felt that was critical. We have been able to utilize the image in very creative marketing venues, such as a digital billboard which has been used in Milwaukee. They have a very excellent department at Warner Brothers that helps approve all of it.

Is it something that happens quickly, or is one of those drawn out things where you have to wait months?

It depends. Most of our approvals are very expeditious, because we have been doing this for so many years, and they are very familiar with our product. They are very happy to know that we’ll make sure it’s being implemented correctly. We are the only Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort in the United States that has been run and owned by the same family since the inception. We literally created this concept with them, and built the image over forty-three years, helping expand the whole eighty park system. We were, for example, the ones that created the Red Carpet campsite, as well as the themed campsites. I could list a dozen things here on the property that we have created that they now use. Wake up with the bears, the birthday parties, they use those nationwide now. The most notable addition has been the Club Yogi™ Rewards which rewards the guests with 5 points for every dollar spent. I am very proud to say that as chairman of the Yogi Advisory Council, my team helped develop this very important program that was the first and only rewards program in the camping industry.  

With having so many things on property, how many employees do you usually have to have each season?

Around fifty employees.

Do you have a lot that return year after year?

Many of our staff and managers have been with us for a long time. Ten, twenty years is not uncommon here. Then of course we hire many college students. A new concept here that we started three years ago is that we have been hiring Navigators. Navigators is a branch of campus ministry. They came to the Wisconsin Dells to form Dells Summer Ministry, and in addition to furthering the ministry of Christ, they also work five days a week on properties in the Wisconsin Dells area, which were one of the first businesses in the Dells to partner with them. The kids are all college students from the Midwest area, very hardworking, very smart, very dedicated, very honest, and they have made an excellent fit for our business. We have around nine of them this year.

We also hire about fifteen international students. We choose to only hire from Turkey, as we find them to be the most fun, friendly, helpful and excellent salesman skills. I actually go overseas to do the hiring and to handpick the best that speak English, the friendliest people, and most helpful people. We’ve had great success with that. It’s been an interesting concept and combination of have a Muslim staff from Turkey and a Christian staff, because we also house most of our employees that come from oversees and around the country. They are living next door to each other and sometimes in the same housing unit.  It’s created a lot of long-term friendships, a lot of discussions about different religions, and actually a lot of insight to other people. I am sure in a very small way, it’s really helped global peace.

Our main objective is to have fun, friendly, helpful employees, which we have, and to entertain our guests.

What’s your favorite part of running Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™?

It’s always enjoyable to see the smiles on the children when they see Yogi Bear™, or Boo Boo™, Cindy Bear™, or Ranger Smith™ – any of the characters. Seeing them interact with the water playground, the hot tub, the waterslides, doing any of the arts & crafts or sports games with their families, or just seeing them around the campfire, enjoying the outdoor hospitality of family and friends.

People form lifetime friendships when they stay here. What we do most is create lifetime memories, because they actually camp right next to each other outdoors. It’s very common that we have multiple family reunions that come back year after year – so it’s a great family experience. And now, it’s always interesting to see the grandparents with their grandchildren and to hear the stories of the grandparents coming here as children!

It sounds like you really have a lot going on here. I bet you have a lot of guests that never even leave the property.

Well, of course being the Waterpark Capital of the World, they come to the Wisconsin Dells to see the Wisconsin Dells. While they do find a large amount of amenities and activities to stay here, many of our guests venture out to see Wisconsin Dells. Things like the Tommy Bartlett Water show, which is a partner of ours with Passport to Savings (a discount savings program for Dells attraction tickets), The Original Wisconsin Ducks, Noah’s Ark, the Jet Boats, Ripley’s – all of those are partners, just to mention a few.  We also partner with Kalahari and package their theme park tickets with our chalets. For the Mom’s we also have a ShopNStay package for our cabins or ShopNCamp package for our campsites which includes a Tanger Mall gift card.

Of course, the families loved being entertained at the park, but also the opportunity to go out. That’s what makes this park different then the eighty others in the United States that we are located in one of the top tourism destinations in the United States.

So, they have the double advantage of enjoying the amenities here, as well as in the Wisconsin Dells area. That’s why we have a very high repeat clientele, and a very high referral rate, because they know what they can expect coming here.

Can you tell me of any future plans?

We would like to continue to expand our rental opportunities. Those tend to have very good success and have a very high sell-out rate every weekend, because they are great value for the families. We are going to continue to expand our special events venue, and most likely expand our music festivals. We are also working now to expand more vacation bible schools, week long camps for people to come here. We have a lot of day cares that come here for the day. We have several hundred of those that come, and we’d like to continue to expand on that because there are many midweek days that are good for them to enjoy the facilities inexpensively.

Also, next year we plan to have tents already set up, so people can just come and check in, without having to set anything up. The new generation of campers is not interested in doing a lot of work. They want to check in, check out. It’s all about convenience.

Well, it sounds like you have created a very unique asset to share with the visitors of the Wisconsin Dells for years to come. Thanks for taking the time to show me around and sharing your story!

The Dells really is a great place. I certainly have had a lot of opportunities in my life to do other things, but I choose to stay in the Wisconsin Dells because of the tremendous opportunity in this town. I’ve enjoyed seeing the incredible growth in this town since the seventies, and I’ve been happy to be a part of it. All the families that have been here have expanded and built beyond their original family’s businesses and have created phenomenal resorts, attractions and restaurants for family entertainment. I’ve been very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish, and what they have been able to provide our guests as an entertainment venue. It’s quite an incredible story.

YOGI BEAR and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © Hanna-Barbera.         (s13)