Despite the recession, RV parks and campgrounds are spending millions this year to install new campsites, cabins and other upgrades, add recreational features from water slides to skate parks, and adopt green technology.
Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, said most park operators realize this recession is temporary and they need “to move forward with their improvement plans to remain competitive with other travel and tourism options.”
Many of the improvements being made by parks involve upgrades, such as adding 50 amp service, expanding cable TV and Internet access, adding more campsites and remodeling camp stores and other facilities. But a lot of money is also being spent in three other areas: putting in new park models, cabins and yurts; expanding recreational facilities, and installing energy-conservation systems.
By adding park models, cabins and yurts to campgrounds, operators gain another source of revenue while providing an option for people who don’t have an RV but want to enjoy the RV lifestyle. Some campgrounds also offer fully furnished travel trailers as a rental option. KOA campgrounds recently entered into an agreement to put Airstream travel trailers at selected locations.
Lakedale Resort at Three Lakes on Washington’s San Juan Island has put a retro twist on the trailer rental concept by acquiring a classic 1978 Sovereign Airstream this year and placing it on a lakefront campsite. Besides its RV campsites, lodge and log cabins, Lakedale has another option—canvas cabins, which are like oversized tents with a wood frame and floor. They don’t have bathrooms or kitchens, but they do have a queen bed, table and chairs and a full-size sleeper sofa or two lounge chairs.
Yurts—circular, tent-like structures with domed roofs—are another lodging alternative being installed in some campgrounds. Some are furnished with microwave ovens, heaters, air conditioners and cable TV and include decks with gas grills.
For people who want more creature comforts, complete with full kitchens and bathrooms, there are park models and cabins.
In addition to expanding their lodging options, many RV parks and campgrounds are attempting to attract more customers and lengthen their stays by investing in recreation equipment to serve every family member, and even dogs.
Ron Romens, president of Commercial Recreation Specialists, a Wisconsin company that sells recreation packages to parks and campgrounds, said one recent trend is for RV parks to add dog parks—fenced areas that have play equipment, such as tunnels and steps, for dogs. So many RVers travel with dogs, he said, that a dog park can attract business and persuade RVers to extend their stays.
Another trend is to add a pond with play equipment. Instead of a swimming pool, Romens said, some campgrounds, particularly in the Midwest, are having ponds dug. The ponds, installed atop a liner, usually cover an acre or two at a depth of 12 feet or more and are kept clean organically with the help of aerators. Families can swim in the pond, climb on play equipment in the water and relax on the beach.
Romens’ company sells equipment that can be installed on ponds and swimming pools, and be used for climbing, sliding and bouncing. There are floating trampolines, water slides and climbing walls. The equipment can be quite elaborate, with modular units linked to form obstacles and challenge courses for individual and team competition.
Another company, Water Wars in Minnesota, sells another kind of water play that doesn’t require a swimming pool or pond. It consists of two battle stations equipped with catapults that teams use to fire water balloons at each other. More than a dozen campgrounds across the country have installed the Water Wars attraction.
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, went even further into the water play business last year, building a $2 million water park.
Campgrounds are also installing recreation attractions that don’t require water. Campland on the Bay in San Diego, for example, is spending $50,000 this year to add a skate park, and the Jellystone Park at Cobb Mountain in Northern California, is adding a miniature golf course valued at $500,000. Some campgrounds are adding the Jumping Pillow, a big pillow-shaped canvas installation that can be inflated to act like a trampoline. The Jumping Pillow is available in various sizes starting at about 30 feet by 40 feet.
Another area where RV parks and campgrounds are spending money is on energy and water saving technologies.
Sandy Pines, one of the largest RV resorts in the country with 2,220 campsites, a 262-acre private lake and an 18-hole golf course in Hopkins, Michigan, is investing in solar heating for two of its five pools. The system costs $44,000, but will reduce natural gas consumption enough to pay for itself in three to five years. The park is also changing its pool cleaning system from chlorine to salt water and investing in a geothermal heating and cooling system for the park’s store, laundry, beauty shop, doughnut shop and other park buildings and to generate hot water for the car wash.
Angels Camp RV and Camping Resort in Angels Camp, California, is leasing a solar power system that has cut its electric bill by $1,200 a month. Other parks are installing water-saving showerheads, switching to compact florescent bulbs, and collecting recyclables.
Profaizer said an increasing number of parks are taking steps to improve the environment in response to consumer demand.
“We’ve done some research and found that consumers like to go to parks that are environmentally friendly, so there’s an economic incentive for parks to get involved in green initiatives beyond the savings they recoup from their investments,” she said.