Mixed Bag for Michigan Campground Owners
High gasoline prices and an unusually cool and wet June have dealt an economic uppercut to northern Michigan campgrounds, yet many state and private camping parks in the southeastern Lower Peninsula are enjoying a banner year, according to the Gannett News Service.
"It's a tough one right now," said Maggie Pike, who owns the campground at Newberry in the Upper Peninsula, "although I wish I didn't own it today.
"It's not just the gas prices. The cold weather and the rain have been just as devastating," said Pike, adding that the owners of the biggest, most expensive motorhomes don't complain as much about gas prices as people with medium-sized motorhomes and trailers.
"I wish I had more tent campers and pop-ups," she said. "They don't complain much at all. They just enjoy camping and being in the UP."
At Taylor's Beach Campground near Howell in the southern Lower, owner Alan Taylor is enjoying an excellent season.
"We're on fire this year because we're a fabulously renovated campground only 60-90 minutes from Detroit and Lansing. People are telling us they can't afford to pull their rigs up north, so they're camping here," he said. "And they're staying longer, too. Instead of three to five short outings a summer, a lot of them are spending their whole vacations with us."
Taylor also rents a number of seasonal sites for people who leave their recreational vehicles at his park all summer and commute on weekends from nearby towns.
"We're hoping for an increase in the seasonal business," he said. "Now a lot of people are treating their campers like summer cottages."
At Cedarville RV Park in Les Chenneaux Island in the eastern UP, owner John Steinbach is carrying that concept a step further and converting his park into a condominium campground where individual sites are owned by the campers.
"We've sold 16 already," he said, adding that campers have told him it will be a lot cheaper to leave the campers in place year-round and drive back and forth in fuel-efficient cars.
Business has been down considerably so far this year, Steinbach said, "but people are staying longer. It's not a lot longer, but anything we get is appreciated."
At a gasoline station along I-75 near Standish, John Burroughs of Dayton, Ohio, was filling the gasoline tank of his 37-foot motorhome, which he bought two years ago when fuel was under $2 per gallon.
"Three-eighty, three-ninety, four hundred — that's it for now," said Burroughs, who "honestly gets about six miles to the gallon. I just can't bring myself to put in more than $400 at a whack. And that doesn't even fill my 100-gallon tank.
"From my house to the campground we stay at near Escanaba and back to Dayton will use about $800 in gas. The first year we made the trip it cost about $180, $190. My wife and I could have flown to some nice vacation spot for $800, or driven our car somewhere and stayed in motels.
"I'm going to have to start thinking real hard about how we're going to use this thing."
The Department of Natural Resources is seeing the same phenomenon at its state parks as the private campgrounds are experiencing — camper numbers down in the northern regions and up in the southern Lower.
Harold Herta, chief of resource management for the DNR parks division, said, "We have seen a decline in our Upper Peninsula parks, especially the middle UP. It's not so bad on the western end because those parks draw most of their campers from the Green Bay (Wis.) area," he said.
And while numbers are down slightly in the northern Lower, "We are seeing a considerable increase in the number of campers in parks in the southeast Michigan area, and we're seeing more people camping in tents," he said.
Herta added that more people are taking advantage of a DNR program that allows them to store their campers at state parks and then drive back and forth in cars.
"They can't keep the campers on a campsite, but they don't have to tow them every trip, and that saves a lot of gas," he said.
Georgeanne Hornacek owns a Gaylord campground where she said that high gasoline prices and cool, wet weather have made people "wait until the last minute before they decide whether to go camping."
"They don't want to waste money on gas if the weather isn't going to be nice," she said. "I can understand why. One of our campers came up with a big motorhome that has a 250-gallon tank, and he said it cost $1,000 to fill it. That's some real sticker shock."