Campgrounds Report Varying Levels of Traffic as Season Hits Full Stride
Ten miles south of the Canadian border and across the street from Puget Sound's Birch Bay, John Gerity's only lament is that he doesn't have more than 72 campsites to rent at Beachside RV Resort.
"Business has been great," said Gerity, who has owned the park in Birch Bay, Wash., for 20 years. "We are a small park and we're on the best part of Birch Bay, so we are always full. We are literally booked until the end of the season."
Understandably – particularly with a favorable conversion rate between the American dollar and the Canadian loonie – many of Gerity's customers are from north of the border. At the same time, he draws a substantial number of customers from the Seattle area, a little more than 100 miles to the south.
"We are getting people who aren't traveling as far," Gerity said. "They have motorhomes and they are still going to use them, but they can't afford to travel as far as they used to."
He also attributes high occupancy at his park to the continuing conversion of RV parks into residential condominiums, which has reduced the competition. "For what people pay for land these days, you can't afford to build an RV park," Gerity offered. "And that's sad for people, I think. It's only people with big money who are putting in parks now."
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Mike Hagen, co-owner of Pride of America Camping Resort in Portage, Wis., has noticed that the park's reservation pattern has changed recently.
"The last two years, people have been making reservations closer to the time they are coming," Hagen told Woodall's Campground Management in late June. "Right now August and September are not very full, but I anticipate that they will be."
With school getting out late, early summer has been "all right, but not gangbusters," Hagen said.
Pride of America was named by Hagen's father, Paul, who built the 397-site park with six partners in 1974. "Now it's down to one family," said Hagen, who owns the park with brother Pete and sister Karen.
Besides RV campsites, the park features 21 traditional two-bedroom cabins – seven added this year – that front 33-acre Lake George, a good lake for fishing and small boats.
With about two-thirds of the park's customers renting for the season, Hagen says that the economy has affected that segment of his business. "It's still all right, but we've lost some seasonal customers because of job losses that I haven't seen in the past," he reported. "We are one of the more expensive parks around and those are going to be the ones that are hit worse by the economy."
Pride of America, which draws most of its customers from Wisconsin and northern Illinois, features the rustic Scales N Tales Pub and Grill, which has Friday night events such as fish fries and karaoke. "It started as a beer bar and then we got a liquor license and then added a kitchen and it grew into a full restaurant and lounge," Hagen said. Although open to the public, more than 90% of the pub's customers are park visitors.
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Business during the first part of the summer has been up and down at Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at Paradise Pines in Hudson, N.Y.
'We've had some hot spots, but Memorial Day didn't get off to a full start," said Mike Lenhard, who's owned the 170-site park with his wife, Gina, for 18 years. "We usually blow it out. We talk to a lot of people in the Northeast, and rentals are down. I think it's going to be an alright year, but flat."
About a quarter of a mile off I-87 in New York's Adirondack Mountains, Paradise Pines is in a remote location, Lenhard said.
"We are a vacation destination in the middle of nowhere," he said. "It takes some driving to get here. People withstood $4 gasoline until the middle of last August and then the bottom fell out. For us, it's a matter of confidence in the economy right now, and there's not a lot of it."
Nonetheless, Lenhard recently remodeled some of the park's bathrooms and upgraded its Wi-Fi, theater and pool. He plans to add a gazebo later this summer.
Lenhard promotes off-the-wall special events at the park such as Mardi Gras and Christmas in July and Halloween in August along with other events like Chocolate Challenge and Carnival Weekend, Canadian Thanksgiving and Pirates Weekend. "There's a holiday of sorts every weekend," Lenhard said.
The park features 21 recreational park model and traditional one-room and family-style cabins – three that front the Schroon River that wraps around the west side of the park.
"Some people don't like to make the investment in an RV, but like the campground setting," said Lenhard, who rotates three park model rentals every year or two on a lease deal with a local dealer. "There also are family reunions where some people have campers and some don't. The 'don'ts' rent cabins.
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On Southport Island in Boothbay Harbor, Me, 40-site Gray Oceanfront Campground had a quiet June, according to Suzanne Gray, who owns the park with her husband, Steve.
"But July and August are good on the books," she said. "It looks very busy."
Gray senses that people are traveling differently this season than in recent years. "My guess is that people are taking that one vacation; that they aren't stretching several short trips out over the entire season," she said. "That makes it less expensive."
There's not much to do except relax on Southport Island, which is about three miles wide and nine miles long and known for its lighthouses — Hendricks Head and The Cuckolds. But that suits her visitors just fine.
"The island is mostly residential, but it's rustic," said Gray, who lives there year-around. "There is an island store, but people mostly walk down to the ocean and sit in their chairs or fish off the pier. It is just one of those cute little places in the world – only further."
Access to the park is via a drawbridge from Boothbay. "People drive over that bridge, and it usually lowers their blood pressure pretty quickly," Gray said.
The park offers ocean kayaking and cookouts with lobster that the Gray's trap locally.
In addition to RV sites, the park offers three cottages that sit on the other side of a private road from the ocean.
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Oil and gas drillers working in the area kept Monument RV Park in Fruita, Colo., busy during the winter and into spring. "But that's slacked off a little and we're going into summer, so we are getting a lot of visitors from Colorado and Utah," said Pauline Youngblood, who has managed the 99-site park 10 miles north of Grand Junction for five years.
In a high-desert valley at an elevation of about 4,500 feet, Monument RV is open year-round to take advantage of snow skiing and hunting in the area. Notwithstanding the recent construction trade, Monument RV Park tends to appeal to overnighters and weekly visitors, rather than those staying for long periods, Youngblood said.
As other campgrounds have reported, RVers seem to be staying closer to home this season in light of the economic recession. "I don't see as many long-distance travelers," she said. "That's different from other years."
Another thing that Youngblood is seeing these days: More RVers staying at Monument are younger couples with families. "I had a family come in here the other day in a big motorhome – a momma, daddy and 10 kids. I would have loved to have seen what the inside of that motorhome looked like."
Bob Ashley is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer/editor and a 25-year newspaper veteran.