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Gorin: How California Parks Could Go to Pot

February 12, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

David Gorin

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. He can be reached by e-mail at david@bestparksinamerica. This column appears in the February issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.

A belated Happy New Year to all and best wishes for a great 2013. If the country’s not gone off the cliff by the time you read this, there may still be hope for an economically strong year. I’m looking forward to sharing some things that I come across from time to time in my travels around the country working with Best Parks in America affiliates as well as David Gorin Associates’ clients.

A Look Into the Future?

Not too many years ago, many state campground associations were grappling first with accepting membership parks into membership and then whether nudist parks should be association members. Well, this may be the next thing coming down the pike – at least in the states that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana.

My San Francisco-based son found this on a local website:

Medical Marijuana RV Park/Campground

Dec. 5, 2012… Consider this – We are possibly turning the site of an old campground in NorCal into a medical marijuana friendly RV park. Instead of making people hide what they already do, we are going to be upfront and allow SMALL, SAFE AND LEGAL grows in conditions that maintain everyone’s well being. By allowing residents to grow, we can create a friendlier atmosphere of similarly minded people who can live together in a more harmonious way than traditional RV parks. Please e-mail if you are interested in participating in this idea or have any questions or comments about it. Thank you.

With the nation’s budget deficits and the need to reduce the national debt, maybe legalizing marijuana and taxing it heavily can make a substantial contribution to cutting the deficit. (I’m actually also wondering why the same can’t be done with online gambling. I’m told it would yield billions in tax revenues).

Campgrounds a Safe Haven?

In my 25 years of involvement in the RV park and campground industry, I’ve heard numerous stories of crime, abuse, embezzlement, drugs, etc., in parks. And I’ve always considered that parks have always been a microcosm of the rest of the world and that what happens in communities across America will also happen in parks.

In recent years, we’ve become more aware of the seamy side of life that from time to time rears its ugly head in campgrounds and RV parks. The Internet and especially Google alerts find these unfortunate instances of campground problems and the industry media reports on it. Whatever goes on in the world around us goes on in campgrounds – the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the uplifting and the downers. Unfortunately, that’s probably life in the U.S. today.

In a recent exchange on a LinkedIn RV Park Biz Group, someone commented on the recent story of a government official visiting an Idaho park who was charged with video voyeurism when a woman accused him of taping her in a shower in the campground. The article and the comments from LinkedIn participants caught my attention and brought back to mind the idea that I’ve long held that parks are a microcosm of the communities and the people who visit them.

One of the comments particularly caught my attention: “Any thoughts on how we can preserve the save haven of camping? Will it change the way you operate your campground?”

In response, one commenter noted, “We have been fortunate in the campground industry to avoid many of life’s social issues, which has always been a selling point for family values and quality time away from the city or our typical daily environments. It is also a wake-up call to all of us that the safe havens we have come to cherish are now becoming new opportunities for those who want to hurt others and infringe on their personal privacy. Sad indeed.”

Industry reporter and writer Bob Zagami and I engaged in both a LinkedIn and phone exchange. Bob said, “We still enjoy life and surroundings that look more like the ideals of 25 years ago than the world just outside our door – especially in major cities.” And he took issue with my LinkedIn comment that parks reflected society in both the good and the bad and asserted that “campgrounds are not a true microcosm of society because the people who enjoy the RV lifestyle are unique in their appreciation of what our industry has to offer and most people in the campground/resort think like we do.”

Regardless of our perceptions of society and how that may or may not be reflected in campers and RVers, we certainly agreed that parks should think about and develop programs to try to assure that they are the safe havens we all expect, and like them to be places where people can leave the doors open, where kids can play out of sight of their parents, where the restrooms are safe and secure and where our neighbors in the next site are more like us then any criminal element.

As the popularity of RVing has increased and the average age of RVers has dropped into the mid-40s, and as rigs such as the toy haulers have encouraged younger and younger buyers to become RVers, the composition of the RVing population and demographic has changed. Mostly, those changes have been very healthy for the industry, but with the good also comes maybe some not-so-good sidelights.

Having heard of and seen a variety of criminal acts in parks over the years – shootings, robbery, spouse and child abuse, fights, public drunkenness and lewd behavior and speech – and given the tragic multiple shootings in Aurora, Colo., and most recently in Newtown, Conn., it would seem that the industry, perhaps in an effort led by the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) and state campground associations should exert leadership and propose some concrete steps to avoid the negative press and sometimes unfavorable public perceptions of campgrounds and restore the image of parks as safe havens.

The first and simplest step that should be implemented was suggested by Bob Zagami – start a “see something… say something” campaign in the park using some subtle signage in restrooms and perhaps other public places encouraging guests and employees to be vigilant and report any suspicious or obvious actions that are out of place in a campground. We all know how quickly non-dog owners report those not picking up after their dogs, campers could be just as quick to report situations and observations before they become problems.

Another action that parks might take is to include something like this statement on its registration form and have all new or unknown guests read and sign it at check-in:

  • This park is a safe haven for all that visit and enjoy the outdoors. Any of the following actions will lead to immediate removal of the individual and their group from the park without refund or any other compensation.
  • Public display of any weapons including guns of all kinds, knives, bows and arrows, water cannons, and any other item normally characterized as a weapon.
  • Public out-of-control drunkenness or behavior under the influence of illegal drugs.
  • Public swearing, fighting or any aggressive behavior against any camper (including family members) or staff.
  • Any behavior within the confines of one’s RV that can be heard from outside and that one could consider threatening.
  • Public possession of any illegal substances or materials.

In addition, parks might step up their vigilance by requesting guests unknown to the park to show positive identification with a driver’s license or other acceptable form of ID. The park might photocopy the identification and perhaps on a random basis conduct an online background check to identify any guests who might be on the sex offender registry or otherwise have a recent violent criminal history. I realize this isn’t necessarily a pleasant task for a park operator, but it may be a sound practice to try to keep the park as a safe haven.

Many RV parks that have extended stay visitors are already requesting identification prior to signing a contract or lease and are doing background checks either in-house or using a service that checks on criminal behavior as well as credit worthiness and financial stability.

Park owners are encouraged to take a better “safe than sorry” approach when it comes to assuring that parks remain the safe and peaceful place they are intended to be. Recent events clearly indicate that all businesses and public institutions must be on guard and prepared to safeguard the life, health and safety of all guests and staff. I’m not suggesting creating a fortress-like environment, but rather to take steps such as suggested above, preserving the campground environment that the public embraces and expects on every visit.

 

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