Ashley: Southern Parks Report Seasonal Upturn is Now Beginning
Editor's Note: Bob Ashley is a columnist for Woodall's Campground Management. He is a veteran newspaper writer based in central Indiana who specializes in coverage of the RV and campground industries.
As 59-site Suwannee Hideaway Campground in Old Town, Fla., was being prepared for the winter season, Gerry Nennstiel, who owns the park with her husband, Walt, hoped that overnight business recovers.
"My snowbirds that usually are here have made reservations for this year," she said. "The downturn last year and the year before was in dailies. We'd like half the park filled with overnighters, but people that do come in for one night usually stay two or three because we are in such a unique area."
The park, 20 miles west of the Gulf Coast in north-central Florida, has 1,800 feet of frontage on the Suwannee River.
Besides the RV pads, 14 tents sites are located in secluded areas of the property, although they aren't being used as frequently as in the past. "People just aren't tent camping as much as they used to."
The Nennstiels, who have operated the park for 10 years, built a 1,500-foot elevated boardwalk through wetlands to the river and recently added 4 1/2 miles of hiking trails throughout the 140 acres that comprise the park.
"It's a quiet place good for stargazing because there are no city lights here," she said.
The park also attracts bicyclers because the 32-mile-long Nature Coast State Bike Trail is nearby.
Campers at the Jellystone Park at River Bottom Farms in Swansea, S.C., in October got a treat – a fully equipped haunted house complete with monsters, ghosts and goblins.
"October is our biggest month," said Dana Gabriel, who owns the 70-site park with her parents, Susan and Jim Moubray. "We are pretty full for the whole month."
The haunted attraction, which is open for five weeks and available only to registered guests, actually is a 400-foot-by-40-foot "barn" that features 20 haunted rooms manned by local volunteers.
"We've repurposed a chicken house, I believe," said Gabriel, who is president of Carolinas Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. "Every year we think about opening it up to the public, but we don't want our campers to get overrun. Tickets are free with the site rental and kids are all over the place trick-or-treating."
Along with the haunted barn, the park offers daily haunted hayrides and bonfires.
Although open year-round, the River Bottom Farms mostly will be quiet until March when temperatures begin to moderate. "We will do some clubs during the winter, but we are rural and pretty much out of the way," Gabriel said. "I'd love to tap some of the club market, but we haven't been able to yet."
The park, though, will be full over the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays.
Gabriel said that four sites will be added to the park over the winter.
Change is underway at Prince of Tucson RV Park in Tucson, Ariz., as the state reconfigures an I-10 access ramp that eventually will lead to the addition of 30 spaces at the 175-site park owned by Dave Christman.
"There's a ditch and some bridges that run through the park," said Christman, whose family has owned the park since 1978. "They are going to address drainage and fill it in, so I'm going to gain access to that ground."
Because of the highway project, Prince of Tucson's entrance also will be moved. "And I'll be able to redesign about 30 spaces that will accommodate any length or width unit," Christman said.
But all that is down the road.
Meanwhile, the highway construction is such a hassle that Cristman expects to lose business next year.
"People are already booked for this year but the construction is going on and they are going to see all the mess and not want to deal with it next year," he said. "It's an aggravation, but hopefully we'll get some benefits in the end."
Christman laments that the state won't reimburse him for lost business.
"The state will not give you any compensation for the loss of business because of roadway work, even if you can prove it," he said. "That's not just. There should be some compensation if road work is directly related to losing business."
Workers on local dam and electrical generation projects have helped occupy Rancho Los Coches RV Park in the San Diego, Calif., a suburb of Lakeside.
"We are getting more workers than retired people," said Carol Woolley, who has managed the 142-site park for seven years.
Because of its Southern California location, the park doesn't have a "season" per se. "We are open year-round and get snowbirds in the winter and 'sunbirds' in the summer from Arizona where it is too hot."
Winter occupancy was starting to shape up in mid-November, she said. "November, we are doing very well and we've got quite a few reservations for December and we're just starting to get some for January," Woolley said.
Because of the nature of its clientele, the park doesn't have the planned activities that parks typically offer. "Most of the people who come here now are young, so many of them work," she said. "They wouldn't come if we had activities anyway."
Winter Texans were beginning to arrive in mid-November at 4 Seasons Mobile Home Park and RV Resort in Brownsville, Texas, 25 miles west of the Gulf of Mexico.
"We've got enough Winter Texans here now to get things going," said Paul MacPherson, who has managed the park with 91 RV sites for seven years with his wife, Rosalinda. "We have a complete and active winter program."
The season unofficially kicked off on Nov. 11 with a Veterans Day celebration honoring U.S. and Canadian veterans. "A lot of people in the United States don't realize that Canada honors their veterans on the same day that we do," MacPherson said.
The celebration included raising the American and Canadian flags, along with flags from each branch of the military followed by a free luncheon. "Sometimes, we have vets who participate, and one year, a group of Vietnam veterans gave a 21-gun salute," MacPherson said.
The park has many loyal RVers, MacPherson said. "We have people who have been returning here for over 40 years," he said. "We don't get many overnight people. It's not that we don't have one every now and then, but we don't get them very often."
During the summer, while open, the park doesn't get much business.
"Everybody leaves for the summertime when it gets too hot," MacPherson said. "That's when we do a lot of major projects."
New asphalt was laid this summer on some roads and the more than 200 palm trees in the park were trimmed in anticipation of being full after the first of the year. "That's a big project," MacPherson said. "We will get a rush of people right after Thanksgiving and we will be busting at the seams between January and March."