Marie Howard is making the Rio Grande Valley a safer and friendlier place for Winter Texans to visit with her Casa del Valle RV Resort, which recently received the Texas RV Association’s (TRVA) coveted Park of the Year award.
The Monitor, McAllen, reported that Howard runs the day-to-day affairs at the park at 1048 N. Alamo Road. It serves as a retirement community for its roughly 750 residents who come from across the country to escape to warmer climates during the winter season.
“This award is not just for me,” Howard said, “but for everyone who makes this the greatest resort in the Rio Grande Valley.”
One group of people working to make Casa del Valle a great place to live are the First Responder Program members at the RV park. The program is composed of retired nurses, doctors and EMTs that continue to provide first-aid support for RV parks across the Rio Grande Valley.
“I’m very blessed with having lots of first responders,” Howard said. She noted that the First Responders Program helps boost the morale of its members as well.
“When you use people, and you make people wanted and needed, they’re happy,” she said.
The first responders are all trained in CPR, first aid and the use of automated external defibrilator machines. If there is a medical emergency or concern at the park, there is always at least one first responder on duty to address the issue and provide assistance for the affected individual.
That’s good news for an aging population at the RV park. Howard stated that in recent years the average age of the population has increased steadily. She attributed that trend to many elderly people continuing to work as a result of an economy that has produced poor retirement plans.
For those who did make it to retirement, however, Casa del Valle provides an entertaining respite from the cold winter climates. Some are even happy that the park’s population is getting older.
“It has its advantages, I can outdrive most of the guys here on the golf course,” said Jim Joyce, who at 55 is one of the youngest residents at Casa Del Valle.
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RV parks in the Rio Grande Valley expect to be full this Winter Texan season, based on a positive outlook from last year.
The Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, reported that a survey of Winter Texans last season, conducted by the University of Texas-Pan American, found that 95.8% planned to return to the Valley this year.
With the Winter Texan season fast approaching, local RV parks are open and ready for their guests. And some Winter Texans have arrived a bit early.
Larry and Sharon Schnulle, from Missouri, have been coming to the Valley for seven years. The couple will be staying for about six months at Sunshine RV Resort in Harlingen.
“I retired and that’s allowed us to come a bit earlier than last year,” Sharon said.
Joe Ellis, from Massachusetts, has been coming to Sunshine RV Park for 13 years. He came down earlier than usual because of the cold weather starting at home, he said. He will stay for about six months.
He said his love of the area stems from the culture of the Valley.
“We love the culture down here. They are very welcoming to us; they welcome us with open arms,” he said.
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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.
Enforcement of the “six strikes” aspect of the Copyright Alert System (CAS) has landed a Texas RV park in trouble with its cable and Internet service provider.
Woodall’s Campground Management reported that officials with the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) and TengoInternet, the firm that installed the Wi-Fi service at the Oakwood RV Resort in Fredericksburg, have come forward to help the 132-site Good Sam Park through its brush with its service provider, Time-Warner Cable (TWC), which informed the owner earlier this month that it will punish the RV park for not buying bulk rate Internet from TWC.
“Our TACO attorney has already been involved in a case on this and we are probably going to get a lot more action,” Brian Schaeffer, TACO president and CEO told Woodall’s Campground Management. “This story is far more impacting than it reads. For example, parks have bought a ‘commercial’ service for their parks thinking that covers them regarding Wi-Fi in their parks. But the fine print says they cannot distribute Internet in their parks. Almost every park in the USA has or will have this problem.”
The CAS is a private system for alerting and punishing Internet subscribing customers of AT&T, Cablevision, Time Warner, Verizon and Comcast. It monitors use via home networks that access alleged copyrighted material from a list of specific entertainment corporations and their CAS registered content. The consortium that manages the program has branded it as the six strikes program.
The system is intended to be a graduated response wherein participating Internet service providers (ISPs) send up to six electronic warnings notifying subscribers of alleged copyright infringement, as reported by a monitoring service working on behalf of participating copyright owners.
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For Winter Texans, oil-field workers, campers and others, there’s one more place to stay in Texas as the Victoria Coleto Creek Kampgrounds of America (KOA) RV park opened for business Oct. 15.
Owned by Gail Reaser, the Victoria park offers 124 sites for visitors to the Crossroads, said Greg Dunagan, the site’s general manager. As reported by the Victoria Advocate, amenities include a swimming pool, a catfish pond where guests can fish, no-leash dog park, playground, nature trail and deer feeder, Dunagan said.
“We have our own herd of about 60 deer who come out here,” he said. “There’s no hunting in the park. We don’t want to hurt our deer friends.”
Each RV site includes a full hook-up with water, electricity, sewer, satellite TV and Wi-Fi, Dunagan said. Family-style bath houses, laundry facilities and a meditation garden also join the mix.
The project got its start about two years ago, Dunagan said, although construction began in March. When possible, developers worked around trees, rather than cutting them down.
“It’s easier to move sites somewhere else than it is to grow a tree,” he said with a smile. “We didn’t lose a single live oak, and I think there were only some mesquites lost.”
This is the first part of a three-phase project. Once complete, the park will offer about 360 total sites.
The project’s second phase includes lodging, a pavilion, retail store and second pool, in addition to RV sites, he said. Because phases two and three are dependent on demand, there is no specific timeline.
The Texas body governing public parks that receive grant funding says the city of Gonzales’ use of J.B. Wells Park as a long-term RV park is in violation of the agreement under which the city received grant funds.
According to a report by the Gonzales Inquirer, the state wants the city to implement “a policy to safeguard this park for outdoor recreation use.” That new policy is expected to be presented to the city council at its 6 p.m. meeting Nov. 5.
J. B. Wells Park is a 169-acre park that has a covered pavilion, multi-purpose show barn, covered arena, practice arena, a hike and bike trail and 392 RV hookup sites.
But for those who think the city should not be in the RV business and want the city park reserved only for recreational visitors rather than oilfield workers, don’t expect any major changes.
To be sure, the draft of the new policy is expected to meet the requirements of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), but the state agency appears to be giving the city as much flexibility as it can in adhering to the standards set forth in the project agreement executed when the city received $500,000 for J.B. Wells Park in 2001.
“I have had two conversations with city employees and I sent a letter to the city manager on Oct. 16 asking the city to adhere to the guidelines of the grant agreement which state that the park should be used for outdoor recreation,” says Dana Lagarde, parks grants manager for TPWD. “The city has agreed to put a policy in place requiring visitors to check in and out within a specified period of time. We did not dictate a 14-day use, but would like the elected officials to do what they feel is in the best interest of their citizens and community.”
Gonzales city attorney Jackie Williamson has been tasked with drafting an RV policy for Independence Park and J.B. Wells Park that will be presented to the council.
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.
RV park operators in the Rio Grande Valley say all indications point to a successful year for Winter Texan visitors, according to a report by The Monitor, McAllen.
At South Padre Island, there’s been a 10% increase in the number of inquiries from prospective Winter Texans reports Lacey Ekberg, director of the Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). The CVB has received 5,000 to 6,000 calls per month since July, with most of those calls coming from the Midwest and northern states, including Illinois, Ohio and Minnesota.
“Given the number of inquiries, we do not expect less Winter Texan visitors than the previous year,” Ekberg said.
Some parks are able to get a hint of the coming season’s success based on the previous year’s park residents who take advantage of “early bird” discounts, or make their reservations far in advance of their return.
Fun N Sun RV Resort in San Benito, for example, offers a rate of $75 for the month of October, park spokeswoman Janie Paz said. Paradise Park RV Resort, in Harlingen last year offered a 5% “Early Bird Special” discount for some visitors who paid by June for the next winter. Other parks’ discount offers vary from year to year.
Winter Texans are big business in the Valley, injecting millions of dollars into the local economy every year. For the 2011-2012 season, Winter Texans had a $751 million direct economic impact on the Valley economy, according to statistics compiled by the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center at the University of Texas-Pan American.
Winter Texans usually begin showing up in the Valley around Oct. 1, said Penny Simpson, a UTPA professor of marketing and associate dean of the College of Business Administration and director of the Valley Markets and Tourism Research Center.
“It’s just a trickle in October,” she said of the annual migration of retirees. “When they come is tied to the weather. The health of the retirees also determines whether they will return to the Valley each year.”
Visits by retirees from northern states and Canada dropped sharply after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but eventually returned to nearly the levels of earlier years. A biannual survey by UTPA this January showed some drop in numbers of Winter Texans in a January count of seasonal visitors from two years ago.
Simpson said 133,400 Winter Texans came to the Valley last winter compared with 144,000 two years earlier.
Ever since Don Temple and a group of investors purchased Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas seven years ago, they have constantly worked to improve park, investing more than $1 million in improvements.
And, according to a press release, their efforts are clearly paying off.
Last week, the riverfront resort won the “Park of the Year” award in the large park category from the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) for the third year in a row. Guadalupe River RV Resort has also won top ratings from the nation’s leading campground directories, including 5W ratings from Woodall’s North American Campground Directory and 9.5/9/9 ratings from Trailer Life.
The park, which borders the Guadalupe River, has 212 RV sites, including pull-through sites with 30- and 50-amp service as well as wireless Internet and cable television service. It also has 46 park models, 17 cabins, three swimming pools, including an indoor heated pool during the winter, a hot tub, a dry heat sauna, a steam sauna, exercise room, laundry rooms and two large recreation halls, plus an attractive onsite bar with indoor and outdoor seating.
“We’re still the only RV park in Texas with a liquor license,” Temple said, adding that the onsite bar is a popular amenity for RVers who like to enjoy their drinks without having to worry about getting back on the road. Temple also has barbecues on weekends, which are always well attended.
But while the improvements and amenities and fine customer service ensure repeat business for his park, Temple said the ratings and awards help put Guadalupe River RV Resort on the map. “People pay attention to ratings,” he said.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) began its three-day Spring Convention and Tradeshow Sunday (May 6) with good news for the association’s members: TACO is growing, having added 24 more parks as members so far this year, and the association is continuing to strengthen its government affairs and marketing programs.
According to a press release, the convention kicked off Sunday afternoon at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas, with 130 registered attendees representing about 60 private parks.
In his opening remarks to park operators, TACO Executive Director and CEO Brian Schaeffer said the association’s growth will further strengthen TACO’s ability to protect park operator interests in the halls of government because there is “strength in numbers,” particularly when TACO represents parks from multiple jurisdictions across Texas. He added that TACO faces continuing political battles to protect park operators from unfair tax practices involving everything from utilities to fire protection.
“We want to be treated like any other business,” Schaeffer said, adding that Ron Hinkle, TACO’s legislative advocate, is fighting to protect park operator interests in “the corridors of power.”
TACO, however, has considerable political clout in Texas, as evidenced by Sunday’s visit by Texas State Rep. Harvey Hildebrand, who briefed association members on the legislature’s recent efforts to balance the state budget. Hildebrand, who serves as chairman of the Texas Ways and Means Committee, said the Texas economy is improving and that revenue collections are up, with the latest projections indicating a $3 to $4 billion surplus in the state treasury.
Hildebrand also said that tourism remains an important funding priority for Texas, and noted that every dollar spent promoting tourism in Texas brings $7 in return.
On the marketing front, Schaeffer said TACO has recently completed significant improvements to the design and search capabilities of the association’s two consumer websites, TexasCampgrounds.com and TexasCabinRentals.net, both of which are increasingly used by consumers as vacation planning tools.
TACO has also developed mobile versions of both websites to accommodate the growing numbers of campers who access both websites from their cellular phones. As many as half of the visitors to both websites are using mobile phones, Schaeffer said, citing statistics from Austin-based TengoInternet.
TACO was scheduled to hold its general membership meeting this morning, which was to be followed by the association’s spring tradeshow with 35 vendors at the Inn of the Hills, a neighboring hotel and convention center in Kerrville.
William Henderson of Peak Energy Technology was also scheduled to provide a seminar titled “Recycling Energy and Saving Money.”