Campgrounds buck economic trend

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Who cares about a little itty bitty recession?

Certainly not Colorado recreational vehicle resort owners, who know a timely opportunity when they see one.

Private campground owners are investing in cabins, campsites and upgrades for the upcoming camping season, according to The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.

In plain English — business owners are spending money.

For instance, Chalk Creek Campground and RV Park in Nathrop is spending about $35,000 to install new fencing near the park’s entrance and to relocate its RV storage area.

Closer to home, Falcon Meadow RV Campground in Falcon will spend about $5,000 for landscaping improvements, installing decorative rock and railroad ties at the entrances and exits of 12 of its campsites.

According to The National RV Dealers Association, motor home sales were down 42 percent during 2008, and travel trailer sales were down 23 percent.

But that was last year.

Mike Golden, owner of Golden’s RV Sales on Bijou Street, said that sales of used RVs are up locally and nationally, despite a “horrible” 2008.

“We had our best month — ever — last month,” he said. “People are coming from Alaska, New Mexico, Nevada — all over the place. Prices have dropped dramatically on used RVs. They’re starting to adjust to market now, but, God willing, we anticipate a good season.”

The bulk of RVs and travel trailers are sold from May to September.

And toward the end of the season, people who winter in Texas, Arizona, Southern California or Florida start buying RVs, Golden said.

Recently, Woodland RV Park in Woodland Park spent nearly $150,000 to upgrade its campsites with 50-amp service, additional pavement, gravel, landscaping, and removed trees to better accommodate larger RVs.

High-tech upgrades

But not all improvements involve moving dirt or trees.

An online survey program, launched last year by NARVC, showed that campground guests want more than fresh air, mountain views and the nearest place to rent kayaks or hire whitewater rafting guides.

They want to be connected — to the Internet, via high quality Wi-Fi, and have access to cable television.

So, despite the disgruntled economy, it’s not counterintuitive for campground owners to spend money.

First of all, it’s the right time of year to clean up and beautify before the camping season. And, said Gene Farrar, president of the Colorado Campground and Lodge Owners Association, “Most everybody in the association is pretty optimistic about the season.”

Thus far, reservations at state RV parks are on par with prior years.

And this winter, camps in warmer climates had a good season.

“The full-time snowbirds are still out there,” Farrar said.

And, the combination of a recessionary economy and lower gasoline prices could bode well — perhaps even better than usual — for campgrounds throughout the state.

“People may not want to spend money for (Walt) Disney World, a cruise — an expensive vacation, but camping is still a good economic value,” he said. “Families still need to recreate to one degree or another.”

Some of the visitors from Texas, Florida and elsewhere come to the state for a month or two during the summer.

Farrar said people tell him: “I can pull my rig to Colorado and stay there cheaper than I can stay at home and pay my AC bill. I can’t stand to be in south Texas in the heat.”

Summer reservations at Farrar’s campground, Snowy Peaks RV Park in Buena Vista, are up compared to last year.

“We are nearly full for July already,” he said. “We may not have a record-setting year like ’08, but I don’t expect a downturn.”