On Campgrounds: Georgia Retreat A Special Place

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April 22, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

Bob Ashley

The tsunami caused by the Japanese earthquake 5,000 miles away and rising fuel prices have put a damper on reservations at Sounds of the Sea RV Park in Trinidad, Calif. “Reservations have been slow,” said Robert Strety, owner of the 68-site park that sits on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

“People think that because we have an ‘ocean view’ that we are at beach level,” Strety said. “We are 300 feet above the ocean.”

Fuel prices, which topped $4 a gallon in California, also have been a factor. “When fuel prices get to $4.50 or $5 a gallon,” he said, “it starts to affect how people act.”

Although open during the winter, 90% of Sounds of the Sea business occurs in the summer when temperatures rarely get out the 70s. “People come here to get out of the heat of the inland valleys,” he said.

He said besides tsunami fears and higher fuel costs, fewer senior citizens on fixed incomes appear to be traveling on the West Coast, noting that there has been no increase in Social Security payments during the last two years.

“The system doesn’t see any increase in cost for people on fixed incomes,” said Strety, “although seniors do and they are starting to worry that they are going to outlive their money.”

* * * * *

Near Yuma, Ariz., 590-site Caravan Oasis RV Resort had “a great winter season,” as snowbirds flocked to the park and its desert setting, Manager Dean Buford reports.

“We were not 100% full, but probably 95%,” he said. “The spaces that we didn’t fill were some of the older sites that are too narrow for most RVs today.”

Two years ago the size of the park four miles east of Yuma on 50 acres was reduced by 152 sites so that others could be increased in size. “It’s paid off real well,” Buford said. “We are a destination park, basically because of the weather. And we have a lot of golf courses in the area and there are plenty of things to see.”

During the winter season that unofficially ended on April 15, the park, occupied mostly by seasonal rentals, reserves 27 sites for overnight travelers. “During the season, our overnight row was full almost every night,” he said.

Buford said that many of his customers have become cognizant of rising fuel prices. “There have been quite a few people who have opted to leave their rigs here and drive home or fly in and out because of gas prices,” he said.

He said about 60 RVers spend the whole year at the park with the exception of a couple of months in the summer when they head to cooler climes. “They are here for 10 months and they go north for a while where it’s cooler,” said Buford, who noted that temperatures in the Yuma area in July and August routinely top 110 degrees.

With the winter season in the rearview mirror, Buford said that plans are in the works to resurface the Caravan Oasis RV’s shuffleboard area and put new tiles in one of three recreation halls and two hot tubs.

* * * * *

Surrounded by 750,000 acres of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Enota Mountain Retreat in Hiawassee, Ga., is about as secluded as an RV park can be.

“This is one of those special pieces of property,” said Swan Freed, who prefers to be called steward of the park rather than owner. “We are a little tiny hole surrounded on all sides by thousands of acres of national forest.

“It really should be left for everybody to enjoy.”

The park on 60 acres with 35 RV sites also features 100 tent sites, 10 historic cabins, a 15-room motel, conference center and working farm with an organic garden where Freed raises milk cows, goats, miniature horses, chicken, peacocks, turkey and rabbits.

Etona Mountain Retreat for 60 years was a YMCA camp for boys from Atlanta, and Swan currently operates the facility as a non-profit charitable conservation trust.

The Appalachian Trail is a little more than a mile from the park, which itself features seven streams that meander through the grounds and a nearby 200-foot waterfall. “This is a pure environment,” Freed said. “You can’t go anywhere on the property and not hear water.”

While in competition with campgrounds in the national forest, Freed said rates at the RV park cannot sustain the facility and that the retreat business was rocky during the Great Recession.

RVers, however, already were filling the park in early April, in part because of a documentary on the park that aired repeatedly on Georgia PBS stations during the winter. “It’s the beginning of the season, but we are slammed at the moment,” Freed said. “People are using Etona Mountain as their primary vacation. We have a lot of diversity here, which has allowed us to be sustainable. We get a lot of visitors because of our different accommodations.”

She said one of the most popular amenities in the park is an in-ground trampoline. “The kids have a blast and it’s safer,” she said.

* * * * *

Texan RV Ranch in Mansfield, Texas, about 25 miles south of downtown Dallas, was 85% occupied this winter after having expanded from 74 sites to 132 since being purchased in 2004 by Rick Calverley.

“We are a little far north, but we get a lot of Winter Texans,” said Calverley, who almost doubled the size of the park after he bought it to accommodate oil industry workers in the area for several years.

“We were full with a waiting list,” he said. “For about four years, it was too small. But the oil work stopped about a year and a half ago, and right now, it’s about the right size.”

Calverley said he hasn’t tried to attract rallies to the park because of its high occupancy rate, but that’s likely to change.

“We are going to try some different approaches to marketing ourselves,” he said, noting that he recently added a small rally hall to the park. “It’s different now because before we didn’t have to do any of that.”

He said his busiest seasons are spring and fall when fulltime RVers occupy the park while others are traveling back and forth from the Rio Grande Valley.

“In the summer, it slows down a little because of the heat, but we’ve got Six Flags, the Dallas Cowboys Stadium, the Ball Park at Arlington, the Texas Motor Speedways all nearby.”

* * * * *

Riverside RV Resort and Campground on the banks of the Peace River in Port Charlotte, Fla., had its “best ever” season last winter, according to Bonnie Elliot, park administrator. “It was a great season,” said Elliot who oversees the 356-site park on 85 acres. “We have a busy activity calendar and most of our people come back every year. We have a young, active clientele.”

Elliot said the park has two distinct seasons – the winter months with snowbirds from the north and the summer months when mostly Floridians use the park for recreation.

Riverside RV is particularly noted as being a headquarters for kayakers. “We are a kayak mecca,” Elliot said. “Our winter seasonal RVers have a kayak club with almost 100 members. The Gulf of Mexico is nearby and so are some beautiful creeks and rivers.”

The park suffered severe damage in 2004 when Hurricane Charlie barreled into Port Charlotte. “It came right up the river,” Elliot said. “We were closed for about a month and half; our trees took most of the hit.”

Things today are back to normal, she said, and the effects of the hurricane are barely noticeable. “People who come here now think the hurricane didn’t even touch us,” she said.

To cope with rising fuel prices, Riverside RV has created a summertime “store and-save” program that allows RVers to leave their units on-site and occupy them four nights per month. “The winter people are grumbling about fuel prices,” she said. “We’ve had an uptick on people leaving their units here over the summer.”

Bob Ashley is a veteran newspaper writer based in central Indiana who specializes in coverage of the RV and campground industries.

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