Housing Shortage Turns Minot RV Park into Homes

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September 16, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Business took a different turn for Swenson's Valley View RV Park a few years ago when housing and hotel space in Minot, N.D., became tight.

The park saw its customer base move from mostly leisure travelers to working people settling in for the long term. Today, all but seven of the campground's 100 sites are leased monthly, employee Emily Carlton told The Minor Daily News.

Other campground operators are seeing a similar demand for long-term stays, although some limit how many they will take.

"Normally I have not even a handful that stay the whole summer, but now this year I have had probably six or seven pretty steady," said Ron Johnson, manager of Riverside Motel and Campground.

One camper who works in a construction field is camping at Riverside for the second summer, having taken a room in the motel during the winter. It's not unusual to get workers who are in the area for just a couple of weeks on a job, Johnson said. Normally they would stay in hotels, but as finding rooms has become more difficult, they are camping out, he said.

"We have had people come back for three, four years in a row," Carlton said. "They are working. They have a house somewhere else but since they work up here in the summer months, they stay in the park."

Valley View renters include traveling nurses, construction workers, paving crews and pipeline workers. In the winter, if they don't move on, they get hotel rooms. They are chomping at the bit to get back to the park in the spring, though, Carlton said. The park is open from April through November.

Minot's campgrounds haven't been offering winter camping. Most expect to close sometime in October, depending on when the first freeze arrives.

Lynn Bain, whose home is in Glendive, Mont., is looking for a vacancy in a campground in northwestern North Dakota where her family can spend the winter. Her husband and father-in-law work in the oil field. Her family has been living in a 35-foot recreational vehicle at Valley View since April.

With two young children and another on the way, Bain said the family is comfortable in their RV, even in the winter.

"We did it two years ago in Ross when it was 30 below," she said. "We have canvas skirting and a 500-gallon propane tank."

Sandy Boe, manager of the KOA Campground, said she's received offers from companies to rent out the grounds for the winter. The thought of snow removal and the potential for water-line freeze-ups keeps her from accepting.

Most long-term campers pull in with RVs, which sometimes can be quite nice, but that's not always the case. Five men have been staying in tents at KOA.

Richard Tasler and his son, Kyle, and Travis Michals came in August from southeastern Minnesota when work became scarce there. They have been working for Command Labor in construction at the nearby Minot Air Force base and living in tents while seeking more permanent jobs and housing.

"People are willing to camp in tents for work, I guess," Michals said, adding that it's not bad except when North Dakota's winds collapse his tent.

"We are looking for a place in town now. There isn't much open," Kyle Tasler said.

They cook out or visit Minot's soup kitchens to hold down restaurant bills.

John Morris, a truck driver from Texas, lived out of his truck until he lost that job. He's looking for another trucking job while working at Command Labor. He's had a tent at KOA for about two weeks.

Although the weather brings a chill at night, Kyle Tasler said its been "A-OK at KOA." The men say they have appreciated the campground manager looking after them and helping them find additional assistance in Minot.

Bob Underwood, who works for the Minot Park District's forestry department, lives in his portable home at KOA on weekdays and returns on weekends to his house in Bottineau, 50 miles away. Before he even considered apartment hunting, Underwood, who enjoys camping, upgraded to a better RV and prepared to move in for the summer. He said his current RV was previously owned by an oil-field worker who went through two winters in it.

"I haven't figured out what I am going to do this winter," he said. "I may be driving back and forth to Bottineau most of the winter."

Bottineau is about 80 miles from Minot.

Underwood also has his eye out for an apartment, but if he can't find one and Mother Nature makes travel difficult this winter, the camper might come in handy.

"I do have a spot lined up for the winter months my boss's backyard if need be," he said. "I will have to see how it works out."

Roughrider Campground allocates a percentage of its spaces for long-term guests. They include a number of workers whose jobs are seasonal or temporary so they will be moving on this fall. Still, long-term customers mean less space for the summer leisure travelers. Labor Day weekend was particularly busy for local campgrounds since it also was a Canadian holiday.

"We were turning them away left and right," said Wayne Chase, manager of Roughrider. "We just didn't have any place to park them. The owner was putting them in his yard and plugging into the side of his house to give people something. We don't have any overflow anymore. He's turned them into full hook-up sites."

Some area campers will be relocating during Norsk Hostfest as they did during the North Dakota State Fair. Long-standing commitments during those events means certain campgrounds will not have their regular long-term spots available.

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