Florida’s Campgrounds Look to the Future

June 29, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

It’s a tough economy, right? 

Not so harsh, for Whispering Pines Village in Sebring, Fla. Well, only 13 customers are there right now; the snowbirds left in April. 

But the park, which has room for 154 recreational vehicles and 75 mobile homes, is booked for the coming winter, according to theTampa Tribune

“My park is already full for next year,” said Mary Cassidy. She and her husband, Edward, manage the RV park. 

They don’t advertise, Cassidy said. “Word of mouth. We have very satisfied people here, because we have so many activities.” 

Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties, the nation’s largest owner and operator of RV resorts for retirees, said 2009 numbers were down 10% at its two Orlando properties. However, its Venice and Vero Beach properties had 3% and 7% more visitors, respectively, said CEO Thomas Heneghan. 

Ignoring the recession, Bill Harvey opened a new upscale resort in Okeechobee, Silver Palms RV Village. By March, during the first phase, he had sold one-third of the 167 sites, even though prices ranged from $55,900 to $77,900. 

The Cassidys are preparing for the November rush. The electric company has hooked up new transformers, and trees that were in the way were removed. 

“We’ve been putting in new pads,” she said. They’ve been pouring 12-by-8 feet concrete patios where there were none before. Visitors can rent year-round sites for $199 per month, and they get the use of the pool table, the swimming pool and the communal bathrooms. 

On the east side of Highlands County, there’s Mossy Cove Fish Camp, south of U.S. 98. 

Summers used to be dead spots in the schedule, said the manager, James Saunders, whom folks call “Jimbo.” The former owners went on vacation for three months, leaving Saunders in charge, telling him not to even worry about renting the 12 cabins or the 40 RV spots. 

But Saunders – then the maintenance man, promoted to manager under new ownership – started to bring in fishing tournaments for three-day weekends: the Homestead Ambassadors, the West Orange Anglers. 

“We filled up,” Saunders said. 

Right now, there are only five permanent residents, a married couple and three singles. A few more come on the weekends. So Saunders spends his time on maintenance. 

“We have to mow the grass twice a week,” he said. Turns out, the wide-bladed St. Augustine grass grows exceedingly well in the nutrient-rich muck on the shores of Lake Istokpoga. 

“We’re putting new roofs on all the cabins, and porches on cabins,” Saunders said. They rent for $525 a month, pots and pans and Direct TV included. “And we’re painting, and pressure washing.” 

The house, which leases for $700 a month, is getting new cabinets. 

Neither Whispering Pines nor Mossy Cove is expanding, their managers said. But both are focused on the future. 

Like Whispering Pines, most of Mossy Cove’s business comes by word-of-mouth and the chambers of commerce. He can point to only one advertisement, in a 7-year-old paperback called “Fishing Camps.” 

“Some people have been coming here for 20 years,” Saunders said. 

One reason why: everyone has access to a Lake Istokpoga canal, where there’s lots of bass. And at night, in the recreation room, there’s Karaoke night, a fish fry, a pot luck supper or another event nearly every night. 

“We’re just one happy family,” Saunders said.


Feel free to leave a comment...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!