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Suit Filed in 2010 Ark. Campground Flood Case

April 16, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A southwest Arkansas man whose wife and 3-year-old son were killed in a 2010 flood at a campground in western Arkansas is suing the federal government, saying the U.S. Forest Service should have warned campers of the danger.

Adam Jez, 28, of Foreman, filed the lawsuit Wednesday (April 11) in U.S. District Court, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. In the suit, Jez claims the Albert Pike Campground – now closed – had a documented history of flooding and that Forest Service officials neglected to post signs and take other steps to warn of the danger along the Little Missouri River.

On June 11, 2010, the river left its banks after a thunderstorm stalled over the Ouachita Mountains, which drain into the river. The campground, located in a ravine along the Little Missouri, flooded rapidly. A torrent that was more than 7 feet deep swept away tents, trucks, RVs and cement and asphalt pads.

Jez’s wife, 23-year-old Leslie Jez, and their son Kaden Jez were among the 20 people who died in the flood. Survivors were stranded in trees for hours.

Ashdown attorney Mickey Buchanan, who filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Texarkana on Adam Jez’s behalf, said he hopes the government is willing to settle.

“At this point, we’ve, gathered all the information we can. I think the facts are all there – the government’s investigation and report cites a lot of information. We have filed our claim. We’re waiting for their response and (will) see if we can resolve this,” Buchanan said.

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Woodall’s ‘Top 10’ Campground News Stories

December 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

These, of course, are not regular times. These are post-recessionary times — emphasis on recessionary — when the U.S. is digging out of a tough situation. And, as you know, we’re still digging, more so in some areas of the country than others.

Yet, as sister publications RVBusiness’s and Woodall’s Campground Management’s small staff sat down to review the year that was, we couldn’t help but marvel at the top-ranked story in our list below — the fact that the industry had indeed outperformed many other American business sectors for the second year in a row.

Without looking a gift horse in the mouth, it’s hard to figure in times like these.

But maybe that’s the point: Maybe times like these in some cases bring out the best of those lucky enough to enjoy them. Maybe we’ll just chalk it up to North America’s drive — lust might be a better word — for affordable recreation, a habit that the average family has retained throughout the global recession.

We’ve seen it at the tollgates in large public parks like Yellowstone and at the registration desks of hundreds of private campgrounds and resorts enough to know that it’s real. Having said that, here’s a quick look at our Top Ten campground news stories for 2010:

ARVC logo(1): RV park and campground business again bucks recessionary pressure to post gains in 2010. “Our members are generally reporting a better year than 2009, with the exception of the Gulf Coast areas,” Linda Profaizer, retiring president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), noted in her President’s Message.

“It appears that snowbirds are returning in bigger numbers than last year as well,” she added. “Most parks report an increase in rental accommodations and tenting is still a major part of the picture.”

Indeed, in his remarks during ARVC’s annual meeting, ARVC Chairman David L. Berg said the economic downturn has actually created new business opportunities for private parks as families and other travelers look for more affordable ways to enjoy weekend getaways and vacation time.

It’s not just an isolated trend. Industry leader Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) reported year-over-year gains in each of the first 10 months of 2010 with total revenues up 8.5 % over 2009. For the summer camping season, same store revenues were up 6% and camper nights up 4.5%.

Leisure Systems Inc. ((LSI), franchisors of the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, reported same park revenue up 5% in 2010. While site revenue was down 4%, rental income was up 15%, store revenues grew 15% and miscellaneous revenue was up 19%. And LSI looks for more of the same in 2011, thanks in part to the release in late 2010 of a new “Yogi Bear” Warner Brothers movie starring the voices of Dan Akroyd and Justin Timberlake.

Centennial-Charlie.JPG(2) The RV Centennial, the focus of which was in June when the ARVC Business Forum ventured to Elkhart, Ind., along with much of the recreational vehicle industry for Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) joint Annual Meeting and Committee Week proceedings and a party at the RV/MH Hall of Fame.

RVIA determined that 2010 was the centennial year for the industry, and what a year it was. The Go RVing Coalition promoted events throughout the year in conjunction with the centennial. The Coalition’s “Ambassadors of Affordability” cartoon characters appeared in Go RVing TV spots, and “Centennial Charlie,” a stuffed bear, made a PR tour across the country. The highlight of the year came in early June with a big bash in Elkhart, but other events were held across the nation at campgrounds, RV dealerships and elsewhere. It was, by most accounts, a public relations extravaganza.

(3) Gulf Coast RV parks share with other commercial segments in negative oil spill spillover. An explosion on April 20 at a Deep Water Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 men working on the rig and set off a massive oil leak that would ultimately send more than 250 million gallons of oil into the Gulf and threaten hundreds of miles of ocean frontage.

The oil fouled beaches from Florida to Louisiana, stifling tourism for months. Business was down significantly at campgrounds across the region, even where the beaches were never involved. It was a major PR problem for the tourism industry, which was still gradually recovering at year’s end.

(4) Flash flood kills 20 campers in June at Arkansas campground. Heavy rains the night of June 11 sent a wall of water in the “Loop D” area of secluded publicly operated Albert Pike Campground nearly Langley in western Arkansas. In all, 20 campers at the 54-site park were killed in the disaster,

The Caddo and Little Missouri rivers — two normally gentle waterways — rose by 20 feet overnight, engulfing the hikers and campers who were spending the night in tents along the rivers in the isolated Ouachita Mountains. “Within ten minutes the water had rose and campers were floating down,” a survivor told ABC News. “If they didn’t get out of their camper within five, ten minutes, they weren’t getting out.”

Linda Profaizer

Linda Profaizer

Paul Bambei

Paul Bambei

(5) Succession at ARVC — Linda Profaizer retiring and Paul Bambei succeeding her. Profaizer announced in the spring that she would be retiring after 10 years at ARVC’s helm and 40 years in the industry — a tenure that included her time as president of then Chicago-based Woodall Publications Corp.

ARVC looked both inside and outside the RV park and campground sector for her successor and recently hired Comcast Corp. veteran Paul Bambei. He never owned a campground, but he’s an avid RVer and was touted as an expert marketing executive. He was introduced at ARVC’s InSites Convention in December.

(6) Succession at KOA — Pat Hittmeier named president of KOA in February, succeeding Shane Ott. A 29-year veteran of the Billings, Mont.-based franchisor’s front office, Hittmeier was named president on Feb. 28 after Shane Ott stepped down. Hittmeier held several positions at KOA before taking on the presidency of the 475-member campground chain, and so far, from all we can gather, his relatively quiet demeanor and astute business instincts are serving him well.

Pat Hittmeier

Pat Hittmeier

(7) Virtual Campground Expo breaks ground on new era of trade shows. Campground vendor Art Lieberman earned praise in 2010 for introducing the industry’s first virtual online trade show, a “Virtual Outdoor Hospitality Expo” that kicked off in early November and continues today for those choosing to pay the site a visit.

While some argue that these online expos are the way of the future, Lieberman gets an “A” for effort, but a “C” for the site’s actual performance due to software issues that soured some on this landmark event. Lieberman, owner of MCPS for Campgrounds, was up front about the problems and pledged to try again, if not in 2011, then in 2012.

(8) Best Parks in America expands membership to 71 by year’s end. Best Parks in America, launched in 2004 by industry consultant and entrepreneur David Gorin as a marketing network, must be somewhere close to reaching critical mass by now, as the 71-park organization held its annual meeting and a slate of seminars Dec. 1-2 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on the brink of the ARVC InSites convention.

Now, having made some serious changes over the past year, Gorin says Best Parks is getting ready to grow to the next level as an organization that will provide more business tools yet remain “a system of independent unique parks.”

(9) CalARVC takes lead on holding tank chemical ban in California, despite legislative headwinds. Based on the premise that formaldehyde-containing products used in RV holding tank waste treatments have troubled RV park and campground septic systems for years, the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) decided earlier this year that it was time for a change.

So, CalARVC lobbied extensively to ban six specific chemicals from all holding tank treatment solutions utilized in the Golden State, and the California State Assembly passed landmark legislation in late summer. However, outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill to ban the chemicals and referred the matter to a state agency for remediation while CalARVC Executive Director Debbie Sipe has vowed to march on with an education program.

(10) ARVC’s ongoing headquarter saga. The national trade association announced in late spring its decision to move from Larkspur, Colo., a rural location to which it had moved in 2009 from Washington D.C.’s suburban Virginia, to more urban Castle Rock in the Denver area on the premise that it would be a better place in which to do business.

Then, in December, after some internal debate a few weeks ago, the ARVC board voted unanimously not to move to Castle Rock and instead authorized new CEO Paul Bambei to look elsewhere for suitable space in the greater Denver area.

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Grieving Families Reunite at Campground

July 26, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Click here to watch the KTHV-TV, Little Rock, Ark., video on the following story.

It was just last month when 20 people died in a flash flood at the Albert Pike Campground in western Arkansas.

On Saturday (July 24) victims’ families reunited, KTHV-TV, Little Rock, reported.

It was an informal gathering, but it won’t be the last. Families plan to reunite at least once a year at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church where they comforted one another in the worst days of their lives.

It’s peaceful now, the water is clear, but the Albert Pike Campground is still closed. Saturday, victims and extended family were able to walk through the devastation.

Pastor Graig Cowart with Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church went with them. He recalls, “It was a hard difficult thing, but I think it was a good thing and they got a sense of closure.”

Families returning for the first time had a difficult time, until everyone started talking about the good times. He adds, “It’s a way to try and progress a little forward in their life.”

Rescue workers and victim’s families gathered for lunch. It’s the same building many spent sleepless nights waiting to hear about the missing, but the mood is different. Here there are friendships and bonds that will never be broken.

Cohen Davis is a firefighter and joined the rescue efforts. He says, “It’s pretty devastating to see the magnitude of what the water could do compared to what it looked like when I went that morning.”

Davis and relatives were part of rescue efforts that saved nearly 100 people, memories too difficult to talk about. He continues, “It feels like what you did was a success. Even though you may have lost lives, you feel like you did what you came to do.”

Davies saved Kerri Basinger of Louisiana. She and best friend Candace Smith lost their husbands and two children each.

Basinger says, “This first year is going to be a really hard year.”

Smith is also from Louisiana. She adds, “Prayers are still needed, we have a long road ahead of us and we’re thankful most of all to have each other because we understand exactly what we’re going through.”

Families say they look forward to the day Albert Pike reopens with cell phone service and a warning system so more families can come out, enjoy it and make good memories.

“We get a little peace from coming here and to know we have a new family here. It helps us to come here and if we decided to go down to Albert Pike we know we’re not going alone,” Smith concludes.

Families and rescue workers planned to spend the night and go to church together Sunday morning. Pastor Cowart still talks too many of the families over the phone daily.

The Forest Service is asking for the families input on the design for a memorial to be placed at the camp grounds.

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Body Search Continues in Arkansas Flood Zone

June 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Search crews canvassing dozens of miles of muddy, rugged vegetation in scorching heat and humidity on Sunday (June 13) recovered a 19th victim of last week’s deadly flash floods that flushed out the Albert Pike campground in western Arkansas, and officials said they were not certain how many people might still be missing, according to The New York Times.

The authorities have confirmed that one person who was at the campground had not been found, but there were still unconfirmed reports of others who might be unaccounted for, Capt. Mike Fletcher of the Arkansas State Police said at an afternoon news briefing.

Confusion over how many were missing has been caused by numerous calls from people who said they had not heard from loved ones but were not sure if they had been camping in the area when raging water from the Little Missouri River swept in under the cover of night early Friday, Fletcher said.

Estimates on the number of people who may be missing have fluctuated widely. On Friday, just hours after the search and rescue operation began, it was put at 24.

“We just don’t know,” Fletcher said. “We’re just going to continue to search as long as we feel like there’s someone in there.”

One impediment to the search effort, he said, is the thick debris that needs to be removed in some areas before a thorough search can be conducted. Fletcher did not rule out the possibility of finding survivors, although none have been found since Friday.

Some anxious family members of those caught in the flood got to see the damage firsthand on Sunday morning. Forest Service officials escorted about 25 members of two extended families into the campground, which is in the Ouachita National Forest.

Each family had lost a relative in the flood and one family member was still missing, said the Rev. Graig Cowart of Pilgrim Rest Landmark Missionary Baptist Church in Lodi, Ark., who accompanied the group.

The riverside campground, a place of fond memories for generations of families, is now a wasteland, littered with wrecked campers, flattened trees and displaced slabs of asphalt roadway. For two hours, the families took it all in, went through possessions and retrieved pictures of children and keepsakes like baby blankets.

“It was for them just to go and have a little time,”  Cowart said. “It’ll help with their closure as they move forward and reflect and they can see where they were at. It was just a heart-wrenching experience, but at the same time I think they received a little solace. They could understand it a little better.”

Cowart, unshorn after three days of ministering to the families that have taken refuge in his church’s activities building, said the damage looked as if it had been caused by “a tornado that just hung around.” It made him appreciative, he said, that there had not been even more deaths.

Cowart and Forest Service officials praised local residents and companies for providing more food and supplies than the families could possibly use. Wal-Mart, he said, had sent a truck with ice and bottled water. An appliance store delivered portable freezers.

“We’ve had local people here drive up with checks they’d signed blank,” Mr. Cowart said.

The church canceled its regular Sunday service, but Cowart said he would share a private devotional with the families on Sunday night.

Forest Service officials said they began letting residents return to their houses in the area on Sunday, and they started towing damaged vehicles out of the campground. Fletcher said that 18 vehicles had been towed and that officials were still matching the license plate numbers to the owners. Two mangled pickup trucks were carted past the rescue command post at a gas station in Langley.

The authorities ratcheted up their search efforts on Sunday, using dogs, horses and divers. The 19th body was recovered about half a mile south of Albert Pike around noon, Fletcher said. Mike Quesinberry, who was overseeing the search operation for the federal Forest Service, said crews had searched around 50 miles of waterway at least twice.

Vynn Stuart, who runs a dog search team called Four States Search and Rescue, was on her second day traveling through the jagged brush amid swarming mosquitoes.

Guiding a German shepherd tethered to a long neon orange leash,  Stuart, who lives about 90 minutes away in Little River, came across numerous signs of devastation some eight miles south of Albert Pike: uprooted trees, a tipped-over canoe, and plastic chairs and a table. Sticks, dirt and other debris wrapped around trees like twine lashing together sticks. A grassy, open field was like a muddy marsh in parts.

Stuart, who has been working on rescue operations for 17 years, said her team had to cut its search short because of the severe heat.

“It’s been really challenging,” she said. “The debris is so bad. It’s so hot and humid. Snakes are everywhere. We had bear tracks in our area, so we have to keep our eyes out for that. It’s just the worst thing that’s happened.”

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