By: Chuck Woodbury
RVtravel.com editor Chuck Woodbury recently returned from a two-month trek through 26 states. Along the way he visited the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) rally in Indianapolis and America’s Largest RV Show in Hershey, Pa.
“I had hoped that in attending the events and talking with RVers in campgrounds that I could gain some insights into the current state of RVing,” he said. “What I learned is that RVing is as popular as ever, but the way we do it is changing.”
He was hosted at Thousand Trails preserves and by some KOAs, but spent much of his time in independent parks. “Most KOAs and virtually all Thousand Trails are catering to RVers as a destination where they can spend days, even weeks at a time, with the park entertaining them,” he said. “It’s not just ‘come, stay and entertain yourself’ like the old days of public campgrounds, but ‘come, stay and we will entertain you.’ The list of facilities and social activities they offer is longer than ever — jumping pillows for the kids, hot tubs, evening movies, ice cream socials, more sophisticated playgrounds, free WiFi, fishing and paddleboat lakes, mini-golf, swimming pools, and special events for holidays keep their customers busy. KOA, in particular, seems to be beefing up its visitor offerings and is pushing its cabin rentals, where a customer does not even need an RV.
He added, “Independent parks, the mom and pop ones in particular, are all over the place in quality and need to get their act together. Some are very nice, but too many are unkempt or offer mediocre facilities. I drove a few miles off the highway to one park that looked attractive on its website. But at the entrance there were two junked cars, weeds a foot high, and a weathered mobile home for the office. I turned around. At another park, I paid $38 and was led to a site that was way off level. People don’t pay to sleep on a slope; they deserve better. In a park that I pulled into after dark, I nearly poked a hole in my thumb hooking up the water hose: a part of the round faucet handle was broken off leaving a sharp pointed edge. When I told the employee in the office, she didn’t express any concern or even note my campsite.”
Woodbury never stayed in a Wal-Mart parking lot, but came to appreciate why so many RVers do. “A typical one-night stay at a commercial park by the highway is $30 to $50,” he said. “I can understand why RVers, no matter how well-off, choose to stay free in a parking lot rather than spend that much money just for a place to sleep for a few hours.”
In tiny Wasta, South Dakota (pop. 72) along I-90, he found the small, no-frills 24 Express RV Park that charges $5 a night for a gravel pull-thru site with water and 30- and 50-amp electric hookups. “They make money off their automated gas station and a family-run military museum and they have no employees,” he explained. “The RV park is clean and popular with overnighters. There’s a demand for other low-cost parks like this and I think an opportunity for a visionary entrepreneur.”