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.