The Economy Plays into the Hands of Parks Catering to Campers Staying Closer to Home
At Ozark RV Park in Mountain View, Ark., billed as the "Folk Music Capital of the World," owner Andy Rutledge said the 73-site park had the best summer season since he bought the park nine years ago. "Business has been great," said Rutledge, whose park is host to many of the musicians who play at the community's seven music theaters and the nearby Ozark Folk Center State Park.
"They play about everything here," Rutledge said. "It's a wonderful tourist town. At the state park, they don't play anything that was written before 1941."
The park last year added six camping cabins that have been quick to catch on. "They do real well every weekend," Rutledge said.
Typical of what has been reported at parks elsewhere, Ozark RV Park is seeing more regional campers as opposed to long-distance travelers. "People are traveling closer to home, and instead of coming in just one time, they're coming in two, three or four times during the season. I'd like to look in the mirror and say that I did it (lured them back), but I'm afraid it's mostly the economy."
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On the western tip of Lake Superior, Ogston's RV Park, Duluth, Minn., drew a good number of visitors during the summer from the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"They come up here to get away from the heat and the pace of the city," said Bonnie Ogston, who, along with her husband Mike, built the 100-site park on 200 acres 13 years ago. "It's just a different pace of life up here."
The park has three lakes stocked with catfish, walleye and bass, and thus is popular with fishermen. "There also are people who come around for different bird-watching activities," she said.
The Labor Day holiday was particularly busy. "We were booked," Ogston said. "I was turning people away. That has been happening more and more."
Having expanded the park by adding 28 sites two years ago, the Ogstons said the park is now at its limit for two people to operate.'
'This is it before we have to start hiring people, and we won't want to get to that point," she said.
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Yellowstone National Park recorded record attendance in July and Yellowstone Park KOA in the small community of West Yellowstone, Mont., experienced a good year too — with a caveat.
"Occupancy has been quite high this year," said manager John Dutton. "But store and auxiliary sales are not there. People are not going into the restaurants as much and not buying as many souvenirs. People are traveling, but they aren't spending their dollars."
The National Park Service reported breaking a 15-year record in July with 900,000 visitors at Yellowstone — an 11.4% increase over the same period last year. And in August, the First Family visited Yellowstone for two days, giving the park even more national exposure.
In the northern Rocky Mountains, the summer season is short, Dutton said. "We only have about a five-week season," he said, only half joking.
The park filled up by the end of June and stayed that way through Labor Day. "Tenters were out in force this year," Dutton said. "That's where I saw most of the increase.
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Even with a challenged economy and bad weather early, Dan Adams, owner of Lake Bohoseen Campground in Bohoseen, Vt., said the 140-site park, was pleased with the way the summer season turned out.
"I think we did quite well," said Adams, who also sells travel trailers and recreational park trailers at the park. "We were way down in May and June, but July and August turned around when the weather got better. We ended up about even with last year."
Still, most of his traffic came from local campers and others from New England. "We got a lot fewer campers from the West Coast than we usually get," said Adams, blaming the demographic shift on the sour economy.
Lake Bohoseen's 22 tent sites, eight cabins and six towable RVs that Adams rents were popular this summer and he intends to add three more rental units over the winter. Seasonal rentals also were up more than 25%, he said. "I try to limit seasonals to 30 sites, but demand was so great that this year we went to 38," he said.
Depending on how the fall season plays out, Adams is contemplating shutting down the park next year two weeks earlier than its traditional mid-October closing date. "Reservations are down right now for October, and it looks like the fall business isn't going to be enough to warrant the extra two weeks next year," he said, explaining that fewer people seem to be coming from out-of-state to enjoy Vermont's fall colors.
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With its proximity to Seattle, Wash., 14 miles to the south, and coastal Washington's temperate climate, Twin Cedars RV Park in Lynwood, Wash., anticipates a busy winter following an active summer season.
"We are basically full most of the time," said Bob Casey, who manages the heavily wooded, 70-site park with his wife, Betty. "We've done quite well this summer."
Casey said that he expects that more than 60 sites will be occupied during the winter — mostly with senior citizens. "We are starting to take on our winter residents already," he said. "Most of them are full-timers who spend the winter here. We try to keep five spots open for overnighters in the winter. But, otherwise, we'll have a lot of people staying with us."
Twin Cedars is extremely pet-friendly and maintains a dog park within the campground. "It's an old park, but it's nicely kept," Casey said. "We can handle pretty much anything, except for the big 40-footers with all their slideouts."
Bob Ashley is an Indianapolis-based freelance writer/editor and a 25-year newspaper veteran.