Dometic Corp., a leading supplier to the recreational vehicle and marine industries, is partnering with Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) to provide a complete line of RV and camping products at KOA campground locations across North America.
“Our goal was to become more relevant to camping customers,” said Mark Minatel, vice president of after markets for Dometic. “We wanted to be where the campers are, so of course we came to KOA.”
Soon, campers will be able to find displays of Dometic products carrying the familiar yellow KOA brand in selected KOA campground locations. While items available will vary by location, Dometic products for sale to campers will include RV cleaner, gray water treatment, odor absorber, air fresheners, holding tank treatments, toilet bowl cleaners, toilet tissue and moist towelettes.
Small appliances will also be available, carrying both the KOA and Dometic brands, including a portable electric cooler/heater, a portable ice maker and a six-bottle wine chiller.
“We are also planning to test a Dometic vending machine at several KOA locations that will serve as an extension of the KOA convenience store,” said KOA Vice President of Brand Development Lorne Armer. The vending machines will hold camper necessities such as toilet tissue, sundries and personal hygiene products that would be available via the vending machine even when the regular KOA store is closed for the evening.
“We are also developing several product displays that will work inside a variety of store sizes,” Minatel said. “We think linking these two giant brands is a great way to provide superior products directly to campers.”
A total of 107 Kampgrounds of America (KOA) campground owners have already “taken the leap” and adopted one of KOA’s three new brand positions, the Billings, Mont.-based company said in a written announcement.
The newly branded campgrounds are identified by one of three new brands – KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort – in the 2014 KOA Directory, which is now available free to campers throughout North America.
These descriptive words are being added to some KOA locations to help define the camping experience and better match camper expectations. Campers will still see the welcoming KOA yellow sign wherever their travels take them, but there’s even more than they may have imagined going on behind these KOA Yellow signs.
KOA Journey campgrounds are conveniently located near the highways and byways of North America and are waiting for campers after a long day on the road. KOA Journeys offer long pull-through sites that help make setup fast and easy, have well-lit after-hour check-in service, and offer a robust line of RV supplies. They are great places to unwind and relax before the next leg of their journey.
Whether campers are looking for a base camp for exploring the area or a fun place to stay with lots of activities, they are sure to love KOA Holiday campgrounds. There’s plenty to do at these KOAs, with amenities and services to make any stay memorable, whether it’s overnight or for a longer stay. Each KOA Holiday features full service RV sites and KOA Deluxe Cabins with bathrooms. Campers can take a hike, see the local attractions or still enjoy a campfire.
KOA Resort campgrounds offer a carefree vacation in the great outdoors with plenty of patio RV sites and Deluxe Cabins with linen service. KOA Resorts also have an abundance of activities led by dedicated recreation staff, on-site food service, group meeting space, and much more. KOA Resorts are all a camper could want in a vacation destination – all in one place.
At each of these campgrounds, campers will find KOA’s well-known friendly staff and high quality, exemplary service, according to KOA. Additionally, each has free Wi-Fi, premium tent sites, a KOA store and a Kamp K9 pet park.
“With these new brand positions, our campgrounds will be better able to meet the expectations of all of our campers, no matter what kind of camping trip they have in mind,” said KOA President Pat Hittmeier. “We want to make planning their next camping trip as easy and fun as possible.”
Port Huron, Mich., KOA owner Howard Stein was the first to adopt the new KOA Resort brand. Over the years, Stein has developed his campground from a small, 160-site facility to more than 450 sites that include single and double-room cabins, deluxe cabins, deluxe patio RV sites and many shaded tent sites.
“We look at the transition to becoming a KOA Resort as a mere alignment of our longtime guest-services philosophy,” Stein said. “Our development has always been driven by the desires of our guests, and being the first KOA Resort is a perfect fit for us.”
There are 485 campgrounds in the KOA network in North America.
Look for the KOA Journey, KOA Holiday and KOA Resort icons throughout the 2014 KOA Directory, and on the campground pages of the KOA.com website.
The digital edition of the 2013 Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) directory is now available in a book-like online format that allows campers to virtually “turn the pages” of the book to view KOA’s popular camping aid and atlas, according to a news release.
“We’ve had a digital version of the printed KOA Directory online for the past two years, but this new technology takes the experience even further,” said Mike Gast, KOA’s vice president of communications. “Users can get the same experience they would have with the printed directory, plus active links in the digital directory will take them right to campground landing pages on KOA.com for more information or to book their reservations.”
Readers are also able to print out just the pages they need for their next trip. As always, the printed 2013 KOA directory is available for free at any of the 475 KOA campgrounds in North America, or can be ordered online at KOA.com for just a small shipping and handling fee.
Also new this year is the ability to make KOA camping reservations directly from mobile devices such as iPads and smart phones. The KOA mobile site can be accessed from any mobile device by entering www.koa.com into the browser. Once there, campers can quickly navigate to their favorite KOA and complete their reservation on their mobile device.
“All of these digital advances make it easier for our campers to plan their KOA trips,” said Gast. “We’re constantly working on new tools and enhancements that will continue to improve the experience for our campers. Stay tuned. There’s much more to come.”
Charlie Arnold has stepped down from the board presidency of the Chino Valley Chamber of Commerce in Chino Valley, Ariz., to devote his energies to fighting a referendum drive against a recreational vehicle park project, the Sun Shopper reported.
Arnold said he also announced his resignation Wednesday (Sept. 8) during a chamber luncheon to be “above reproach.” The resignation will go into effect by the end of the month to allow for an orderly succession, and Arnold will remain as a member.
“I want to have the ability, whether politically or legally, to devote my time to this referendum issue,” said Arnold, 25, who has headed the chamber board since July 2009. “I made the choice on my own.”
Arnold said he wants to represent his client, Jack Tuls Jr. of Las Vegas, Nev., as a businessman and not as chamber president.
He announced his resignation eight days after Protect Our Rural Lifestyle submitted petitions to Town Clerk Jami Lewis to seek to overturn a July 22 decision of the town council. The council voted 6-1 that evening to rezone 17 acres on the south side of East Road 3-1/2 North, about 400 feet east of Highway 89, to accommodate plans by Tuls to build a Kampgrounds of America (KOA) RV campground at the location.
Opponents claim heavy-commercial zoning at the location conflicts with nearby homes. Arnold and other supporters believe the KOA, and other commercial development on land Tuls owns, will create jobs and stimulate economic development.
Petition drive organizer Candy Blakeslee, who attended the luncheon as a chamber member, said her opposition is nothing personal.
“This is about a project, not about specific people,” Blakeslee said. “This is about commercial-heavy zoning next to residential. It is not against Mr. Arnold. It is not against Mr. Tuls.”
She referred comments about Arnold’s decision to the person who chairs the committee, who could not be reached for comment.
Tuls, who also attended the luncheon, said Arnold notified him a few days ago about his intention to resign from the chamber presidency.
“He does not want the chamber in the middle of it,” Tuls said. “He definitely is making a good decision.”
Tuls said about 50 people approached Arnold offering their support after he announced his resignation. The chamber has more than 350 members.
Concurring, Chino Valley Mayor Jim Bunker said Arnold did not want to divide the chamber by playing an active role in the referendum, adding some project opponents belong to the chamber.
Meanwhile, Lewis, the town clerk, said Wednesday that she has until Sept. 29 to forward the petitions to the Yavapai County Recorder’s Office.
“That is our deadline,” Lewis said. “My intention is to get them (submitted) a week ahead of time.”
Lewis is reviewing 446 signatures that Blakeslee’s group turned in Aug. 31. The figure is well above the 188 minimum based on the number of voters who participated in the council election in 2009.
Lewis previously said the earliest date a referendum could take place is next March, the same time as the next council primary election.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about an RV excursion by Chicago Tribune travel writer Eileen Ogintz. Her trip was arranged through the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Winnebago Industries Inc.
Finally, we’re off!
The 32-foot Winnebago RV is stocked with every variety of food from Costco, as well as toys, games, movies, pillows, sheets, towels, special “blankies,” and stuffed animals, along with two kids, 5 and 7, two parents and me.
“The most awesome day of my life,” declares my 8-year-old cousin, Ethan Sitzman, who pronounces the RV “so much funner” than a road trip in the family SUV.
I’ll say. Our home away from home as we tour southwest Colorado is a Winnebago (www.gowinnebago.com/) that comes equipped with flat-screen TV, bunks for the kids, complete with individual DVD players and curtains, stove, fridge, bedroom for the parents, sleeper sofa for me, bathroom (hot showers are no small thing on a camping trip) and more cabinet space than my first NYC apartment (www.gorving.com).
Not exactly an old-fashioned camping trip but an outdoor adventure just the same. “You are still sitting around the campfire whether you have an RV behind you or a tent,” said Tom Garland, a dedicated RVer, RV park owner, along with his wife, Mari, and president of the Colorado Campground and Lodging Owners Association (www.campcolorado.com). “You only miss as much of the outdoors as you choose.”
At every campground, the kids make instant friends to throw a baseball or play with at the playground. Yes, a lot of campgrounds these days have playgrounds as well as organized family activities, splash pads and pools.
“Absolutely the best family time,” offers Dan Schweizer, a Kansas farmer who beds down with his wife and three kids in their camper, just as his parents did when he was small. “The close quarters bring you closer together. At home we are all going in separate directions and here we are together.”
The RV industry is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a season that has seen an uptick in sales and interest from renters, likely because RVing is an economical way to travel. The industry estimates there are as many as 30 million RV enthusiasts on the roads today. And while we think of RVers as retirees, the reality is that more recreational vehicles are owned by those between the ages of 35 and 54.
Every aspect of the trip is an adventure for the kids — the drive (we don’t have to stop if someone needs the bathroom!), the sights we see along the way (www.colorado.com) — dinosaur exhibits in Fruita, Colo., the Museum of Western Colorado (www.wcmuseum.org), the 23-mile loop road of the Colorado National Monument looking for faces and shapes in the astounding multi-colored rock formations that preserve a grand landscape of the American West, the train ride through the wilderness on the Silverton & Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad (www.durangotrain.com) and Mesa Verde National Park where we explore the ancient cliff dwellings (more about that in another column).
It’s so much easier than tent camping with kids (especially when it rains). The Muellers, engineers from Denver who parked their brand-new RV in the spot right next to ours at a campground in Ouray, Colo., agree. “It took so much time to pack and unpack and we were spending all of our time doing that instead of relaxing,” said Erica Mueller.
“You could never clean up the tent,” adds Daniel, relaxing in a hammock he’d strung in the trees as the kids played nearby.
The stove and fridge make it easier to cook for a child with food allergies too, adds Erica Mueller. “True camping with kids was more work than it was worth,” she said. “This gets the kids outdoors away from TV and the computer with a lot less work for us.”
All that and plenty of bang for your vacation buck too. The 2008 PKF Vacation Cost comparison study showed that a family of four could save 27% to 61% on travel costs by using an RV. Figure on spending about $1,500 a week to rent an RV. A Typical 700-mile trip costs about $315 for fuel and $200 for the campground, so you can get away for a week for $2,000 — not bad these days.
Maybe that’s why RV rentals were up 12% last summer, according to the Recreation Vehicle Rental Association (www.gorving.com). Reservations at Kampgrounds of America (www.koa.com), meanwhile, are up 11% from last year. KOA welcomed some 20,500 camping families at its 475 campgrounds on Fourth of July weekend — making July 2 the largest single registration day in the company’s 48-year history — this at the time when hotels and resorts continue to struggle to attract families wary of vacation spending.
But it’s not only about the money. Jamie and Heather Shambarger, traveling around Colorado from their Utah home with four kids between the ages of 2 and 15, say they can well afford to stay in resorts but choose not to. “In a hotel you take them from a house to another room. What fun is that?” asks Heather. “How can you experience the outdoors from a hotel room?”
Just as important, Jamie Shambarger said, is the chance for kids to meet kids from all over the country. And while the kids play, the parents socialize. That rarely happens in a hotel, the Shambargers say. “And I’m not apologizing 400 times in a restaurant for their behavior.” Not that they are bad, he adds; they are just active kids.
Thanks to our RV, meals are fun rather than an ordeal. We picnic for lunch and make dinner for the extended family traveling in tandem — some in tents at the same campground, some at a hotel.
We end the night with s’mores around the campfire — making one after another until the chocolate runs out. Call me a wuss but when it was time for bed, I was glad for the air-conditioning.
AccessCamping.com, a camping website portal with links to more than 500 campground databases across the U.S., has added links to RV clubs as well as databases of Canadian campgrounds, according to a news release.
“We think these latest additions will further enhance AccessCamping.com’s stature as a ‘must see’ website for anyone planning to visit campgrounds in North America,” said Brian Schaeffer, president and CEO of Texas Advertising, which launched the website portal a little over a month ago.
Texas Advertising launched AccessCamping.com as a web portal with links to more than 500 databases with listings of both privately owned and operated campgrounds as well as government-run campgrounds.
The newest additions include links to more than 40 RV clubs, ranging from brand-specific groups, such as the Coachmen Owners Club, Gulf Streamers International, the Jayco Travel Club, the Vintage Airstream Club and the Winnebago-Itasca Travelers Club, to clubs that cater to specific demographics, such as RVing Women, the National African American RVers Association and the International Snowbird Travel Club.
AccessCamping also added links to more than 70 Canadian campground databases that collectively list more than 2,000 public and privately owned campgrounds in Canada.
AccessCamping.com also includes links to online databases of the major campground industry directories, including those provided by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), the Trailer Life and Woodall’s North American Campground directories, as well as the websites of campground chains, such as Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) and Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts.
Schaeffer said AccessCamping.com is needed because most websites have limited campground listings. “The government run websites, for the most part, list only government run parks while the websites for campground industry associations typically limit their listings to parks that are members of their associations. As a result,” he said, “most websites only give the camping consumer a partial view of what’s out there in terms of potential camping venues. The good news about AccessCamping.com is we truly ‘pamper the camper’ by giving them more camping options than any other source.”
For more information on AccessCamping.com, contact Schaeffer at (817) 307-0129 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People planning on traveling this summer in an RV, historically-speaking, will be in very good company, according to MSNBC.
In 1931, Mae West’s Paramount Studios contract included a chauffeur-driven “house car” for the star to relax in while filming movies. In the early 1940s, aviation pioneers Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, needed someplace quiet where they could write, so Henry Ford let them use a 1935 house trailer he owned that was equipped with electricity, a stove, an icebox, a bathroom and other “modern” amenities. And in the ’60s and ’70s, TV reporter Charles Kuralt famously crisscrossed the country in a motorhome while filming his popular “On the Road” features for CBS News.
Today, West’s 1931 Chevrolet is just one of the unusual, iconic or prototypical vehicles on display at the Recreational Vehicle/Manufactured Home Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Ind. The 1935 Stage Coach Trailer Henry Ford loaned to the Lindberghs is parked at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich., as is Kuralt’s 1975 Motorcoach.
And if you think it might be a good idea to take a drive to see one or both of these collections, now would be an especially appropriate time. The RV industry began celebrating its 100th anniversary on Monday (June 7).
Drivers began making camping adaptations to cars not long after automobiles were invented. But according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), 1910 was when mass-produced vehicles designed specifically for camping first hit the market.
Historian Al Hesselbart says while no production campers or trailers from that first year still exist, the museum does display the towable 1913 Earl Travel Trailer, which is the oldest non-tent travel trailer in existence.
Tour the rest of the museum’s collection, and you’ll see rare gems that include the homemade motorhome based on a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado, a variety of first production units and pristine versions of popular models such as the 1954 15-foot Shasta travel trailer described as a being typical of the “canned ham”-style trailers of the 1950s.
“The earliest towable trailers were basically platforms with tents on top,” said Hesselbart, “and for years the bathrooms, even in the fancy units, were really just well-concealed chamber pots. Now the most appreciated amenities aren’t microwaves, but surely bathrooms with flush toilets and showers, and thermostatic-controlled heat.”
But there’s no need to stop there. Many high-end RVs can be equipped with full-size appliances, multiple large-screen TVs, satellite dishes, up to five space-enhancing slideouts and “floor plans with two bathrooms: one with a full walk-in shower and two vanity sinks, and another half-bathroom for your guests,” said Ryan Lee, a spokesperson for the manufacturer Monaco RV LLC, Coburg, Ore.
The price tag for the higher-end units reach $500,000 and above, although you certainly don’t need a $500,000, multi-bathroom motor coach to enjoy a RV vacation. But if you’re going to hit the road, whether the RV is owned or rented, there are some basic etiquette rules the experts would like you remember.
Harry Basch, author of RV Vacations for Dummies and Frommer’s Exploring America by RV, noted that when you’re driving, it’s important that you not hog the road — and that you know the measurements of your vehicle. To avoid getting stuck under bridges, shearing off roof-mounted air-conditioning units and having mishaps on bridges, he urges drivers to make sure to “know exactly how high, how wide and how long your RV is. And how much it weighs.”
Sue Bray, former executive director of the Good Sam Club, the world’s largest RV group, added that the most important part of the organization’s membership pledge “is to pull over to the side of the road, when it’s safe, if more than three vehicles are lined up behind you.”
In any RV campground, said Mike Gast of KOA, “it mostly comes down to common sense: honor the evening quiet times, which usually begin at 10 p.m., and don’t drive over the speed limit, which is often 5 mph.” Gast said it’s a good policy to leave your camp site cleaner than when you found it and to always respect another camper’s space. “There’s nothing more annoying than relaxing at your camp site and having people cut through what is essentially your living room for the night.”
Basch added that it is poor etiquette to rev your RV’s engine too early in the morning or to run your electrical generator too late at night. And then, he noted, there’s that little porch light installed over most RV doors. “It’s nice to see where you’re going during the evening. But some people leave their porch light on all night and it can shine into someone else’s window. Before you turn in, make sure to turn off your entry light.”
And whatever you do, make sure you learn how to tell the difference between your RV’s gray water holding tank, which gathers water that drains from the shower and the sinks, and the black water holding tank, which collects discharge from the toilet. “A lot of people remember the exploding sewage pipe scene in the movie “RV”, starring Robin Williams,” said KOA’s Gast. “That type of explosion doesn’t really happen. But make sure you know how to empty those tanks, and in what order. If you’re unsure, please don’t be afraid to ask.”
May is supposed to be a profitable month for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Kampground of America (KOA), but record flooding last week left it with an estimated bill of $20,000 in damages, according to TV station WBKO.
“It washed all this out,” said Paul Von-Webb, owner of the Bowling Green KOA . “That’s all wash-out from the flooding that came through here.”
With 25 years in the campground business, last week’s floods were the worst Paul Von-Webb had ever seen.
“This is supposed to be my nature trail,” he said. “It’s supposed to be a road, but right now it’s the creek.”
Von-Webb is noting his losses today and he’s spent the past few getting all of his ducks in a row.
As for his fish, well, he’s not really certain where his fish are.
“Once it got up over the road five or six feet, I guess they felt like they were free to go,” he said. “So, they didn’t hang around.”
Aside from losing around a $1,000-worth of his pond, Von-Webb suffered some damage to boats and cabins on his Three Springs Road campground.
With some of the KOA under six feet of water in the deepest parts, 22 campers were left completely stranded.
“When we were completely water locked, we went out to get some medicine for one of the campers and brought in supplies so everybody had what they needed,” he said.
But Von-Webb is now bearing the brunt of the flooding financially.
Forced to refund guests, sometimes up to $500 a day for several days, he’s now hoping more profitable times lie ahead for the rest of the camping season.
“Fortunately, we’ve got three weekends left in this month and they’re all booked very well, so we should be okay for the month — at least breaking even,” he said.
Von-Webb says he’s now looking into types of assistance the campground might qualify for.
Scott Bacher, owner of the Carlsbad (N.M.) Kampgrounds of America (KOA) campground, was one of a panel of experts called to testify Tuesday (April 27) in Washington, D.C., during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
The committee is looking into ways to better promote the National Parks as tourism destinations. Bacher, who owns the Carlsbad KOA with his wife, Susan, spoke of the relationships developed between National Parks and Monuments and private vendors, such as campgrounds.
Bacher appeared at the request of Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
Along with Bacher, the panel at the hearing included filmmaker Ken Burns, well known for his recent National Parks documentary; Michael Ward, superintendent of Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota; Diane Shober, Travel and Tourism director for the State of Wyoming; Will Shafroth, deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks with the U.S. Department of the Interior; and renowned wildlife and scenic photographer Clyde Butcher.
To view highlights of Bacher’s testimony before the committee, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFpXxMVtkV8.
Top officials of Victorinox/Swiss Army were at the home offices of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) in Billings, Mont., recently to investigate possible cooperative ventures with the world’s largest system of open-to-the-public family campgrounds. Victorinox, with headquarters in Monroe, Conn., is the maker of the finest watches and travel gear as well as classic Swiss Army knives and cutlery, according to a news release.
Visiting Billings were Rick Taggart, president of Victorinox/Swiss Army; Scott Swaebe, director of visual merchandising ; and Renee Hourigan, director of advertising and public relations.
“We are constantly reaching out to the very best brands in the outdoor sector, looking for ways we can work together,” said KOA Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers. “It was a thrill for us to host the decision-makers from a company of the caliber of Swiss Army. When it comes to specialized outdoor gear, it doesn’t get much better than Victorinox.”
While no immediate plans were announced, the two industry leaders are discussing several joint-project options.
“One bright side to the effects of the recent challenging economy is that everyone in the outdoor business world now understands that we are all interrelated and very dependent on one another for success,” Rogers said.
Rogers recently visited the leaders of The Coleman Co. Inc in Wichita, Kan., and will be in San Diego next week attending the Outdoor Industry Association’s Annual Rendezvous of leading outdoor manufacturers and retailers
The Evergreen program has been insuring campgrounds, RV parks and resorts throughout the United States for 35 years.
Billings, Mont.-based KOA is the nation’s largest chain of campgrounds.
Lucas Hartford, president of the Lewiston, Maine-based insurer, said, “KOA has a long history of success in the camping industry and we are delighted to be able to insure KOAs. We are thrilled to be an approved partner for KOA.”
The Evergreen insurance program provides liability and property insurance to hundreds of campgrounds and RV parks throughout the United States. For more information on the Evergreen insurance program call (800) 343-7900 or e-mail email@example.com or visit Evergreen online at www.evergreenusa.com. For more information about KOA visit www.koa.com.
At the Battlefield KOA Kampground in Gettysburg, Pa., you can catch up on e-mail at your campsite, take in an evening movie on a 9-foot inflatable outdoor screen, lounge by the pool, play a round of mini golf or try your hand at Extreme Hunting, one of the arcade games in the game room. There’s live music on Saturday nights and pancake breakfasts on weekend mornings, and if you don’t feel like cooking, you can have dinner delivered to your RV door, tent flap or what-have-you.
Heck, you don’t even have to really camp at this wooded 25-acre site, thanks to its growing inventory of air-conditioned cabins, cottages and lodges – essentially, tricked-out trailers done up to look like hand-hewn log dwellings, according to USA Today.
“So much for getting away from it all,” owner John Bergeron says with a laugh.
But getting away they are. By many accounts, business is brisk this summer at campgrounds nationwide. The sinking economy may have put the brakes on taking the Grand Tour, but many Americans still want to get away. And with relatively low gas prices, more people are pulling into campgrounds.
All Metrics Point Up
Campground reservations through ReserveAmerica.com, which books campsites in most national parks, are up 8% over last year in the first six months of 2009.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), a network of 460 commercial campgrounds, reports a 5% increase in June occupancy. REI, an outdoor-gear chain, says sales of family tents were up 17% in June over last year. The retailer also saw double-digit increases in sales of related products, such as air mattresses and campground stoves.
A recent survey by the Outdoor Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes outdoor activities, indicates camping’s popularity rose 7.4% in 2008 after a decline the year before. Overnight backpacking grew by 18.5%, the group reports.
“People are returning to simpler lifestyles – the ‘less is more’ ethic,” says the foundation’s Christine Fanning. “And everyone is searching for vacations that fit with today’s economy.”
Indeed, ForestCamping.com, a comprehensive guide to U.S. National Forest campgrounds, where campsites go for $10 to $15 a night, has seen a spike in hits. Bookings for reservable Forest Service campsites were up 11% through May.
“When the economy goes down, camping goes up,” says Suzi Dow, who with her husband, Fred, runs the site.
David Berg, owner of the Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, echoes the sentiment. “I believe camping is a recession-proof business,” he says. “When people can’t afford $200 or $300 a night for a waterfront cottage, they dust off the pop-up (camper) or get out the tent and spend $50 a night on a campsite and maybe still go out to good restaurants.”
At Yellowstone National Park, lodging bookings are down this year, but campground stays are up, says Rick Hoeninghausen, marketing director for Xanterra, which runs the park’s concessions.
“This is an interesting summer because, even in April, reservations were trailing last year. Then it kicked in in May. There’s more last-minute decision-making this year than I can ever remember.”
As in other segments of the travel industry, campers are staying closer to home, but they’re also staying away longer. At KOA campgrounds, for instance, average stays are 2.5 nights, up from 1.7 nights three years ago.
RVTravel.com editor Chuck Woodbury has been traveling through Western parks this summer, and says he’s struck by the number of rental RVs on the road. “It’s families, it’s couples, it’s everyone,” he says. “RV’ing has become much more accepted. It’s not just Grandma and Grandpa’s playhouse anymore.”
Campgrounds Expanding Services
Nor are today’s campgrounds necessarily like the ones you might remember as a kid. Food delivery, concierge services and skate parks are among innovative additions at some private facilities. In Columbia, Calif., the Marble Quarry RV Park features on-site gold panning. At Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Hill Country in Canyon Lake, Texas, laser tag is all the rage. At Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground in Klamath, Calif., the alder-smoked salmon served at the park’s restaurant has won prizes in several competitions.
At Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Camp-Resort & Water Playground in Wisconsin Dells, owner Brent Gasser has gradually expanded what began as a campground with basic tent sites to a “camp resort” with a four-level water playground, boat and golf cart rentals, themed weekends (think Christmas in July), and 51 rental units that go from $39 to $299 a night.
“The traditional camper has been requesting more and more accommodations that they’d find in a hotel,” Gasser says. “And since we’re in an area with many hotels, we have to compete.”
And at the Red Apple Campground, the annual $25 Maine lobster fest sells out two years in advance. This summer, bookings are up 9%, and the average stay has stretched from 2.5 to 4.5 days.
“You have to be more creative to get people in your park and get them to come back again,” Berg says. “Today’s customer wants it all. In the majority of campgrounds today, we have Wi-Fi and concierge services. There are (waterfront) campsites in Maine that go for over $100 a night. And they sell first.”
But the constant buzz of organized activity can be a bit much, even for avid campers such as Brian and Michelle Gillespey of Brownstone, Mich.
“They’re on the PA making announcements about putt-putt golf and the ice cream social at 3 p.m.,” she says.
“There are too many activities at some of these places,” he says. “To me, it’s not relaxing.”
America’s ‘Last Small Town’
What many campground denizens say they do like is the camaraderie of the camp. KOA president Jim Rogers calls campgrounds “the last small town in America. They’re a live community, a social beehive. You’re interacting with strangers and allowing your kids to.”
“A woman stepped onto our site to avoid a passing car last night and ended up staying until midnight,” says Lynn Boozel, a camper at the KOA in Gettysburg. Boozel and his wife, Rhonda, of McVeytown, Pa., are wrapping up their seventh annual week-long visit here. “We came for a weekend and got hooked,” Boozel says.
The couple, with their two young daughters and a granddaughter, are sleeping in a six-person tent, which puts them in the minority among the Hitchhikers, Wolf Packs and other RV models that occupy most of the sites.
Across the way, Valerie and Bill Stack of Donora, Pa., have just arrived in their Ford pickup pulling a 12,000 pound, 38-foot trailer. This is one of five trips they’ll make here this summer.
“Once you’re addicted to this, you can’t stay home,” Bill Stack says. “You come back and say, ‘Boy, did I have a great time,’ and they ask, ‘What did you do?’ and you say, ‘Nothing.’ ”
The trailer has a gas fireplace, queen-size bed and flat-screen TV, among other amenities. They’ll spend the weekend swimming in the pool and maybe play some putt-putt golf.
“But we’re here for nature,” Valerie Stack says. “If I lost everything tomorrow, I’d go out and buy a tent.”