Michigan Campgrounds Woo Campers
Owners of recreational vehicles – from the costliest to the economy models – are finding ways to enjoy their homes-on-wheels despite high gasoline prices. Tourists are checking out closer campgrounds, parking their travel trailers for the week and whittling their vacations, according to the Saginaw (Mich.) News.
As the summer season kicked off with Memorial Day crowds, mid-Michigan campground owners and managers saw more Michigan and Ontario license plates and fewer from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
Still, summer tourism officials in Saginaw County weren't expecting a travel decrease. Saginaw Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau officials said vacationers – including campers – spent $47 million in the county last year.
They predict at least a 5% increase in gross hotels receipts this year compared to 2007, and that's saying a lot considering gasoline costs $4 a gallon.
Camping aficionados tend to bring everything with them: picnic tables, gas grills, bicycles and canoes. They fill their coolers, and they hang lights to personalize their campsites. It's their home away from home.
Pump and circumstance
Campers booked the majority of the 250 sites at Frankenmuth Jellystone Park Camp-Resort, but unlike times past, the patrons were mostly Michiganians.
RV vacationers hoping to meet fellow enthusiasts from other states better join an online chat room. Those folks are pitching their awnings elsewhere.
"We'll also see a lot of Ontario visitors, too, because their dollar is stronger now," said Cindy Keinath, park manager. "One thing we're doing to make things a little more affordable for families is allowing them to store their campers here for a fee. That way they don't have to burn as much gas driving back and forth if they want to return to the campground within a month."
"We didn't want to be in the storage business, but it's just our way of trying to help," Keinath said.
A Jellystone camper typically pays $42 to $63 daily for a site. Last year, about 20,000 visitors huddled around campfires there.
Mount Pleasant camper Ben Drake, 61, is a retired General Motors Corp. employee who stays at Jellystone Park often more than once a year.
"This year, we'll be there for Memorial Day, but that's probably it," he said. "We plan on visiting Mackinaw in July and Caseville on Labor Day, and that's going to be about it."
The latest "Campfire Canvass," the Reston, Va.-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) biannual survey of RV owners, revealed fuel costs will affect travel plans for nearly two-thirds of the respondents. Reducing the distance they drive and spending more time in one place are the top ways RV owners said they will cope with rising gasoline prices.
"People can be pretty resourceful and they will continue to camp — they'll just find other ways to save money," Keinath said. "Instead of driving into (Frankenmuth), I can see some them walking into town, which isn't very far."
Mike Lash, sales manager at Hamilton’s RV in the Saginaw area, said RV enthusiasts aren't troubled about spending $25 to $50 more to fill up than in past years.
"The misconception is (camping) is not something you do every day," he said. "You're not driving your RV back and forth to work or to the grocery store. You drive to the campground, enjoy yourself and camp."
Pine Ridge RV Campground charges $34 daily to $197 weekly. Officials there expect fewer out-of-state travelers, but they don't expect a drop-off in attendance.
"For true campers, it's just they way they live," said Vicki Mathews, a campground attendant at Pine Ridge. "They're not going to let gas prices stop them."
Pine Ridge has 200 campsites, and officials there expected to fill every one over the weekend.
Michigan campers will fill thousands of campsites across Michigan – including 73 state locations – despite the increase in fuel prices over the past few years.
Still, there are out-of-state campers willing to make the hike to Michigan.
"(Pine Ridge) is one of our favorite areas," said Martin Kazmir of Chatham, Ontario, who has visited Pine Ridge 14 times in the past 2 1/2 years with his wife, Laurie. "There are nice attractions (nearby), and it's a relaxing and beautiful area."
The Kazmirs cite the proximity of Frankenmuth and Prime Outlets at Birch Run as prime reasons for their frequent visits.
For the Kazmirs, owners of a 28-foot 2006 Mallard, the allure of the camping lifestyle lies in "the quietness and peace, the natural setting and the trees.
"With fuel prices as they are, we had to take it under consideration," said Martin Kazmir, who is vice president of Toronto-based Greenfield Ethanol.
In his hometown, gas prices are about $1.25 a liter, or nearly $5 a gallon, Kazmir said. He and his wife are willing to pay so they can relax in the wilderness beside their RV.
On the western side of Saginaw County, Lake of Dreams Campground in Merrill had 153 campsites, all reserved before the start of the Memorial Day weekend, said Kelly Bushre, office manager. In its 10th year the 77-acre Lake of Dreams features a 4-acre lake containing a small island, allowing visitors to swim, fish and paddle boats.
In its survey of 364 outdoor lovers, the RVIA reported that camping is still 25% to 75% cheaper than other forms of long-trip vacationing.
That's true, agreed Kirsten Borgstrom, media relations manager for Travel Michigan, the state's tourism agency.
"We still expect campgrounds to be full," she said.
"There will be more people camping closer to home, and for local economies, that is a good thing. And if you do see some out-of-state campers, they will probably be coming from border states.
"But people will go camping."