Number of RV Camping Sites Decline

The available number of camping and RV sites has steadily declined over the past decade. This can be attributed to four factors and industry trends.

RV park owners are eliminating RV sites and installing cabins and park models. They bring in more money for the owners but it leaves RVers interested in a quality RVing experience scrambling to find camping sites. Most cabins and park models are then rented long-term to seasonal campers.

We’ve stayed in RV parks where most of the camping sites are occupied but nobody is home. During the week the RVs sit empty waiting for their weekend owners to arrive. Since the sites are booked by seasonal campers, other RVers have difficulty obtaining a site, especially on weekends.

Camping at Colorado River Preserve, a Thousand Trails campground, about 70 miles west of Houston, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Colorado River Preserve, a Thousand Trails campground, about 70 miles west of Houston, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This business model is a win-win for the park owners but not so for traveling RVers. Fewer campers to register on a daily basis requires a smaller office staff and provides the owners with a steady income for the season.

Many RV park owners are selling to real estate investment trusts (REIT) such as Equity LifeStyles Properties (ELS), the parent company of Thousand Trails and Encore Resorts, Sun Communities who recently purchased Carefree Communities, and Leisure Systems, Inc. (LSI), the franchisor of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. Needing to recoup its investment, the corporation raises camping rates, often by 20 percent or more.

The long term outlook for the number of RV spaces is further restrained due to the increasing difficulty and cost associated with obtaining the necessary permits to build a new RV park. Over-the-top regulations stymie new campground development. In reality, building an RV park is a tedious three-to-four-year exercise in frustration requiring lots of time and plenty of money.

7 Feathers Casino RV Resort at Canyonville, Oregon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7 Feathers Casino RV Resort at Canyonville, Oregon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Filing paper work with the local government brings out the hounds of opposition who don’t want a campground in their community (NIMBY). While an upscale RV resort attract rigs that cost more than the average homes in the area, outspoken citizens in the community paint word pictures of the quintessential “trailer park”, with the obvious implication that it will attract an undesirable class of persons to the area and result in community blight.

Some projects won’t survive even this first “public relations” challenge. And those that do will usually find the permits required to launch the project will involve considerable time and expense. The degree of difficulty will vary considerably from one area to another.

For the third time, the site of a former marina and bar on Cedar Bayou that is being considered for an RV park was shot down after several residents strongly expressed their distaste for it, the Baytown (Texas) Sun recently reported. At the Baytown Planning and Zoning Commission meeting the residents expressed their concerns about the potential RV park citing the dangers correlated with increased traffic, density in the area, and its location. And this is far from an isolated case.

Bella Terra RV Resort, an upscale Class A motorhome resort, one of several recently opened RV parks along the Alabama Gulf Coast. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bella Terra RV Resort, an upscale Class A motorhome resort, one of several recently opened RV parks along the Alabama Gulf Coast. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park owners who have at long last managed to obtain all the needed permits and begin construction, relay many stories of the time, expense, and challenges involved.  If approved by the local council, the developers then have to deal with competing federal and state environmental protection agencies which both believe that if rain falls on the ground, it must be a wetland in need of protection.

Expensive studies have to be completed by multiple groups to determine the impact on the environment and to ensure that there are no endangered Culex mosquito or American burying beetles on or near the property.

Even after playing all the games and ensuring the forms are properly filled out, stamped and filed, the RV park can’t open until the local building inspector gives his blessing on the property. But, that generally takes place after he dictates that several nonsensical changes be made to the property.

Texas Lakeside RV Resort opened several years ago in Port Lavaca, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Lakeside RV Resort opened several years ago in Port Lavaca, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The law of supply and demand is definitely impacting campground rates. Several years ago we budgeted $25 per night for a camping site. Soon we had to change that to $35 and then $40 or more. In some locations the daily now ranges from $50 to over $100.

Worth Pondering…

All things are possible until they are proved impossible—and even the impossible may only be so, as of now.

—Pearl S. Buck

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