Now is the time for the nation’s private and public parks to put aside their differences and work together, says Joe Elton, president of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD).
Speaking with Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) today (July 8), Elton applauded Thursday’s (July 7) announcement by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) that the NASPD board has voted to encourage each of its 51 state directors to join ARVC on a six-month trial basis.
“These state park directors will be making independent decisions to participate in the trial over the next few weeks, with the possibility of joining ARVC and the state associations at trials end,” Paul Bambei, ARVC president and CEO, stated in Thursday’s e-mail to ARVC’s 3,000 members.
“I think that the timing is absolutley right for the public and private camping providers to be collaborating and I am thrilled that we’re developing this relationship,” Elton told WCM.
Elton, whose office is in Richmond, Va., likened the historic relationship between the public and private parks to the two-party system in Congress.
“I see this (offer) as a breath of fresh air and a smart collaboration that will be mutually beneficial. People need to find common ground,” he said.
In tandem with the ARVC statement, Elton indicated that his association is working toward extending member affiliation in NASPD to ARVC.
“We hope the groundwork has made made to take a vote at our annual meeting in September in Custer, S.D.,” he said. He said he doesn’t expect it will be hotly debated. “I think people will be surprised we have come this far in such a short period of time.”
Elton, whose office is in Richmond, Va., said he has worked closely for years with campground industry veteran and fellow Virginian David Gorin to bridge the gap between the public and private campgrounds.
“We’re in the same business. By working together we can promote what is a very healthy outdoor recreation experience. We have made great strides in Virginia, which led to this being a national effort. Will it be embraced? Yes,” he predicted.
He offered this parallel between what occurs in Virginia and how the two sides’ cooperation could be mirrored on a national level.
“In Virginia, there are 1,800 campsites in 35 state parks. I think the private campground owners have close to 20,000, so they have the lion’s share of the campsites. But we have the lion’s share of the outdoor recreation draws that get people to camp here,” he said. “For 75 years we’ve been sending our overflow to private campgrounds. That will continue. By working together we can introduce a new generation of campers to this outdoor experience that is refreshing. I call this 21st century thinking: where the private sector recognizes they are owners of these state campgrounds too. By working together we can achieve a lot.”
For all his enthusiasm, Elton did not predict overnight success.
“If we only measure it by how many sign up after the 6-month trial period, that would be short-sighted,” he continued. “All the states are going through an economic challenging time with their budgets. It would be a new expenditure that would be tough for some. The six months gives us time to to mature our relationships. We’ll have to see where it goes.”
Elton said he is intrigued by the vendor discounts available to ARVC members but is uncertain whether many parks could take advantge of such offers due to limits in the bidding process. Vendors would still have to engage in the competitive bidding process before they could provide services, he noted.
“We’re going to find the state park systems and private operators have differences in how they operate. We’re held to a public standard and they are a private business. That will never change,” he said.
To learn more about the National Association of State Park Directors, visit www.naspd.org.