About a mile into the woods at Hillsborough River State Park, the smell of fudge cookies baking wafts from a toaster oven outside Jack and Mary Lou Smith’s air-conditioned motorhome.
As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, a plastic windmill rendered motionless by the Florida heat decorates the campsite. There are a few tables, popup chairs and a radio. For the summer, this is home.
“You can do anything here,” Mary Lou, 73, says, passing a plate of cookies to visitors. “You just better like doing it in the outdoors.”
The Smiths are campground hosts, volunteers who serve the park 32 hours a week in exchange for free utility hookups and a place to park their home on wheels, a 34-foot Fleetwood Bounder purchased in 1987.
Hosts keep the grounds clean, act as guides and help novice campers settle in. They scrub the restrooms, shoo off wild raccoons and round up visitors for campfire parties.
About 600 people applied to fill four rotating campground host positions within the last year, the park’s volunteer coordinator, Patrick Potts, said. Many were unemployed and looking for a place to stay. Some were families. Others, like the Smiths, were retirees living on the road full time.
Because so many people are applying as a result of the struggling economy, the parks service screens and interviews applicants to make sure they are serious about serving others.
Volunteers are what make the Florida parks system what it is, Potts said. “You can have the prettiest trees, but if you don’t have someone to keep the bathrooms clean, campers aren’t going to have a good experience.”
Few people used to camp during the summer, but in the past few years, Potts has seen that change. More families are taking “staycations” to save money. The cost to camp is only $27 per night.
Campsites are booked full in the winter months and to near capacity from June through August.
Visiting campers are allowed to stay for two weeks at a time to prevent squatters from using the park as a temporary residence. Hosts can live onsite for months.
The Smiths, who spend the winters at their home in Ocala, are acting as camp hosts for the first time.
They brought their three shelties, a favorite among children camping nearby.
Jack, a retired electric test technician, and Mary Lou, who owned a decorating business, spent years vacationing at Florida parks with their three daughters, who are now grown with children of their own.
The Smiths like having young families around. They consider themselves parents of the park. Mary Lou has people to bake for, and she feels good keeping busy.
The dogs stay in the camper while the couple check items off their daily to-do list.
“The work isn’t too hard,” Jack, 69, says on his way to scrape out used fire pits. Mary Lou sits her cookies down to help him negotiate his tools.
On their off time, the Smiths take hikes or pull canoes out onto the river. They are accustomed to insects and snakes. In this life, alligators occasionally show up in unwanted places, like under motor homes. Hawks dive down to the river to feed on water moccasins. Raccoons sniff for food and come around at night.
“It’s a different kind of life, but it’s nice,” Mary Lou says. “We love it.”
Coast to Coast Resorts is launching a new “Free Camping for One Year Sweepstakes” promotion in conjunction with Camping World Inc.
The grand prize winner will receive up to a $15,000 valued prize featuring a year’s membership in Coast to Coast RV Club and enough Coast to Coast points for a free year of camping at the membership network’s CampResorts across the country. The promotion kicks off July 7 and ends July 27, according to a news release.
Entries are available at all Camping World SuperCenters nationwide. Participants may also mail their entries postmarked by July 27 via a 3.5-by 5-inch card with their name, address (no post office boxes), date of birth, e-mail address and telephone number to Camping World, P.O. Box 50965, Bowling Green, KY 42102. ATTN: “FREE CAMPING FOR ONE YEAR SWEEPSTAKES” Marketing Dept.
“We wanted to find a way to give back to the RVers and outdoor enthusiasts this year and are excited to give one lucky winner the chance to experience our network of more than 450 beautiful resorts across the country,” said Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts. “We are equally as excited about working with Camping World to help promote the membership camping industry.”
A Coast to Coast membership makes it easy to travel safely and comfortably throughout North America, with hundreds of affiliated RV resorts in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Member benefits include a subscription to Coast to Coast magazine and access to a number of travel services, with additional benefits that include cabin and condo rentals, trip routing and dining and leisure discounts. Coast to Coast offers RV Tripsetter, a web and phone reservation system, which provides a simple way to reserve a space. Many membership RV resorts offer additional features and amenities like boating, fishing and golf.
Coast to Coast was established in 1972 and is owned by and affiliated with Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the nation’s largest provider of outdoor clubs, services, media and events that service the safety, security, comfort and convenience needs of the North American RV and outdoor enthusiast market.
RVBusiness magazine and www.RVBUSINESS.COM are owned by AGI.
Most people only dream of a lakeside vacation home, but a growing number of RVers are discovering they can afford that summer cabin experience — and they don’t have to travel far to get it, according to The Edmonton (Alberta) Journal.
Buying a spot or renting one long-term in an RV resort is becoming increasingly popular, said Doug Ross, general manager of Grove RV and Leisure, a dealership in Spruce Grove. “People like to get away from the city, but the cost of towing and gas prices and everything sometimes makes it a little more expensive.”
Now, however, holiday playgrounds where RVers can leave their units year-round are popping up within easy driving distance of Edmonton, Ross says. Among them are Lake Arnault RV Resort, an hour west of the city, and Allan Beach Resort on Hubbles Lake in Stony Plain, 30 minutes from Edmonton.
“This way, they can drive in their car out to where their recreational vehicle is set up,” said Ross. “They can have everything all set and ready to go the minute they arrive.”
That’s the kind of person developer Pablo Galvez hopes to attract to Allan Beach Resort, which will start pre-selling lots on spring-fed Hubbles Lake this summer.
“People are just so busy, and they don’t have time to drive three or four hours to a cabin on a lake,” Galvez said. “Imagine: Get off work at five o’clock on a Friday, and by 5:30 you’re at your cabin with a glass of wine on the deck.”
Property prices in the four-season resort will start at about $145,000. Owning land in an RV retreat is attractive for another reason, said Galvez. “RV condos like this are the cheapest form of lakefront ownership,” he said.
Don Dobing, owner of Lake Arnault RV Resort, agreed. Pre-sales have begun for lots in his project. Prices range from $60,000 to $100,000.
“It’s a nice alternative (to traditional lakefront property),”Dobing said. “You own your property, and if you want to give it to your family or you want to sell it, you have title to it. So you’re going to get your investment back.”
And then some, said Arnie Lank, sales manager for Gleniffer Lake Resort and Country Club, southwest of Red Deer. The popular vacation spot started out as an RV resort 20 years ago. The gated community has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a hot tub, fitness center, golf course and swimming and boating on Gleniffer Lake. When it first opened, lots sold for $12,000 to $18,000. Lank says a property for sale now in an older part of the park has an asking price of over $200,000.
The final phase of the resort is restricted to cabins and recreational park trailers or park model RVs, but the only time the huge units move is when they’re towed to a permanent or semi-permanent site.
A number of resorts close to Edmonton rent spots for the entire summer.
At Hubbles Lake RV Resort on Hubbles Lake in Stony Plain, seasonal rates start at about $1,800. Customers can store their units at the resort over the winter for $150.
“It’s a cottage atmosphere,” said park owner Laurie Zimmer. “We’re (within) proximity to Edmonton here. People can just quickly run out with the van or a small car.”
Many rental places are so popular, spots are snapped up even before the season starts. That’s the case at Hilah-Ayers Wilderness RV Park on Mulhurst Bay at Pigeon Lake, an hour’s drive from Edmonton.
There are no spots left for this year, said spokesperson Charlene Dawson. Spaces are rented for a one-year period. Rates start at about $2,100.
The Whitemud Creek Golf and RV Resort in southwest Edmonton has monthly rates from about $750.
“In Edmonton, you only have so many RV spots, so we’re busy,” said Manager Jo-Ann Ruff.
Editor’s Note: Travel writer Keith Bennett posted this recent story in the Denver RV Travel Examiner about RV travel in Colorado.
If you drive a motorhome with a towed vehicle and wish to enter Colorado state parks, you will have to pay the $8/day entrance fee on both “motorized” vehicles for a total of $16/day to get in. If you drive a vehicle with a trailer or fifth-wheel in tow, you will only be charged $8/day. We were told this is the policy across all Colorado state parks.
This policy has upset many RVers who visit Colorado and has been an issue on Internet forums going back to 2007. Comments range from not staying in Colorado state parks to, as long as the money goes to the state parks, then it is OK. Most commenters were upset at the perceived unfairness between motorhomes with toads and the rest of the camping visitors.
We decided to check and see if anything has happened in the last two years to change this policy. We called the Denver administrative office at (303) 866-3437 and posed our question to determine the future of this policy. We were told that the State Parks Division has looked into this and “intends” to make some changes sometime in the future. The changes would be an ID pass for the motorhome and entrance pass for the toad.
When pressed as to the timing of a new policy, we were told that it has to go before the state legislature and that it would not happen until next session, at the earliest. That would be fall of 2009 or nothing for this year’s season. The person went on to say that each park has its own manager and that if it was a real issue to plead ones case to the park manager for an exception. When asked if park managers have the authority to grant exception, the parks representative was very quick to back pedal and say, “I don’t want to speak for park managers, but they are managing their park…it’s worth asking, but if they are adhering strictly to the rules, any motorized vehicle does require a pass to be on the windshield. I’m just giving you the official word.”
With the state’s budget issues, as a result of the economy, I am not optimistic for a change in this revenue generator. On the other hand, these are challenging times for all of us and I would hope that groups like CTO (Colorado Tourism Office) would jump in and press the need to have “happy customers” when the competition for the tourism dollar has just gone way up.
Barack Obama received the most votes for president of the United States, but he was the runner-up in a recent survey of RV owners by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) who were asked, “What living, famous person would you like to take with you on an RV trip?”
Obama finished second in the poll to Academy Award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams, who starred in the hilarious film “RV.”
“I saw the movie and thought Robin would be the ultimate travel partner,” says James Hennington, an RV owner from Wesson, Miss. “He was extremely funny.”
Other vote-getters included George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet and Rachael Ray.
With all the pressure confronting Obama in these tough economic times, it would be no surprise if he wished he could escape in an RV — like he did after the 2004 Democratic National Convention — and join the millions of RVers planning to hit the road for fun this spring/summer.
In other questions asked in the latest biannual Campfire Canvass survey of RV owners, conducted by the RVIA, 55% of survey respondents intend to use their RVs more this spring/summer than last year, and 45% are considering another purchase.
Only 4% say they’ll use their RVs less this year. Three-fourths said they planned to take more mini-vacations so they could escape stress, spend more quality time with family, and enjoy nature and other outdoor activities.
A primary reason why so many RVers will be traveling — and even buying in this economy — this spring/summer is that they appreciate the value they get compared to flying, driving and staying in hotels. Eighty-six percent say RVing is an affordable way to travel. Three-fourths save at least 25% when they travel in an RV — more than a quarter save 35% to 50%. These results echo the findings of a study by international travel and tourism experts PKF Consulting, which found family RV trips are 27% to 61% less expensive than other types of vacations.
“RV travel continues to appeal to people looking to save money and cut costs,” says Richard Coon, RVIA president. “By having their homes-on-wheels with them, RV owners receive a bigger bang for their buck than other types of vacations offer.”
In what has to be a positive sign for the economy, 68% of RV owners said they believe this is good time to buy an RV, with 94% of those respondents saying great deals are available. Buyers who meet income requirements also will be able to take advantage of the new federal stimulus plan that provides for a deduction of sales and excise taxes on the first $49,500 of a new motorhome purchase.
According to the survey, 45% of RVers are considering another RV purchase. Twenty-four percent are looking to buy in the next year; another 48% within two years.
RVers plan to be on the move during major holidays, with 58% planning to travel over Memorial Day weekend and 60% over July 4.