Park Models Gain Popularity


“It’s the most affordable vacation home option in America today,” said William Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association, a national organization based in Newnan, Georgia.

What is a park model?

“From inside it looks like a regular house. You’d never know it was on wheels,” said Carrol Brown, a retired judge from Montana who owns a park model in an RV resort in Gold Beach, Oregon. She said her park model is big enough to have full-size appliances and is very livable. “ It’s kind of our little retirement house.”

The recreation park trailer industry is 25 years old, but it has taken awhile for the public to become aware of its existence. The names park model and recreational park trailer are used interchangeably, but many people still don’t know what they are, Garpow said. They are defined as movable part-time residences for recreation use.

By law, park models can occupy up to 400 square feet set up on site (500 square feet in Florida), but owners often add porches, decks and storage space. Although built on wheels, they don’t look like the typical mobile home, but usually resemble cottages or log cabins and often include upscale features, such as bay windows, lofts, all-wood cabinets and skylights.

The typical park model sells for about $33,000, though prices can range from $17,000 to more than $60,000. The owner can lease a site for it in a campground or RV resort for about $1,500 to $5,000 a year. Another alternative is to buy a deeded lot.

Jeff and Susan Graham of Olympia are developing Lost Lake Resort, a heavily wooded 73-acre campground that includes deeded lots with fully furnished park model cabins selling from the high-$50,000 to the mid-$70,000 range.

“I don’t know where else anyone could find a vacation home as affordable as this,” said Susan Graham, who believes her resort’s location, north of Olympia near Interstate 5, is perfect for urbanites who want to quickly escape the city for a wooded resort setting, complete with an 11-acre lake stocked with rainbow trout.

Dick and Kathy Jewell, owners of Vista del Lago, a resort community at Lake Chelan, Washington, are also selling park models on deeded lots. Buyers in their resort community obtain use of a pool, spa and community center and gain easy access to boating, golf and other activities.

So many people are discovering the benefits of having a vacation residence available in a campground or RV resort that park model manufacturers say they are scrambling to keep up with demand.

“Our industry has never been as busy as we are today,” said Garpow, whose organization keeps statistics on park model shipments. RPTIA figures show that manufacturers shipped 2,131 units the first three months of this year, a 20 percent gain. Garpow said many park model builders have a backlog of 12 to 14 weeks.

The Pacific Northwest has trailed some other areas of the country in embracing park models, with only 156 shipped to Washington and 69 to Oregon last year. But dealers and manufacturers say that is beginning to change.

“I see a big movement toward park models this year,” said Barry Dunkin, general manager of RV USA in Everett, Washington. “We’re getting lots of inquiries.”

Larry Nelson, sales manager for A-1 RV Center in Silverdale, Washington, said he, too, is seeing strong demand for park models. “We’re selling quite a few of them,” he said.

The prime market for park models used to be retirees, but RPTIA surveys show that typical buyers today are in their late 50s and nearly half are working full time. Some use their park models on vacations and weekends; others occupy them for a season or more.

Dick Ossinger and his wife, Dee, live about half the year in their park model at the Turtle Rock RV Resort in Gold Beach, Oregon. They divide the rest of their time between travel in their motorhome and stays in their fifth wheel on Lake Weallup near Marysville, Washington.

The Ossingers once owned a 7,500 square-foot house in Edmonds, Washington. “Frankly we were tired of that much space,” Dick Ossinger said. They are happy to have simplified their lives and scaled down their possessions.

Ossinger said their park model has enough room (400 square feet, plus a 200-square-foot loft) for everything they need, and the location in an RV resort on the ocean provides them with wonderful views and the chance to walk on the beach. “We just love it,” he said.

When they leave their park model for an extended time, there is nothing to worry about, because everything is taken care of at the resort. No lawns to mow or water; no need to find a house sitter or someone to look after the property.

Some people are buying park models, putting them in campgrounds or resorts and renting them out when not in use. This helps them cover the cost of their vacation home.

In addition to sales to individuals, manufacturers are finding a growing market for park models among campground owners who are buying them for use as rental units.

Gene Mourglea, who has purchased park model units for campgrounds he operates near Lake Almanor in Northern California, said the units are very popular.

“The cabins give us a lot more diversification so we can attract a wider range of people,” he said. “It’s fun for families. We’ve found that some of the older campers don’t want to rough it anymore, so they stay in the cabins and let their children or grandchildren do the tent camping.”

Park model manufacturers offer customers a wide range of exterior styles, an array of floor plans and an assortment of optional features. Here is a sampling of some of the kinds of models available.

Silvercrest at Vista del Lago
Two new Silvercrest park models are available now at Vista del Lago, an 83-lot adult resort community that adjoins a 12-acre park at Lake Chelan in Washington.

The Sonoma and Casita park models from Silvercrest are 400 square feet each, but Vista del Lago is adding patio rooms that double their size. Kathy Jewell, who owns Vista del Lago with her husband, Dave, said the room additions are designed as living rooms, freeing space in the park models to enlarge the bedroom and bathroom and expand the dining area or add office room.

The room additions are an added feature, but Jewell said the park models themselves are among the finest on the market because they are from Silvercrest, one of the nation’s largest builders of manufactured homes and park models. “Silvercrest’s interior finish and options are the best in the business,” Jewell said.

Both models have many amenities, including maple cabinets in the Sonoma and light oak cabinets in the Casita.

The park models are being sold on deeded lots at Vista del Lago. The resort, which includes a 4,000 square-foot clubhouse, pool and spa, is within walking distance of waterfront parks, boating, golf, a casino, shopping and restaurants.

The planned development is designed for park model cottages, resort homes and RVs. Buyers can purchase park models or cottages through Vista del Lago, or can buy deeded lots and move their own park model or RV to the site. All of the lots have full utility connections, including cable TV.

For information, contact Vista del Lago, 1000 State Route 150, Manson, WA 98831. Phone (800) 862-1178.

Woodland Park
Woodland Park has several upgraded floor plans in its 2005 park models that are being introduced this month, and is offering new interior colors, including an “elk” pattern fabric that carries a rustic look that should appeal to Northwest buyers.

The family-owned company specializes in custom vacation homes that are built to the buyer’s specifications and are not mass-produced. It offers park models that are 8 1/2 feet, 11 feet and 12 feet wide and appeal to a variety of tastes.

Woodland Park, which is in its 21st year, prides itself on its quality and innovation. That tradition is carried forward this year in the Timber Ridge 11-foot wide model with an 11-foot wide bathroom with double pane French doors. The model carries a rich cherry wood finish.

The park trailers come with numerous standard features and a long list of popular options in furnishings, appliances and upgraded materials. The trailers are built to last, using rugged Amish construction techniques.

For information, contact Woodland Park, P. O. Box 1309, Middlebury, IN 46540. Phone (574) 825-2104 or see www.woodland-park.com.

Bayridge
Bayridge is a line of destination travel trailers, a hybrid category that fits somewhere between park models and trailers. They have many similarities to park models, but are more mobile, while being designed to function in a destination setting rather than on the road.

Bayridge is a division of Breckenridge, the world’s largest builder of park models. Richard Fischer, the division’s national sales and product manager, said a growing number of people use RVs not to travel the country, but to park at vacation destinations. They find “a place where they feel safe and secure and where their children can grow up with the same friends year after year,” Fischer said. At the same time, he said, they may want the freedom to go to other destinations, too, and not be locked into just one.

The Bayridge models are the largest towables allowed on the road, but are still maneuverable enough to be towed by their owners. The units are eight feet wide and expand with slideouts to range from 300 to 340 square feet.

Fischer said the fact that they are destination trailers allows the builder to avoid some redundancies in construction. For example, the units don’t need battery power for the road, but are wired only for the 110-volt electrical systems found in RV campgrounds and resorts.

The units are also large enough that they can handle the kind of appliances that might be found in an apartment, rather than an RV. The kitchen, for example, has a 16-cubic-foot double-door refrigerator, and a four-burner range and oven with broiler. The ceiling is a full seven feet high.

For information, contact Breckenridge, which is a division of Damon Corporation and is owned by Thor Industries, at 656 N. Delaware, Nappanee, IN 46550. Phone (574) 773-5353 or see www.breckenridgeparkmodels.com.

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