When heading east through Dayton, the first thing a passerby sees crossing the Tongue River is a big red-and-white sign equipped with a large yellow arrow. The arrow points toward the Foothills Motel and Campground, which dates back nearly a century when the town housed fewer than half the people it does today.
Upon entering the property, travelers are welcomed by an older couple that have waved, smiled and accommodated people for 35 years. Lea and Marshall Hood have weathered harsh winters, highs and lows within the tourism industry and a changing customer base.
And they’re not alone in that battle. Peter Schutte, who had owned and operated Peter D’s RV Park for 17 years in Sheridan, has updated his establishment to better fit his changing customer base.
The Hoods and Schutte moved into the shadow of the Bighorn Mountains with similar goals. Both Marshall Hood and Schutte worked for larger cooperations outside of the county but wanted a chance to run their own show.
“I wanted to be my own boss,” said Marshall Hood, who worked in the energy business. “I was sick and tired telling people what to do, and unless the mine comes up with some more ore, we are not going to make it. You get tired of doing that.
“So I thought, ‘Hey I think I can do a better job on my own.’”
The Foothills Motel and Campground was for sale listed at $175,000. The Hoods drove up from New Mexico, stayed in a tent onsite for a few nights and within a week knew this was the right move to make.
Interstate 90 had just been completed in the Ranchester area, and many of the construction workers lived at Foothills for the working months. With that business gone, Marshall and Lea Hood had to swiftly find a way to get the word out about their place.
“People weren’t coming because they knew they couldn’t get a spot,” Marshall Hood said. “It took a while to rebuild the business.”
It took the Hoods a few years to find their niche within the tourism game, and slowly but surely people found the motel and campground as a nice place to stay. Business began to grow and in 1988, Marshall Hood expected a banner year.
Hood anticipated many people hitting the road and traveling, especially to places such as Yellowstone National Park. However, the park endured the worst recorded fire in its history that summer and closed its gates. Tourists elected to travel elsewhere, making for a very slow and in large part unsuccessful summer for the Foothills.
“The fire wiped the place pretty hard and the tourist business too,” Marshall Hood said. “We had to go through a rebuild after that.”
Foothills has since found its footing with an older crowd, mostly through word of mouth while still making modern advancements to keep up with an ever-changing world. The Hoods recently created a website, which is precisely how John Heinricy and his wife found the place as they traveled across the country from Michigan in an RV.
“We were just looking for a place along the way, and I kind of like to find small-town campgrounds,” Heinricy said. “We found this on the internet and called them up and they had places so we pulled in here. The appealing things you can see on the internet is it’s right by the river, and it has a nice old little downtown, so we enjoyed that. And obviously the view of the Bighorns from here is awesome.”
Schutte moved to Sheridan County to attract travelers similar to Heinricy. He understood Sheridan’s advantageous location when it comes to the RV crowd.
“It is centrally located. People are either going to Mt. Rushmore or they’re going to Yellowstone (National Park) or they’re going to Glacier (National Park),” Schutte said. “… The freeway system here was right in the right amount of mileage that people like to drive each day.”
Schutte’s establishment, much like the Hoods, appeals to an older crowd looking for a clean and quiet environment. Schutte doesn’t have a pool or a game room, just the essentials such as a bathhouse, cable, laundry and, of course, Wi-Fi.
“That’s the first thing people want to know, ‘What’s your password?’ Schutte said. “We’ve had to improve our Wi-Fi every year almost. Everybody wants Wi-Fi.”
Schutte has accomplished the goals he set when he left Greybull nearly two decades ago. He doesn’t try and compete with Walmart or city parks, where travelers can stay for free — he’s done well enough to where he hasn’t had to.
The Hoods are very similar in that regard. They appreciate the groups and people that return to the Foothills year in and year out, and that’s the reason they’ve stuck around for 35 years.
“One of the main reasons we keep going right now is the people keep coming back,” Marshall Hood said. “You meet jerks everywhere in the world, but far and away the majority of people are nice folks — nice people that are just enjoyable to be around. We get some that come in for one day or a week, and you smile when they come in. It’s like relatives.”