Camping used to be synonymous with staying in a tent or RV.
But campgrounds, RV parks and resorts across the Lone Star State are finding they can accommodate bigger groups and introduce more people to camping by making park model rental accommodations available to them, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), in a news release.
“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of parks that offer rental accommodations,” said Schaeffer, whose organization launched a separate website called www.TexasCabinRentals.net to help people find campgrounds with park model rental accommodations.
Park models are 400-square-foot, factory built units that are built on a chassis, like a trailer, but look like cabins or cottages. They come fully furnished with beds and kitchen appliances. Some even have lofts for the kids.
“We’re adding a dozen of them to our park this year,” said Steve Stafford, manager of the North Texas Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Burleson, Texas, outside of Dallas.
Hill Country RV Resort & Cabins in New Braunfels is also adding 11 more park models this year, according to Bryan Kastleman, the park’s managing partner.
Meanwhile, La Hacienda RV Resort & Cottages in Austin is adding seven more park model cabins this month, and will likely add more in the future as demand for rental accommodations in RV resorts continues to grow.
“The park model cabin business has truly been a pleasant experience for us,” said park developer Ken Butschek. “I am experiencing about 15% annual growth on RV site rentals, but 30% on my park model rentals. I’m probably going to need 10 more next year.”
The 400-square-foot units, designed and built by Champion/Athens Park Homes, are sought after by families and Winter Texans as well as people on temporary work assignments in the Austin area who don’t want to commit to a six-month lease in an apartment.
“The park models give these people much more flexibility,” Butschek said, adding that Winter Texans who do not have motorhomes or towable RVs also rent them out during the winter season. “This past winter, of my 30 park model cabins, I think I had 15 of them rented out for one to three months by Winter Texans,” he said.
Major campground chains like Jellystone Parks and Kampgrounds of America (KOA) have joined independently owned and operated campgrounds across the country in adding park model RVs as rental accommodations for their guests. Government run campgrounds are also investing in park model RVs, including The Vineyards Campground & Cabins in Grapevine.
The 93-site campground, which also has 13 park model cabins, occupies 52 acres of an 850-acre mostly wooded scenic area encircling Grapevine Lake. But while the park has undergone significant upgrades in recent years, including a $2.25 million expansion that included construction of 23 new campsites and the installation of seven new park model cabins, park General Manager Joe Moore.
Park model suppliers, such as Champion/Athens, have seen their business continue to grow in recent years. “We have sold to 49 different campgrounds and resorts here in Texas,” said Dick Grymonprez, director of national park model sales for Champion/Athens, adding, “We do a lot of business with campground owners and a lot of them continue to buy from us each year.”
Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort, which won national recognition last year for its customer service, activities and operational excellence, has earned three more awards from the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
The awards include “Park of the Year” in recognition of Bentsen Palm Village’s operational excellence; customer service; guest reviews; directory ratings; employee training techniques; community service; and association involvement, according to a news release.
“We have these awards every year and Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort was selected as the best in the large park category, which involves parks that have more than 151 campsites,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director and CEO.
Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring, Texas, received the Park of the Year Award in the medium size park category, which involves parks with 51 to 150 sites, while no awards were given this year in the small park category.
Bentsen Palm Village also received both of TACO’s newest awards, including its Best Event Award and its Best Welcome Package Award.
Champion/Athens Park Homes was named Supplier of the Year by the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“Champion/Athens Park Homes is a preferred provider of TACO because they provide a quality product and they do what they say they’re going to do,” Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director and CEO stated in a news release. “Several members nominated them for this prestigious award, which is to their credit.”
Champion/Athens reported it has seen its business continue to grow in recent years. “We have sold to 49 different campgrounds and resorts here in Texas,” said Dick Grymonprez, director of national park model sales for Champion/Athens. “We do a lot of business with TACO members and a lot of them continue to buy from us each year.”
Grymonprez added that the majority of the park models produced by Champion/Athens Park Homes are being used by campgrounds, RV parks and resorts as rental accommodations.
Champion Home Builders Inc. acquired Athens Park Homes of Athens, Texas last August in a move that significantly expanded the company’s ability to produce and deliver park models at competitive prices. Troy, Mich.-based Champion is a leader in factory-built housing, which it manufactures in 29 facilities across North America and United Kingdom.
Eight of Champion’s park model manufacturing facilities are located at strategic locations across the United States: Texas; Chandler, Ariz.; Lake City, Fla.; Lillington, N.C.; Sangerfield, N.Y.; Weiser, Idaho; and York, Neb.
Athens Park Homes was founded in late 2004 by a group of investors led by Phil Surles, the former COO of Champion Homes. For more information on Champion/Athens, visit the company’s park model website at www.AthensParkHomes.com.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has testified on behalf of Senate Bill 1268, which would prevent water utilities from arbitrarily assessing fees on RV parks on a site-by-site basis.
The proposed legislation would also make wording changes in Texas laws that would enhance RV parks’ ability to implement evictions.
“This is a very important bill for TACO members,” said TACO Executive Director and CEO Brian Schaeffer, who joined Jim Rowley of Pecan Park Campground in San Marcos in testifying on behalf of the bill before the Senate Subcommittee on Business and Finance.
The proposed bill would make several critical wording changes in Texas laws. Among them:
• Establishing within the Water Code an updated policy that states that RV parks cannot be singled out for arbitrary per-site administrative fees. “In other words,” Schaeffer said, “RV parks would pay for utilities provided through their master meter just like any other business.”
• Amending several existing states that define an RV park to more accurately reflect transient guests occupying recreational vehicles; and for which fees are paid at intervals of one day or longer. “This modification makes the definition more current for modern RV parks and eliminates the impression of ‘trailer parks,’” Schaeffer said.
• Removing the words “recreational vehicle” and “recreational vehicle park” from Texas Property Code Section 94, which deals with manufactured home communities. This is a concern to RV parks because Property Code Section 94 has undermined RV parks’ ability to implement evictions on the basis of “Theft of Service” or trespassing legislation that TACO has implemented through previous legislative sessions. “Local law enforcement typically handles ‘Theft of Service’ or trespassing complaints as a civil issue and refers RV park operators to civil courts, rather than enforcing the law in the field,” Schaeffer said. “The reason they do this is because of Property Code Section 94, since it references recreational vehicles and recreational vehicle parks. This Senate Bill would remove these impediments so that evictions could be expedited.”
• Enabling park operators to disconnect the utilities of non-paying guests.
SB 1268 is expected to move through legislative committees in the coming weeks and eventually face a full up or down vote of the Legislature.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has intervened in the state Legislature to protect campground owners from unfair taxes and fees, according to a press release.
TACO Executive Director and CEO Brian Schaeffer recently testified in favor of House Bill 2152 by Rep. Bill Callegari, which prevents local utilities from applying administrative fees to RV parks unless they are applied equally to all businesses.
“We don’t mind paying what other businesses pay,” Schaeffer said. “Unfortunately, some utilities are charging parks an administrative fee for each campsite. At this rate, a fee of $10 per site for a 100-site RV park is $1,000 a month. That’s double the typical water bill for a park of that size. So this legislation should hopefully put a stop to this unfair targeting of RV park and campground owners.”
TACO also recently intervened to protect campground operators near the San Marcos River from being assessed a new tax.
Senate Bill 280 originally proposed taxing campgrounds to pay for additional policing and trash control efforts along the San Marcos River. But TACO argued that park owners should not be assessed the tax because many of their guests are snowbirds or Winter Texans who do not use the river.
“Our legislative consultant, Ron Hinkle, set a meeting with the office of state representatives and founding TACO member Jim Rowley of Pecan Park Campground, located on the San Marcos River. During the meeting we requested relief on the camping fees portion of the bill,” Schaeffer said. “Sen. Judith Zaffirini introduced substitute language at the hearing that exempted RV parks regarding camping fees.”
Once the language of SB 280 was changed, Schaeffer testified in favor of the bill and memorialized the fact that RV parks and camping fees would be exempt from the new tax should it be implement.
“Fighting for our members at the state capitol to protect their businesses and rights is the number one TACO member benefit,” Schaeffer said. “I am proud to represent TACO members on these important matters.”
Both HB 2152 and SB 280 are expected to move through legislative committees in the coming weeks and eventually face a full up or down vote of the Legislature.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) is anticipating an influx of campers to the state during the upcoming spring break, according to a press release.
“Some of our parks are already filling up for spring break,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO for TACO.
In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, The Vineyards Campground & Cabins on Grapevine Lake is gearing up for big crowds. “We are ramping up our golf carts inventory to handle the crowds,” said campground manager Joe Moore. “We also have an endless supply of firewood and s’mores ingredients and we’ve made our list of ice creams to have on board. We even have a new t-shirt design to roll out.”
Moore said The Vineyards will have planned activities throughout spring break period. “March is when the fish really start biting out on the lake,” he said, adding that the park has kayak, paddle boat and bicycle rentals.
Further south, Hill Country RV Resort in New Braunfels is planning several activities in the spring break period, including nightly Disney movies, marshmallow roasts, donut socials, kids crafts and Karaoke events, according to park manager Bryan Kastleman. The park’s amenities include an indoor heated pool and a jumping pillow, said .
Some parks anticipate a busy March because spring break schedules vary by school district.
“Our spring break will be most busy from March 7 to 17,” said Larry Jones, who owns the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Canyon Lake which has both RV sites and rental accommodations. But the park also expects to be busy from March 18 to 24 because some schools in Texas and Oklahoma have their spring break at that time.
While campgrounds, RV parks and resorts expect to be full for spring break, several parks still had some sites and rental accommodations available as of last week.
It’s no secret that RV parks and resorts in the Rio Grande Valley whose livelihoods depend on the annual influx of Winter Texans are facing several challenges.
Many of today’s winter visitors are younger and more mobile than their counterparts of years past, according to a news release from the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“They may go to Arizona this year, Texas next year and Florida the next year,” said Kristi Collier, president and CEO of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley, which markets 74 RV parks and resorts from Mission to South Padre Island.
Snowbirds who don’t have a history of spending their winters in the Rio Grande Valley are also more likely to be frightened by publicity about violence in Mexico, even though cities in the Rio Grande Valley have less crime than other popular winter resort destinations in other states.
Despite these challenges, RV parks and resorts across the Rio Grande Valley are finding that they can continue to grow their business base for the winter season if they offer lots of organized activities and continue to invest in new amenities for their parks, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
These new amenities include walking areas and agility courses for people with dogs as well as special pet-related activities.
“Dog parks are a big deal,” said Jacqueline Gomez, who is the marketing director for Llano Grande Lake Park Resort & Country Club in Mercedes, Victoria Palms Resort in Donna and Alamo Park Mobile Home & RV Park in Alamo. She said each of the resorts has two, off-leash dog areas.
The dog park at Bentsen Palm Village in Mission has become so popular that the owners recently added a second park so that guests could have separate running and play areas for big dogs and small dogs.
“About 70% to 75% of our guests have dogs, so these kinds of amenities are important,” said Juanita Carvajal, Bentsen Palm Village’s general manager.
Of course, while pet friendly amenities are attractive to Winter Texans, that’s not the only attraction at Bentsen Palm Village. The 250-site resort recently set aside an open area of the park where its guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“It’s like a community garden,” Carvajal said, “but we give each guest a 10 by 10-foot section where they can put a stake with their name on it. They often grow kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions and radishes. Sometimes, they grow so much they bring it into the office to share.”
Bentsen Palms also markets its proximity to the World Birding Center while also highlighting the rare birds and other wildlife that make their way into the park.
But while nature oriented activities are always popular, RV park and resort operators are finding that other types of organized activities are also critical for today’s Winter Texans.
El Valle del Sol in Mission offers more than 100 activities each week for its guests. “Winter Texans want to be active,” said park manager Irma Sanchez.
Campgrounds and RV parks that cater to Winter Texans in South-Central Texas anticipate a stronger winter season than last year, thanks in part to the Eagle Ford shale oil pipeline project, which has brought scores of construction workers into the area, according to a news release from the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“Last winter was about the best we’ve ever had and we’re going to be about 20% ahead of that this winter, so we’re looking really good,” said Doug Shearer of Parkview Riverside RV Park in Rio Frio.
In addition to seeing the return of their Winter Texan visitors, campgrounds in the Texas Hill Country and other areas of South-Central Texas are filling up with construction workers involved in the Eagle Ford shale oil project, which is boosting campground occupancies during the fall shoulder season, Shearer said.
Other Hill Country campgrounds and RV parks also anticipate a strong winter season, including Hill Country RV Park & Cottage Rentals in New Braunfels. “We have a waiting list for both RV sites and park model rentals,” said Bryan Kastleman, the park’s manager.
Other parks are similarly upbeat.
“We did well last winter, but we’re doing better this winter,” said Teri Blaschke of Hidden Valley RV Park in Von Ormy. “People are making reservations further in advance, so we’re being able to tell sooner what our vacancies will be. I do have spots here and there for travelers, but our long-term sites are already booked.”
Blaschke added that she is putting in eight new campsites for the winter season and they are already reserved.
Further to the north, La Hacienda RV Resort in Austin is already booked solid for the winter season. “We’ve got a waiting list and we’re turning people away for the 2012-2013 winter market,” said park owner Ken Butschek, who added that his year-to-date revenue is up about 15 percent over last year’s figures.
La Hacienda RV Resort has a mix of sites that are owned by RVers as well as elegant park model cottages that are available for rent. The park also has about 30 sites that are available for overnight use.
“We have a loyal group of repeat Winter Texans. But we’re also seeing a lot of people who are trying out our park models,” Butschek said.
Further east, Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring and Timber Ridge RV Village in Tomball are already booked for the winter season, said Gwen Craig, who co-owns both parks. She said she has waiting lists for her seasonal sites, although she has kept a few overnight sites available for travelers.
“Every year we’ve outperformed the prior year in occupancy and revenue,” she said, adding that this year is again shaping up to be stronger than last year.
Thousand Trails RV Resort at Lake Conroe is also seeing a strong winter season, fueled both by Winter Texans as well as families from Texas that come to the park on weekends to take part in organized activities and special events.
“We’re seeing younger crowds,” said Terry Munoz, resort manager of the 360-site park. “Even during the winter the locals come out on weekends, so long as we have mild weather. We do a lot of themed weekends and activities.”
RV park managers in San Benito, Texas, fear a new ordinance could open their financial records to the city and unfairly penalize them if their count of mobile homes and park models doesn’t match the city’s count.
The revised ordinance, which took effect Monday, imposes a $10 monthly water fee on mobile homes and park models, The Brownsville Herald reported.
The law can “permanently” charge RV parks additional fees if their tallies of mobile homes and park models differ from the city’s counts, Curtis Richardson, maintenance supervisor at First Colony Mobile Home and RV Park, said.
The ordinance describes such discrepancies as “violations” and “theft of services.”
“They can come in here and open up our financial records and see what kind of business we’re doing,” Richardson said.
Pete Claudio, chairman of the city’s utility board, denied the accusation.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), an Arlington association that lobbies for RV parks, wants to know if the ordinance violates Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 841, the laws passed in 2005 that prohibit cities from charging water fees to unmetered RV sites, said Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director.
“It is incredible,” Schaeffer said. “We had a problem with the general access to a park’s books. They want auditing rights over your books. We’re going to see if it violates the law and if we need to tighten up (the law) because this is ridiculous.”
Claudio said the city will not apply the penalties unless parks misrepresent their numbers.
Campground operators say they’ve had a good summer camping season, fueled by travelers as well as increasing business activity.
“All over Texas, our members are telling us their year-to-date business levels have surpassed last year’s figures,” Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), stated in a news release.
Gwen Craig, co-owner of Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring, in the Woodlands area north of Houston, is a case in point.
“We had our best summer ever,” she said. “Lots of people just vacationing, lots of people selling houses, building new ones. Lots of people moving to the area. Lots and lots of new RVers.”
Allan Hughes of Traders Village RV Park in Grand Prairie attributed the improvement in part to milder summer weather.
“Last summer was brutal,” he said, noting that northern Texas suffered 71 days in a row of 100 degree plus days. This summer, however, the weather was much better. So much nicer, in fact, that Hughes saw more tent campers than normal this year.
People also weren’t as affected by fuel prices. “We didn’t have that as an issue,” Hughes said.
Joe Moore, general manager of The Vineyards Campground and Cabins in Grapevine, near the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, said he was surprised by the strength of the 2012 camping season.
“We’re seeing a 10% to 15% increase over last year’s revenues,” he said, with RV sites increasing by 10 percent while revenue from the park’s new park model cabin rentals increased by 15%.
Moore added that advance reservations for cabins at The Vineyards remain strong. “We’re very strong over the next three or four months. We have a lot of requests or long-term stays at the campground, more so than in the past. We’re hoping it stays strong.”
Some Vineyards campers, in fact, are booking their sites nearly a year in advance. “We only have a handful of reservations left for July 4th next year,” Moore said.
Weather was also improved in the Texas Hill Country, where campgrounds catered to tubing, rafting and kayaking enthusiasts.
“We had the best summer we’ve ever had,” said Doug Shearer of Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan, which opened in March 2001.
He attributed the strong business levels to the abundance of water. “The river was in the best shape we’ve had in about five years,” he said.
Based in Crowley, TACO publishes and distributes the Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide to Texas each year. For more information about the 2012 directory or for statistics involving the latest camping trends in Texas and New Mexico parks, please contact Brian Schaeffer at (817) 307-0129 or visit www.texascampgrounds.com and www.texascabinrentals.net.