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Ever Heard of the ‘Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania?’ Well, Neither Had We

July 19, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

If we were to tell you that Canyon Country Campground in Wellsboro, Pa., is located on the east rim of the ”Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania,” you’d probably think that we were full of, well, malarkey.

But there apparently is such a place. Often described as ”The Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania,” the heavily wooded Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania is a 47-mile-long, 1,000-foot-deep gorge that spans Leonard Harrison and Colton state parks.

Anyway, Canyon Country Campground offers primitive camping in tents along with 72 RV sites and three primitive and three full-bath cabins.

”The full-bath cabins book first,” said Jim Conoscenti, who has owned the park with his wife, Lindy, for nine years. ”They are very popular.”

Winter snow days at many Pennsylvania schools delayed the end of the school year until the middle of June, which has affected business. ”Our season is defined to some extent by the school year,” he said. ”Business is picking up more since the kids got out of school.”

The Conoscentis are the heavily wooded park’s fifth owner since it was founded in 1977.

With rising fuel prices that presaged the Great Recession, the trend at Canyon Country over the last few years has been to see more local campers. The campground draws a majority of its visitors from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey who are within a two- to three-hour radius.

”The last few years people haven’t wanted to travel too far so they will stay a couple of hours from home,” said Conoscenti, who sees that as a good thing for the campground industry. ”When the economy is bad, people get stressed out because of money issues, but they still want to get away to relieve the stress. Camping is one way to do that.”

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Hot weather came to central California in late spring and along with it, more RVers to Almond Tree RV Park in Chico. ”Business has been very good so far,” said Bob Corliss, who manages the 42-site park about 140 miles north of Sacramento with his wife, Terri.

”It’s starting to get real hot here, so everybody is starting to want shade and we have plenty of that here.”

Overseeing the park since the beginning of the season, Corliss is a retired manager for a trucking company in Oregon who has been an RVer for 25 years. Prior to becoming Almond Tree’s manager the couple worked as Workampers at RV parks in Wyoming and California. ”We got to know what goes on in RV parks,” he said.

Escalating fuel prices this spring brought more local visitors to the park, said Corliss. ”Almost everybody is taking shorter trips and staying more local,” Corliss said. ”Instead of a big trip to Yellowstone, they are staying closer to home.”

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Increasing fuel prices this spring didn’t affect registrations at Duck Creek RV Park in Paducah, Ky. ”It’s been wonderful,” said Virginia Vessels, owner of the 100-site park with her husband, Michael. ”People are not complaining about the price of gas.”

Some spring visitors were refugees from flooding along the Ohio River, she said.

The Vessels built Duck Creek Park in 1999, opening with about 70 sites, a number which later was expanded.

Over the winter, they installed water hydrants at Duck Creek’s sites to replace simple water faucets in wooden boxes. ”And the year before that, we installed cable,” she said.

Besides a pool with an outdoor pavilion, Duck Creek also features a large dog park that brings in customers. ”We have lots of visitors who bring their pets,” Vessel said.

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When figuring out what to do with land that he owned in the town of Antler, Okla., a community of about 2,500 in southern Oklahoma, Bob Clark turned to his RV roots and in 2009 opened Antlers RV Park.

The 29-site park on five acres is the kind of place where people are more interested in a good night’s rest than they are amenities.

”People who come here are usually retirees or people coming through on their way somewhere else,” said Clark, a former RV salesman who traveled in an RV for about 10 years. ”They aren’t interested in a pool or a clubhouse to play video games. They want a place to sleep. The main thing I have is a Laundromat only for people staying here.”

Still, he’s seen a steady decline in business at Antlers RV Park since opening two seasons ago.

”It’s probably the fear factor,” Clark said. ”People don’t have the money they used to have. Just like the RV business, it doesn’t take much to know that sales go down when fuel prices go up.”

Situated at the foot of the Kizmichi Mountains, the area is a haven for whitetail deer and there’s fishing in any one of three lakes that are within 40 miles.’

While not planning to put in a playground or swimming pool, Clark is developing a walking trail and eventually will build a gazebo for visitors to use. “I’ve got a nice pond and there are some giant oak trees that give shade so I’m going to develop a garden walk that will let people get some exercise,” he said.

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The summer season ”looks promising” at Westgate Cabins and RV Park in Ocean Park, Wash., according to Al Whetstone, who has managed the 39-site park with his wife, Salena, for nine years.

Westgate, about 20 miles north of Astoria, Ore., on the Long Beach Peninsula with its 27 miles of sandy beaches, is less than 1,000 feet from the Pacific Ocean.

Local artist Mary Swingle, who gave art classes at the park, and her husband, Claude, founded Westgate in 1971. Following their deaths, the park remains in the family. ”Our customers vary from families with little kids on up to retirees,” said Whetstone. ”The beach brings them here.”

So does the heat in the Southwest. ”We have four or five people every season from Arizona who are getting away from the temperatures down there,” Whetstone said.

Like many areas of the nation, spring wasn’t kind, however. ”It’s been a very wet spring,” he said. ”We started getting some sun in mid-June, and we expect that will get things going a little better.”

The park features six full-kitchen cabins that often are occupied,” Whetstone said.

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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