Alaskans See Near-Normal Park Business
The welcome mat is out at RV parks along Alaska’s interior highways as a steady stream of rigs, from sleek, top of the line, year-round motorhomes to simple tent campers, head north in spite of rising fuel prices.
On May 31, slightly more than one-third of the 190 sites (including tent sites) at the River’s Edge RV Park in Fairbanks were taken up by vacationers, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
“It’s slightly less than last year, but it’s not significant,” manager Andrea Robb said.
“Everyone talks about the price of gas,” she said. “No one is happy about the price of gas here or anywhere.”
Two couples traveling together from Bremerton, Wash., Ken and Diane Pahrmann, and Dan and Karen Tell, started planning their Alaska trip last year.
“We threw out a $4-a-gallon figure at the time, and we budgeted for it,” said Ken Pahrmann, paging through their trip logbook at a picnic table next to their rig at River’s Edge.
When the foursome left Washington May 18, they filled up the gas tank for $3.92 a gallon. By the time they reached Fairbanks, they were paying $4.25 per gallon.
During their Canadian excursions, the couples paid a low of $1.26 per liter near Banff to a high of $1.55 per liter at the Alaska/Canadian border.
“It’s 3.78 liters to a gallon,” Pahrmann said, adding with a grin. “But we haven’t worked it out (to a gallon) yet.”
At nearby Chena Marina RV Park and Resort, located on a mile-long bush plane float pond, business is noticeably down – 20% less from this time last year, general manager Bill Wileman said.
Consulting the office computer, Wileman said between May 15 and 31 in 2007, 383 RVs had registered on site, compared to 300 during the same period this year.
Wileman and owner Suzanne Spanjer are hopeful that European tourists will soon begin filling the gap.
Wileman said a number of Europeans fly into Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and rent motorhomes to travel into Alaska.
“There are 900 RV rentals available in Whitehorse,” he said.
Referring to Americans, Wileman said, “If your destination is Alaska, effectively, it is as cheap or cheaper to fly here and rent an RV rather than drive your own vehicle, plus you save the time you’d spend in transit up and down (the highway).”
A family of Swiss tourists, grandparents Niklaus and Marliese Kekeis, and their daughter and family, pulled into Santaland RV Park in North Pole near Fairbanks at dinner time on May 31 in two RVs.
Experienced RV tourists, the family has vacationed in California and British Columbia in motorhomes. This year, they flew into Whitehorse to begin their Alaska trip. The family enjoys this type of North American travel, which isn’t available to the same degree in Europe.
As prices for gasoline and commodities rise, RV park managers are noticing more and more Canadian visitors now that the American and Canadian dollars are on par. They also are noticing bigger and bigger motorhomes.
“There definitely are more and more big rigs,” said Dorothy Fickes, owner of Riverview RV Park, another area campground.
Fickes figures travelers who can afford to purchase large motorhomes are more likely to be able to absorb the increased costs of traveling in them.
Teffonie Wyman, manager at Santaland RV Park, also in the Fairbanks area, agrees and adds another reason for the size increase.
“People are spending more and more of the year in their RVs, and they want more space,” she said.
Wyman said business at Santaland is down “a little” since last year.
“The word on the street is that traffic is two weeks behind (schedule),” she said, noting that Memorial Day was early this year, and the weather has been cooler than last year.
“Reservations are right where they should be,” Wyman said. “We’ll see how it goes as we get further into the season.”
At Riverview, Fickes said, she has had only one reservation cancellation because of increased gasoline costs.
Another caller told her, “We’ve got to do it (drive to Alaska) or we may not be here next year to do it.”