Ashley: Sunbelt Parks Report Healthy Trends as 2012 Season Begins
Bob Ashley is a columnist for Woodall’s Campground Management. He is veteran newspaper writer based in central Indiana who specializes in coverage of the RV and campground industries.
Business at Orange Grove Campground in Kissimmee, Fla., at the end of December was ”’busy, busy, busy,” according to Tammy Morton manager of the 179-site park.
Likely a chief reason, Morton said, was the park cut its overnight rate this season from $45 to $30.
”All our rates decreased,” she said, ”and we’ve got a lot more people here than we did last year.
”Even with the increase in Snow Birds, the park keeps some sites open for overnighters. Some of them are coming for a couple of days and staying for a month.”
Orange Grove, nine miles from Disney World also is close to such attractions at Universal Studios and Florida’s Old Town.
Early January was expected to be particularly busy drawing RVers attending the Capital One Bowl Jan. 2 at the nearby Citrus Bowl.
”We’ll get a lot of people going to the bowl game,” she said.
In order to keep visitors busy, Orange Grove Campground has the typical Bingo games, suppers and cookouts along with special entertainment that includes singers, ventriloquists and street dancers.
The dozen and a half sites on the Gulf of Mexico at Jolly Roger Travel Park on Grassy Key were full of RVs before Christmas this season.
”This is our busiest time of the year,” said Angie Hannah, manager of the 162-site resort in Marathon, Fla., about 60 miles north of Key West.
”Starting in mid-January, we’ll be 100% full and stay that way until late February.”
While the park has some RVers who stay for the winter season, most people park their rigs at Jolly Roger for only a short time.
”We are more transient than seasonal,” Hannah said. ”Most people don’t stay more than a month.”
The nearby Pigeon Key Marine Science Center and the Dolphin Research Center bring visitors to the park as do fishing in the Gulf and snorkeling opportunities on Gulf reefs.
John Kinger, owner of Tye RV Park in Tye, Texas, plans to add 18 pads to the 60-site park a few miles west of Abilene.
”I got a tax break from the city to expand,” said Kinger, who has owned Tye RV Park adjacent to I-20 for six years.
Part of the motivation to expand is the burgeoning oil pipeline business in Central Texas. ”South of us, there’s a lot of construction coming on and some pipelines that will be kicking off the first of the year,” Kinger said.
Meanwhile, ”Snow Birds coming through heading further south,” according to Kinger, kept the park relatively busy this fall.
”Business isn’t as good as it has been, but we do all right,” he said. ”I’m looking for things to pick up.”
At 180-site Breeze Lake RV Campground in Brownsville, Texas, RVers who are showing up are staying longer than they used to.
”It’s gas prices and the economy,” said Manager Gerda Knowles. ”I had people who had been coming here for years who said last fall that they won’t come back if the gas prices stay up,” Knowles said.
On the flip side, there are RVers who intend to make the park in the ”Texas Tropics” their permanent vacation destination. ”We are getting more people who leave their RV here when they go home so they don’t have to haul them back and forth,” Knowles reported.
Knowles said the owners plan to add a number of sites next summer, but the scope of the project hasn’t been determined.
Counterintuitive to the retail marketplace where motorized RVs’ market share has fallen in comparison to travel trailers and fifth-wheels, more motorhomes are pulling into Breeze Lake these days, Knowles said. And most of them are big.
”I’ve only got one resident who bought a smaller motorhome,” Knowles said. ”All the rest of them bought bigger ones when they bought something new.”
The park held a Christmas decorating contest and a big New Year’s Eve blowout.
”’There’s always lots to do around here,” she said. ”If people want to be busy, I’ll give them something to do every day.”
At an elevation of 4,000 feet, RVers saying at Tombstone Territories RV Park in Huachuca City, Ariz., have a towering 360-degree view of the Huachuca, Dragoon and Whetstone mountains.
The 102-site desert park on 30 acres is 11 miles west of the historic Western mining town of Tombstone.
”It’s a great place to come home to for the quiet and the stars when you are touring the southeast part of the state,” said Manager Sylvia Thorpe. ”A lot of people who come through are bird watchers, and we have a lot of ATVers right now (two days before Christmas) because of the nice weather.”
Nonetheless, business is off some.
”We are slower this year than at this time last year,” Thorpe said. ”It’s the economy mostly. People are concerned and careful about spending their money.”
Sites are an expansive 40 feet by 80 feet, ‘‘so you are not sitting on top of everybody,” Thorpe said. There’s a mesquite grove inside the park where fire pits are available and an indoor pool was installed three years ago.
Camping cabins or yurts to appeal to families without RVs who visit nearby Fort Huachuca, home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, are on a ”wish list” Thorpe said.