Campgrounds, RV parks and resorts across Texas are anticipating a busy spring break this year, with occupancies at several parks exceeding last year’s figures, according to a news release.
“Many of our parks are reporting strong reservations and a good mix of visitors, ranging from Winter Texans and families to college kids,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), which represents nearly 400 private parks across the Lone Star State.
“If the weather can hold, we are looking for a banner year as we are basically sold out through March 24,” said Don Temple, managing partner of Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Vineyards Campground & Cabins in Grapevine is also anticipating a busy Spring Break period.
“We never have to worry about low occupancy,” said Adrienne Nicodemus, activities director for the park, which has increased its spring break activities offering to include kayak lessons, bird focused crafts and hikes, an environmental stewardship seminar as well as yoga classes for both adults and children. The park is also planning a St. Patrick’s Day bike parade and an outdoor movie night.
Meanwhile, Horizon RV Resorts anticipates strong business levels at several of the parks it manages in Texas, including Hatch RV Park in Corpus Christi.
“Reservations are showing an uptick in the number of guests staying with us during this year’s Spring Break compared to last year,” said Scott Foos, Horizon’s vice president of business development, adding, “We’re fortunate to have a great group of returning guests who often return with several new friends or family members every year.”
And while Horizon RV Resorts does see college kids at some of its locations, the company’s Leisure Resort property in Fentress caters to families. “Our specialty is providing a fun family atmosphere that almost every type of guest can appreciate,” Foos said. “Additionally, the San Marcos River flows along the banks of the resort. It’s spring-fed just 20 miles away, and maintains a comfortable cruising speed and consistently warm temperatures.”
Foos said he also anticipates a bump in occupancy’s at Almost Heaven RV Resort in Manvel during the Spring Break period.
Camping experience comes in handy these days for Dave and Elaine Matney.
Dave, a senior engineer with Petrohawk Energy Corp., and his wife have lived in the Lazy Longhorn RV Park in Victoria, Texas, since June. “We’re experienced campers, so this is basically an expansion of that,” said Dave.
According to a report by the Victoria Advocate, the Matneys are among those drawn to the area by the oil and gas activity who have set up residence in RV parks. New RV parks have popped up in and around Victoria, dotting the landscape with residential accommodations for those working the Eagle Ford Shale.
From larger commercial enterprises to landowners with a couple of spare acres, RV parks are the domicile of choice for thousands of new-to-the-area residents.
In Yorktown, at least four privately owned RV parks have opened outside the city limits, including two owned by local businessman Pete Dlugosch.
Jim Reidel, owner of the 70-space Paradise Key RV Park on state Highway 72 in Cuero, said opening his park about eight months ago was simply a matter of being observant.
“I just saw what was happening between Karnes City and Cuero – the need for more places to accommodate these workers – and decided to put something in,” he said. “Cuero is very accommodating, very pro-business.”
Reidel said nearly all of his tenants are oil and gas industry workers, with about 80% pipeliners.
Cuero city manager Raymie Zella said the growth is proving beneficial for the city. Prior to the oil and gas boon, Cuero had two RV parks with about 50 spaces between them, Zella said.
“There have been three new ones and one of the original has added on, so there are approximately 300 new spaces between those,” said the city manager. “One just outside the city limits has about 25 spaces and there is another one under construction with 60 something spaces. Nearly 400 RV spaces have been added or are under construction.”
In 2011, the Cuero City Council passed an RV park ordinance, regulating the size of a park, trailer size and parking among other requirements. Zella said the growth of RV parks has increased the city’s utility revenues.
“We treat the RV park as one commercial customer,” he said. “They pay us for all of the electric, water and wastewater as any commercial customer in Cuero would.”
In Victoria, the city-owned RV park at Riverside Park, brought in more than $21,000 in revenue during the 2010-11 budget year, an increase of more than $7,000 from the previous year, according to figures provided by the Parks and Recreation Department. The 18-space park has already brought in more than $9,000 since Oct. 1.
At the Dec. 20 city council meeting, Councilman Joe Truman hinted at expanding the park observing, “there appears to be room to do more.”
A lackluster economy, drug violence in Mexico, fewer people retiring early, and health concerns have caused a drop in the number of Winter Texans visiting Rio Grande Valley RV parks this season, park managers and residents say.
According to a report by The Monitor, McAllen, Texas, numbers are down as much as 25% at many RV parks at the start of the season that runs from January through February, they said.
“They were great last year, but this year they’re down,” Barbara North, manager of First Colony Mobile and RV Park in San Benito, said.
First Colony has seen a 15% decrease due to the nation’s tough economy and fear of violence in Mexico, North said. “The numbers have grown until this year,” she said.
In 2010, the number of Winter Texans reached a record high, with 144,000 driving to the Valley, said Penny Simpson, a professor who researches tourism at the University of Texas-Pan American. The 2010 season saw numbers slowly rebounding from the slump that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she said. Before 9/11, the numbers had peaked at 143,000.
A summer 2011 survey of 130 Winter Texans hinted numbers could drop about 5% this winter, Simpson said. “We were trying to get a feel if the numbers were down,” Simpson said.
The survey asked whether health, gas prices, the economy or violence and terrorism would influence Winter Texans’ decision to spend the winter in the Valley, Simpson said. In her survey, Winter Texans cited health as the top factor behind their decision to stay home this year, Simpson said.
The Winter Texan industry is a major driver of the Valley’s economy, Simpson said, adding that in 2010, Winter Texans pumped $802.5 million into the local economy.
Anita Pearson, manager of Park Place Estates RV park in Harlingen said, “They’re a little down from what they were last year,” about 5 percent lower than last year, when the 859-site park was at 85% capacity.
Pearson blamed the drop on a national trend that’s leading Americans to work past the traditional retirement age of 65.
“People are working longer. They’re not retiring as young,” Pearson said. “We’re not getting early retirees because people are not retiring as early as they used to. They’re doing other things, like taking cruises and time shares and not staying in one place for six months.”
Barbara Baumhofer, a retired factory supervisor from Mora, Minn., said hard times and illness among an aging Winter Texan population dropped numbers from 7% to 10% at Victoria Palms Resort in Donna.
Bonnie Klaver said she hasn’t seen as many younger retirees at Texas Trails RV Resort in Pharr.
“The younger people aren’t coming down as much,” said Klaver, a retired farmer from Webster City, Iowa, who has spent 11 winters in the Valley. “They aren’t RVers. They probably don’t have the money to do it yet.”
For decades, the All Valley RV Show has been a top attraction for Winter Texans, but numbers have dropped from peak years in the mid-1990s, when attendance hit about 15,000, said Warren Kininmonth, the event’s chairman.
“This economy is affecting everyone,” said Kininmonth, who said he was counting on numbers to rebound from 8,000 last year. “It’s everywhere.”
Charles Nunn said he will refuse to pay a new water charge because it is against the law, even though the city of San Benito, Texas, is threatening to shut off water to his RV park.
“They’ve got to be trespassing to get to my meter,” Nunn said, pointing to the master water meter at First Colony Mobile and RV Park .
According to a report in The Monitor, Nunn said his park hasn’t paid $5,300 that has been charged since October when the city passed an ordinance setting a monthly $10 base water fee to individual RV sites, whether the sites are occupied or not.
“I said, ‘I’m not paying,’” he said. “I never paid for anything I didn’t owe.”
Nunn cited a state law that he argues prohibits cities from charging water fees to unmetered sites at RV parks.
The law in question was filed in 2005 by state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, and State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, authored Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 841, respectively.
“The bill was brought to us by campground owners who were concerned about aggressive billing,” Chris Steinbach, Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, said. “So the bill was to keep the billing as accurate as possible.”
State Rep. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, last year authored revised legislation known as House Bill 1210, which prohibits cities from charging all unmetered RV sites, whether they’re occupied or unoccupied, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
The law exempts mobile homes and permanently tied-down park models from water meter charges, Schaeffer said.
Barbara North, who manages Nunn’s park, said she doesn’t want to take a chance that the city won’t refund the money if it stops charging the fee.
“They’re going to have to back off and when they back off, the city won’t refund it,” North said.
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The new target date for reopening Bastrop State Park located 30 miles southeast of Austin, Texas, has been pushed back to Dec. 1 due to scheduling delays for ongoing and start-up capital repair projects affecting the cabins, campground, park roads and refectory, The Memorial Examiner, Houston, reported.
The Central Reservation Center in Austin will continue to alert customers who had reservations for cabins in coming months that those reservations have been canceled for now due to the re-roofing project, which originally had been slated for completion by the end of December, but whose start has been delayed due to the fire and cleanup efforts. The re-roofing project is now scheduled to begin later this year and wrap up by the end of February 2012.
“We understand that these projects will displace many park visitors,” says Todd McClanahan, superintendent of the Lost Pines Complex, which includes Bastrop and Buescher state parks, “however, they are sorely needed. We are fast-tracking the cabin re-roofing. Park staff will continue with cleanup efforts from the devastating wildfire as well.”
Although the fire has scarred the landscape, McClanahan says campgrounds will be reopened by Dec. 1 despite the ongoing demolition and replacement of two restrooms. Alternative restrooms and showers will be made available. Campers will find resealed or new roads, parking areas and RV pads being paved by the Texas Department of Transportation.
“Bastrop will soon reopen and in many ways will be like a new park,” McClanahan adds. “Park management asks for its customers’ continued patience as we work to restore this national landmark.”
Bastrop State Parks 18-hole golf course, operated by the Lost Pines Golf Club, recently reopened to play and is open daily.