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INSIDE THE BELTWAY

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September 28, 2010 by   - () 3 Comments

David Gorin

This column usually is devoted to activities on the federal level involving government recreation, travel, public lands, transportation and other similar programs that impact the commercial park sector. This month, I’m taking the liberty to focus briefly on two trends that I’ve noticed that are having significant impact on the RV park and campground industry.

I’m sure many readers receive industry e-newsletters from a variety of sources, particularly RV Business, the RV Daily Report and perhaps also the Woodalls Campground Management daily. And many also receive the weekly Campground E News.

If you read these e-mail publications regularly, you can’t help but notice two important trends. First, state park systems as well as other public park jurisdictions across the U.S. are stepping up their game in the RV park and campground arena. Repeatedly, these publications are reporting on public parks adding full hookups to sites, offering cabins ranging from bare-bones to full service, paving RV sites, combining small sites to offer larger sites, increasing rates, offering special events and in other ways simply becoming more and more like commercial RV parks.

For example:

  • State parks explore corporate sponsorship – Faced with widening budget gaps, many states are seeking private companies to sponsor state park facilities, programs or the entire park system, the Associated Press reported. One state – Utah – announced it was going to seriously consider outsourcing the operation of all of its state parks to a management company.
  • Michigan state parks keep up with times – Writing for the Midland Daily News, Steve Griffin says camping is different than it once was. In various ways, Michigan state parks offer amenities to meet the wants of modern campers.
  • Colorado town considers town-owned RV park – In Colorado, town officials are looking at ways to accommodate overnight RV parking. One way is a town-owned RV park.
  • State of Missouri seeks donations to help rebuild state park – State park officials plan to invest $100,000 in the cleanup effort in order to reopen the campground and eight cabins at Big Lake State Park by Labor Day as well as temporarily relocate the convenience store, the Kansas City Star reported

And the new America’s State Parks website organized by the National Association of State Parks is a national information service for travelers looking for information about RVing and camping in state parks. If you’ve not done so, take a minute or two to visit www.americasstateparks.com. It’s the state park version of ARVC’s Go Camping America.

Is it time for state parks to be invited into the industry associations on the same basis as commercial parks? Each individual state park that has a campground is invited to join the state and national associations and state park managers and state park executives are welcome on the same playing field as commercial park managers and company executives. What do you think? Should we try to bring the state parks into the industry tent?

The second noticeable trend seems to be an increase in the number of new parks being planned, approved or built around the U.S. Whether these new projects are merely press releases or actual projects is uncertain, but there seems to be at least an uptick in the number of new projects coming on line.

Some examples:

  • New Wyoming RV park brings luxury to camping – A new RV park is open in Casper, Wyo. River's Edge RV & Cabins Resort is a large campground that features oversized spaces for ease of maneuvering campers and RVs.
  • County gives speedway RV park a green light in Colorado – In Colorado, Mesa County Commissioners gave the go-ahead for a series of new developments at the Grand Junction Motor Speedway, including a 75-space RV park.
  • New campground gets OK in South Carolina – Hucks Limited Partnership wants to build an 111-site campground on 34.55 acres.
  • Michigan campsite park looking to expand – A 42-campsite park in Pinconning, Mich., is looking to expand its footprint in the coming year, to between 92 and 142 sites.

And from my own first-hand experience, the number of new parks in the planning phase is certainly encouraging. As I write this column, I’m aware of new park projects in Virginia, North Carolina and at least four locations in Florida. With some 10 to 11 million RVs on the roads, and with RVers continually seeking new places and modern facilities and amenities, the future of the park accommodations industry seems secure. It will be interesting to see what ARVC’s 2010 National Economic Study shows in terms of private investment into existing parks.

Coming on the heels of the recession, these two trends are encouraging for the future of the park industry. Outdoor recreation is increasingly popular, fueled by affordability, the “green” movement, and government and private sector leadership in promoting outdoor recreation as a positive factor in reducing obesity and encouraging an active, healthy lifestyle.

The face of the park industry may be changing. It will be interesting to see how these trends – more and better campgrounds in the public sector, new parks and improved older parks in the private sector – play out in the coming years. Could the park industry be moving towards in the direction of the hotel industry with more brands, bigger and better parks and fewer small independent parks?

What are your thoughts?

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Comments

3 Responses to “INSIDE THE BELTWAY”

  1. Greg Gerber on September 29th, 2010 8:42 am

    David, I agree that staff from state and federal parks operating campgrounds absolutely need to be at the camping industry conferences. It is there they will learn to adopt a customer-focused approach to campground management.

    Too often, state and federal campgrounds are managed by people with an attitude that "we are doing you a favor by allowing you to park your RV here." It is for that reason that many state parks lose money while nearby campgrounds flourish.

    As far as building new campgrounds is concerned, I would advocate several industry sponsored conferences be planned throughout the country each year to help educate elected officials and public employees on the benefits of building and managing a profitable campground.

    Perhaps then we can see an end to stories about private developers who want to make a $1 million or larger investment into an RV park only to have elected officials reject the idea because they don't want "transients" in their communities.

    Right now it takes three years to get a new campground open because half the time requires developers to jump through hoops trying to convince local officials that people using RVs are not nomad sex offenders who party all night and break into neighbors homes the next day.

    Involving public officials at industry conferences may also encourage them to develop their own campgrounds in their own communities, which would increase recreational opportunities for everyone.

    GREG GERBER
    Editor, RV Daily Report

  2. Tracie Fisher on September 29th, 2010 1:25 pm

    "Should we try to bring the state parks into the industry tent?" Yes, David, I absolutely do, and thank you for asking the question. We are all in the business of making happy campers and how better to serve them than to respect and promote each others' individual offerings.

    My days in the campground were ones of great cooperation with the local State Park. Some of our campers were better served by them and some of theirs were happier with us. It really was a great relationship.

    Loved this article David, I am hoping it serves to crack open the door between public and private – even if just a smidge!

  3. Mark Maciha on September 30th, 2010 6:45 pm

    David–

    It is refreshing to see you present this perspective! Certainly, times have changed and the industry has changed with public parks getting on more of a level playing field with the need to place a heavier burden on user fees to support the campgrounds themselves and other activities that may be within a public park system. As a result, pricing has become more competetive and the public parks are looking to the rest of the industry to better serve the camping public. With all of that said, it is more than appropriate to work together to serve the campers.

    I do take exception to Mr. Gerber's perception. "Too often, state and federal campgrounds are managed by people with an attitude that “we are doing you a favor by allowing you to park your RV here. It is for that reason that many state parks lose money while nearby campgrounds flourish." Speaking as one of those "people" for 27 years, Mr. Gerber is poorly informed. The mission of our agencies, among a host of other challenges, is to provide recreational opportunities that include camping. 99.9% of those that I worked with in those 27 years were deeply committed to the mission and to serving the public. My only regret was that it was difficult to operate campgrounds to the standards that we in the field desired due to competing demands for our time and resources. It is the perspectives of individuals such as Mr. Gerber that serve to discount the needs of campers and to perpetuate a divided industry.

    Mr. Gerber's points regarding the challenges in park development are well taken and highlight the critical importnace of the need for a unified industry to work together to create enhanced understanding of the recreational opportunities that we all strive to provide.

    Mark J. Maciha, M.A., M.Ed., USNPS (retired)
    Certified Park and Recreation Professional
    Certified Park Operator

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