Responses to ARVC State Park Membership Offer Vary

August 22, 2011 by   - () 1 Comment

Private park associations in at least two states — New York and Missouri — have said “no” to a plan by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) to offer free memberships for the remainder of this year to state parks.

The objections to ARVC’s plan surfaced in an informal survey conducted last week by Woodall’s Campground Management. Other states apparently are leaning against backing the plan as well.

Ironically, the associations in those two states are headed by men who sit on the ARVC board of directors.

ARVC’s Executive Committee and board of directors sanctioned the six-month trial membership offer to all non-members in early June. ARVC CEO Paul Bambei subsequently announced the ARVC plan.

“Times are changing, and we need to look to the public parks not as competitors, but as industry partners since we are typically viewed as one in the same by camping consumers and we also share many of the same marketing and government affairs objectives,” Bambei stated in a July 8 news release.

ARVC bylaws have permitted public park membership for many years, and while some states, such as Maine, California and Vermont, have aggressively pursued public park membership, the national association remained relatively quiet. In June, however, ARVC launched a mail campaign designed to attract non-members to the association by hailing its multiple benefits, and many have taken notice, ARVC noted in a news release.

“We’ve already received several inquiries from both non-member private parks as well as public parks that see the value of ARVC membership, and we plan to make ARVC membership available to them on a six-month trial basis,” Bambei said, adding that the offer has been warmly received by top representatives of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD).

Opposition Surfaces Quickly

However, within weeks, private park owners in New York and Missouri expressed their disapproval of the plan.

Donald G. Bennett, New York

During a conference call in the third week of July, the 19-member board of the Campground Owners of New York (CONY) voted not to honor the ARVC request, said Donald G. Bennett Jr., CONY executive director. CONY’s bylaws do not allow for a state park to become a member in any class of membership, Bennett said.

Beyond that, from a practical standpoint, Bennett noted, the last half of the year is when many private state associations assemble their campground directories for the coming year. Any state park that would join for the second half of this year would be added to the printed directory for 2012 and would be in that directory all year, even if the park subsequently decided not to re-up for the coming year.

“It’s easy to put someone on a website and then take them off. Once they’re in a printed book, you can’t take that back,” he said.

Bennett surmises that, aside from conference calls, few state associations have had a chance to meet or poll their members on the ARVC plan.

In Missouri, the executive committee of the Missouri Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (MOARC) voted not to accept state and federal parks into their association. The 11-member board subsequently concurred during an early-August conference call. The board studied MOARC’s bylaws and found no provision for allowing in public parks.

Larry Helms, Missouri

“The MOARC board stands behind our mission statement to serve the special needs of RV Parks and Campgrounds in Missouri in order to provide the public with the highest quality camping experience,” Larry Helms, MOARVC president and owner of Boiling Springs Campground in Dixon, Mo., stated in an e-mail dated July 24 sent to Bambei and other ARVC officials.

“We support all private parks in Missouri and we believe MOARC can benefit the state more effectively by helping private parks improve and expand as privately owned businesses in the tourism industry.”

Helms said the matter will continue to be studied at the board level.

Meanwhile, Helms said he plans to meet with the Missouri state parks director and discuss the matter.

To change its bylaws, Helms said, MOARC will have to take the matter to its general membership, which doesn’t meet until next spring.

“It’s not a quick fix,” he said. “The starting point is to take a look at the bylaws.”

Other states respond

Many state associations don’t hold formal meetings during the summer months so a formal decision by many other states has yet to be made.

However, from the WCM survey come these comments:

Mary Arlington, Kansas

From Mary Arlington, president of Kansas ARVC:

“At this time KansasARVC doesn’t permit membership by public parks. Given the changes within the state of Kansas, and now with the new discussions between ARVC and the NASPD, KARVC members will be re-evaluating the issue of public park membership at its next scheduled meeting. How the vote comes out will be seen in February 2012.”

David Gorin, executive director of Virginia Campground Association:

David Gorin, Virginia

In October 2010, the VA Campground Association voted to extend full membership to any Virginia State Park campground that wishes to join VCA and ARVC under the same terms and conditions that commercial parks are invited to join the associations. VCA no longer differentiates between public and private campgrounds in terms of membership. At this time, we expect that seven Virginia State Park campgrounds will be joining VCA/ARVC and we hope that in the coming years more of the state campgrounds will become members.

Our objective is to grow the market – increase the number of Virginians who camp and increase the number of campers and RVers from other states that choose to camp in Virginia. As the market grows, everyone in the campground business will benefit. State parks and commercial parks generally offer different experiences and our further objective is that no matter where a family camps, they have an appropriate and enjoyable experience so that they will continue to repeated and frequently camp in Virginia.

VCA will continue its practice of distributing its bimonthly e-mail newsletter to non-members in Virginia including state park managers and we will continue to invite all non-members to our annual convention (with a registration differential). By exposing non-members to the association, we hope to eventually win them over to membership.

As in all states, there are members in VCA who would take a different approach to state park involvement in their associations, but I don’t think there’s any disagreement over the objective of growing the number of people who have experienced and enjoy camping and RVing in Virginia. And the state parks do bring some powerful outreach capabilities to that objective.

Deb Carter, Maryland

From Deb Carter, executive director of the Maryland Association of Campgrounds:

Our by-laws, written many years ago, do not permit “government” parks. That’s an issue we’ve discussed before, specifically when Fort Meade Campground wanted to join MAC, and instead had to join ARVC directly. It’s definitely something that will be on our fall agenda.

However, it must be noted that we have an exemplary relationship with our state parks. In fact, I am appointed to the Governor’s State Park Advisory Committee. We work together shoulder to shoulder at trade shows, meetings and tourism events in Maryland. We even provide a free color ad to the Department of Natural Resources in our MAC directory annually and they list MAC’s website/address on their website.

When state parks are full (which often happens), each park manager knows the local private campgrounds, and refers their overflow to us. Unity in our industry is important to our Maryland campground members, so whether state parks join ARVC directly, or through MAC, we will work together to serve our customers, those who camp in Maryland. I should also note that representatives from Fort Meade, and the Superintendent of Maryland State Parks or a representative, almost always join our meetings.

From Jay and Marji Otto, New Jersey Campground Owners Association:

Jay and Marji Otto, New Jersey

“Our members do not consider the state parks as viable competition since there are only 1,300 campsites in their system and none with hookups. Mostly tenters go to the state parks. Therefore we do not object to the ARVC offer. We have a good relationship with the state parks and they distribute thousands of our guidebook and we give them a free page in our guide listing the state parks with camping facilities.”

From Dana Gabriel, president of the Carolinas Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds:

Dana Gabriel, Carolinas

“Our association bylaws state that we are an association of privately owned parks. Working with the state and municipal parks in North Carolina and South Carolina is something that gets discussed quite often, but it is something that has never gotten past the discussion stage. I am afraid we would have to be another ‘No’ vote at this time, and could not allow state and municipal parks membership without putting the issue before our membership and voting for a bylaws change. I am sure that there are other state associations that have bylaws restrictions similar to ours. It is certainly something ARVC should take into consideration and research before moving forward with this proposal.


One Response to “Responses to ARVC State Park Membership Offer Vary”

  1. David Gorin on August 22nd, 2011 10:29 am

    While the Virginia Campground Assn welcomes state parks into full membership we are not under any illusion that the public and private parks share the same government affairs objectives as Paul Bambei has indicated. We have a common marketing interest in reaching and expanding the consumer base of campers but when it comes to the equal treatment of public and private parks by state government, that’s an entirely different situation. The public parks cannot lobby the state government so we see no real commonality there, and the state parks receive a number of benefits by being state parks that are simply unavailable to the private commercial industry. So we’re putting aside significant differences that remain in order to try to expand the total market. We’ll see if it works.