Camping Season Gets Memorial Day Boost
Private and public campgrounds across the U.S. welcomed the official start of summer with solid business over the Memorial Day weekend.
Here is a sampling of comments published from around the U.S. this week:
Whether it is the economy or just a renewed interest in family activities, Texas’ state parks were bustling over the Memorial Day weekend, according to the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, several parks reached full capacity and visitors had to be turned away at the gate because of a lack of space.
The department’s call center reported making more than 6,200 campsite reservations and nearly 10,000 check-ins, which does not include visitors with each party.
“All parks reported that they were busy in all areas of recreation offered,” said Bill Smart, a Parks Division spokesman for East Texas. “Campsites were full all three days even with the scattered thunderstorms and showers. Day visitation was steady on Saturday and Sunday with the peak of day visits happening on Monday as expected.”
Smart said every park in the region had to turn campers away because of the crowds. Unfortunately, he added, a lot started making plans too late.
“All parks reported that many calls were received during the week from people asking about campsite availability for the weekend. I think that our patrons have not realized that more advanced planning is needed if they expect to camp in a Texas State Park,” Smart said.
Looking down the road, Smart said those wanting a site for July 4th better start making plans.
“Most parks are reporting that the high demand sites are booked every weekend through July 5th. High demand being cabins, shelters with amenities and full hook-up RV sites. I highly recommend that people call the reservation center at 512-389-8900 now if they plan on visiting the parks for any weekends through July 5,” he added.
“We had an excellent Memorial Day crowd,” said Lance Thompson, vice president and general manager of Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach, one of the East’s largest RV parks. “Our 893 campsites were 98% occupied for the weekend. We feel very fortunate and are working hard to create a great destination.” The 38-year old campground experienced an all-time record year in 2007 and reports 2009 reservation projections up 6% over 2007 and site nights reserved are up 12% over the record year.
Sitting in his Fort Collins Kampground of America office Tuesday morning, co-owner Craig Sisco answers the phone letting a potential customer know there is still an opening on the weekend they are looking for.
The caller doesn’t book anything, but Sisco doesn’t fret, because his nearly 200 sites have been filling up just fine so far this year despite the down economy, according to Coloradoan.com.
Mother’s Day and Memorial Day weekends the KOA in North Fort Collins was booked solid and Sisco said he is on par with last year’s reservations. Open since 2006, last season was Sisco’s best year to date.
“I’m seeing a lot of local business with kids,” he said. “They just want to get out of the house.”
It appears this year, as people are still wary of the recession and fuel prices, that paid camping closer to home is a popular summer vacation option.
Sisco said he isn’t seeing campers from out of state, but is getting a lot of last minute bookings from in-state like Colorado Springs and Greeley.
Lea Jones, of Colorado, is currently staying at the KOA with her husband in their fifth-wheel RV. She said as they travel around the country she hasn’t seen any decrease in camping.
Harold Hayes, park manager at a KOA in Lawrence, Kan., said this Memorial Day weekend was the busiest he has seen in years. Hayes said he had to turn people away, according to KCTV, Kansas City, Mo.
“I started about two weeks ago turning people away. That’s the first time I’ve had to do that in quite a while,” he said.
It was a busy weekend for a lot of area campgrounds as a large number of travelers hit the open roads. Low gas prices and nice weather attracted scores of visitors to Idaho over the past few days, according to KPVI-TV, Pocatello.
Area campgrounds from Island Park to Lava Hot Springs were packed with people looking to get away.
Nationally, AAA estimated that more than 30 million Americans took a trip over Memorial Day weekend, which is up from last year.
Those high numbers are also reflected close to home with many RV parks and campgrounds reporting record number of people staying.
The KOA campground in Pocatello was completely packed over the weekend and did not have a single spot available. The owner also said that it was the busiest they have seen it in a long time.
Tyler Zellmer, Pocatello KOA Kampground, said, “I expected it to be busy but to fill up like it did, I was surprised. We did phenomenal, that’s the best way I can put it. It’s the busiest that I’ve ever seen it.”
A number of other campgrounds throughout eastern Idaho are also reporting that they did very well over the holiday weekend.
There wasn’t an empty campsite at Audubon State Park near Hendersonville, Ky., this past weekend, and campers said the reason they chose this getaway was for affordability and value, according to WFIE-TV, Evansville, Ind.
“I feel like all we did this weekend is eat,” Chandler resident Ron Babb said.
Babb and few of his friends wanted to get away for Memorial Day weekend, and when they found out it would only cost $26 a night to stay just a few miles from home, they set up camp.
“This is one good thing where we can relax and have a good time and everybody share our experiences together,” Babb said.
Campers from 12 states spent the weekend at Audubon State Park, but many were from the Tri-State area (Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois).
All 69 campsites at the park were rented, and the campers seemed to love spending less and getting more in return.
“They had BINGO at the shelter,” camper Melissa Snyders said. “They decorated the bikes and had a Memorial Day parade around the park and that was a lot of fun for the kids and they really liked that.”
At the end of any other vacation, Snyders said the cost of going someplace else would have added up quickly, but by staying nearby, she’s able to go home with money in her pocket.
“With food and the cost to rent the space everything it was probably a couple hundred dollars,” Snyders said.
“We’re only a half an hour to 45 minutes from home and it seems like we are 150 miles from home,” Babb said.
Park officials said they estimate this holiday weekend close to 1,000 people visited the park.
One of Minnesota’s biggest moneymakers could benefit from the slumping economy – campsites are packed and selling so many annual passes it could be one of the best years on record, according to KAAL-TV, Rochester.
Memorial Day was the unofficial start to summer and this year instead of many people hitting the roads, they’re hitting the trails hiking into the woods to get away.
Daniel Holets, of St. Peter, lost his job nine months ago, so a weekend getaway to Afton State Park is a chance for him and his fiancé Carly Schwertman to relax.
“What we paid for all the camping, wood, food is about one nights stay in a hotel,” he said.
An annual pass costs S25. Afton State Park officials say they sold more than 100 this Memorial Day weekend alone.
Statewide, park rangers say they’ve noticed the trend.
Will Rettig says Midwest Mountaineering has seen an increase in first time campers spending anywhere from $500 to a $1,000 on gear.
Owners of campground in the central part of the state say they were booked weeks in advance for the long holiday weekend as Michigan families took a more back-to-basics approach to planning spring and summer vacations in a tough economy, according to the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
“I’m completely filled up for this weekend,” said Mary Ann Brennan, who, with her son, Tom, runs Apple Creek Campground, “I’ve had to turn down a minimum of 100 people.”
Though they’re optimistic about the upcoming season, local campground operators have been hit hard by gas prices and the overall economy.
“When gas went up to $2 a gallon, people came less,” said Duane Vinton, manager of the Hideway Campground. “Then it went to $4, and they didn’t come. They got used to the $4, so now the $2 is cheap.”
Nevertheless, Vinton said more local people frequent the campground, which also has seven seasonal campers from as far away as Florida and Arizona.
“They come back because we’re quiet, clean and we’re a family campground,” he said.
Hideway was booked for Memorial Day weekend since May 11.
State officials are handling an increasing number of reservations this year. Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said about 92% of his agency’s campsites were booked through the weekend, an increase of roughly 5% over last year.
Likewise, there were more people planning to visit campgrounds managed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, according to the Schenectady Gazette.
Spokeswoman Lori Severino said statewide reservations have increased from 39,161 in 2008 to 41,537 for this summer. “There has been a slight increase, about a 5% to 7% increase,” she said.
Severino said the DEC campgrounds at the Great Sacandaga Lake have seen some of the greatest increase in reservations. So far, 1,884 people have reserved 2,235 nights, which is nearly three times the reservations recorded at this time last year.
Park officials at Green Lakes State Park near Fayetteville say campground reservations are up 17% this year compared to 2008.
“I think people are staying close to home. Tough economic times people want to stay close to home and go out to their local state parks,” said Jim Semar, the park manager Green Lakes State Park.
For many campers, the cost of gas and the state of the economy don’t have an impact on their annual camping trips.
“You can’t put a price on being with family,” said Tricia Datte of Pennsylvania, who has camped at Green Lakes many times with her family.
“We would have done it anyway, it’s a family tradition every year, said Maggie Crossman of Warrensburg.
However, even if the camping didn’t suffer, some families are still cutting back in other ways.
“We don’t do any extracurricular traveling around, we- a lot of times will travel around to the different state sites but last year and this year we’re kind of keeping that at bay,” said Crossman.
Private campgrounds were also seeing robust business.
Owner Lee Nosal of Lee’s Campground on Saratoga Lake reported all of his more than 130 boat slips were filled Friday evening. He estimated he had an above average number of reservations.
Nosal credited the drop in fuel prices for bringing more people out to the lake. But most of all, he said the economics of camping seems to be drawing more and more people.
“It’s cheaper to camp out,” he said. “And when the summer comes, I don’t jack my price up like the rest of Saratoga.”
The fact that most of the campsites in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were filled over the long weekend seems to indicate that people are looking for ways to make their dollars stretch, according to the The Smokey Mountain Hiking Blog.
Meanwhile, year-to-date visitor totals to the park, the nation’s most-visited national park, are running nearly 6% ahead of last year – following a sharp increase in April. Figures released this past Friday by the National Park Service show that the Smokies had a nearly 23% percent increase in April over the same time last year!
Are these signs that the economy is beginning to recover? Not likely, surmises the blog writer. “It’s more likely that people are seeking out inexpensive entertainment. Indeed lower gas prices and the Smoky Mountains 75th Anniversary are certainly helping things out in the country’s most popular park.”