Reservations Up at Rhode Island Campgrounds

May 21, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

New waterslide at Wawaloam Campground

Rhode Island’s campgrounds are looking forward to more business this summer than last, based on their reservations so far this spring. Some holiday weekends are already sold out, according to the Providence Journal.

This follows a national trend. Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), said reservations in May have been running between 5% and 10% higher than they were at the same time last year.

Profaizer, who estimated there are about 8,000 privately owned RV parks and campgrounds in the United States, said the industry has held its own during the economic downturn.

Given the experience of the past few years, businesses have become very reluctant to call themselves recession-proof. But at least one Rhode Island campground manager used the phrase “recession-resistant” to describe camping.

“I feel we’re in a unique industry,” said Nicole Smith-Proulx, a manager at Wawaloam Campground in Richmond. “There will always be die-hards who are going to camp no matter what. In an economy that’s suffering, you tend to see first-timers trying something that’s less expensive. So instead of taking the whole family to Disneyworld, they might try a camping trip.”

Wawaloam has 300 sites for trailers or RVs. (There are people still using tents for camping, but that era is rapidly fading.) She said about two-thirds of her customers are “seasonals” who rent spots for the entire summer, while the other third is more transient.

According to the Wawaloam website, rates range from $240 to $300 a week depending on the level of services (water, power, sewer, cement pad) required.

The economy is not the only factor affecting Rhode Island’s campground business. Campground owners said they were badly hurt last year by persistent rainy weather that virtually wiped out spring and early summer.

“Last year, the weather was awful,” said Ginny Bassett, an owner of the Ginny-B Family Campground in Foster. “It’s got to be nice weather, or the people don’t come out.”

She said it’s too soon to tell how the weather will impact this summer’s business. So far, she added, this year’s weather has not been as persistently rotten, particularly on weekends.

Privately owned facilities are not the only places to camp in Rhode Island. The state Division of Parks & Recreation runs five campgrounds, ranging from Burlingame State Park in Charlestown, with 730 sites, to East Beach, with just 10.

Fisherman’s Memorial State Park in Narragansett, with 182 sites, is the only state park equipped with power, water and sewer hookups for camping vehicles. (Fees are $20 a night for state residents, $35 a night for nonresidents).

Robert Paquette, chief of the state Division of Parks & Recreation, said all reservations for state campgrounds must be made through a website, He said reservations so far this year are running slightly ahead of last year.

“People are staying local. We didn’t raise our rates this year, and it’s a cheap family vacation,” he said.

Emerging Trends in Camping

Profaizer pointed to a couple of trends in the camping business. One is rental cabins for people without RVs or trailers.

“We have CABINS,” reads the website for Whispering Pines Campgrounds in Hope Valley. “So you like the outdoors but you don’t want to ‘rough it.’ Whispering Pines Campgrounds has the solution for you.”

The cabins, which include electricity, rent for $89 per night.

The state also has cabins for rent, for $35 a night, at Burlingame. Parks & Recreation regional manager Roger Monfette said there are 20 cabins, including eight new ones last year and one so far this year.

Monfette said the cabins, which do not have electricity, are built on-site from kits that cost $5,600 each.

A second trend, Profaizer said, is increasing the facilities and activities, particularly for kids, at campgrounds.

Wawaloam, for example, has miniature golf, a pool, restaurant, a lit basketball court, a playground and a new waterslide called Hydro-Fury.

“If the kids are busy, the parents are happy,” said Smith-Proulx.

Some Rhode Island campgrounds go for a simple approach.

“The tendency now is for people to expect a lot of activities,” said Ginny Bassett. “We’re not a babysitting service; we’re a low-key campground.”

Ginny B’s does have a 3-acre pond for swimming, two recreation halls, volleyball, basketball and horseshoe courts.

Profaizer, who estimates that 10% of the U.S. population — 30 million people — have gone camping in the last two years, said camping has some enduring attractions whether the campsite is simple or relatively luxurious.

“You’re still out there looking at the trees, you’re still cooking s’mores over the campfire,” she said.


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