Private Campgrounds Evolve to Meet Demand
With more people having less vacation cash in their pockets this year, camping is becoming a popular way for families to spend time together.
"They look at it as, it's the most economical way to take a family on vacation," said Janice S. LaFrance, who has owned Sodom Mountain Campground in Southwick, Mass., with husband David for 26 years.
At resort campgrounds like Sodom Mountain, camping, activities and special amenities come in an all-inclusive package, according to the Springfield Republican.
"There are a lot of things for people to do," LaFrance said. "Campers are becoming a lot more sophisticated. They want breakfasts served, they want the mini-golf and the entertainment. They don't want to sit back by their trailers."
Campgrounds often offer their guests large outdoor swimming pools, playgrounds, game rooms and weekend entertainment.
At Northampton-Springfield KOA in Westhampton, owner Sally R. Kelsey said guests today are really looking for a full-service camping experience.
"When they come here, they want to be entertained," Kelsey said. "Once they pay for their site, they can go see something in the area – the Dr. Seuss museum, the Basketball Hall of Fame, Six Flags – then they can come back and participate here."
Kelsey said Northampton-Springfield KOA offers lots of activities for families with children, including arts and crafts, wagon rides, moon bounces and other entertainment.
And while some people are still willing to "rough it" in a tent, the number of those who stay in RVs, many of them considered "luxury," is growing.
"We have the 40-foot units," LaFrance said. "Some have dual air conditioners and washers and dryers. We have to keep up with that, with the electrical and the services they want."
Some of the higher end RVs sell for $300,000 to $400,000, LaFrance said, but for some retirees, it's where they live.
"The economy has increased our seasonal business," LaFrance said. "They park and spend the whole summer here."
In years past, she said RVers were more likely to travel and spend less time at each campground over the summer.
Those that have never camped and those that don't want to bother buying a bunch of equipment can often rent primitive cabins or well-equipped RVs at area campgrounds. At Sodom Mountain, tent sites can be booked for about $30 a night in-season, cabins can be had for $75 and trailers are $110.
Local campgrounds have guests that travel far and wide, from Canada and parts of Europe. Local attractions such as Six Flags New England, Yankee Candle and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame are a huge draw for out-of-towners. LaFrance said many foreigners also plan day trips to Boston and New York while staying at the campground, with bus and train schedules for those cities readily available to guests.
Area campgrounds are also the summer homes of many "snowbirds" – folks who live in Florida most of the year but travel north during the summer.
Barbara Russell, a Westfield native who now lives in Naples, Fla., is one such snowbird. She and her husband have spent summers at Sodom Mountain Campground for the past seven years, partly to spend more time with their grandchildren.
"I like being here," she said. "It's the only campground in this area that has facilities for kids, and it's kept up nicely."
Russell likes it so much she now works a few hours in the campground office, taking reservations and performing other administrative duties.
For all the folks that travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to camp here in western Massachusetts, many local campground guests aren't traveling far at all.
"I have people that live in Westhampton that camp here," Kelsey said. "The activities, being able to come through the gate, setting up and being able to have things to do – that's what people like."