Update on Virginia RV park devastated by governor’s shut down order

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Andy Zipser and his wife, Carin, are the owners of the Walnut Hills Campground & RV Park in Staunton, Virginia. We wrote recently about their predicament after the Virginia governor ordered the campground closed to all but long-term guests. It dealt a crushing blow to Andy and Carin and their family, who operate the park and depend on it for their livelihoods. Here is an update from Andy about how things are playing out. Hint: It’s a big fat bureaucratic mess!   

By Andy Zipser

The approach of April 15 has long filled many people with foreboding, but this year it’s April 16 that proved more significant for us. That’s when the federal bail-out programs for small businesses ran out of gas, only midway through an initial application period that was supposed to run through April 30.  

The drained accounts included $349 billion in the Paycheck Protection Program, plus an additional $10 billion that was to be parceled out in quickie grants of $10,000 each for businesses seeking Economic Injury Disaster Loans, designed to keep them limping along while their loan applications got processed.

IF YOU DO THE MATH, that means a whopping one million small businesses across the country have been cleared for the grants — and countless others who weren’t. No one really knows yet how many didn’t make the cut before the money ran out. As for the more substantial Paycheck Protection Program, the 1.6 million loans that were approved represent fewer than half of all submitted applications. In my state of Virginia, for example, fewer than 37% got an okay, which means nearly two-thirds of us are twisting in the wind.

But tossing around millions and billions is a bit abstract, so here’s how the coronavirus has slammed one particular campground. In March, as the pandemic gathered steam but before Virginia’s governor issued an executive order that shut us down until June 10, we lost $35,000 in bookings. In the first two weeks of April, following the March 30 executive order, we lost another $45,000. Total registrations for the year to date, after a very strong January and February that somewhat muted subsequent losses, are down 21% compared to the same period last year.

Walnut Hills Campground & RV Park

That’s why, like millions of others in our situation, we jumped on the federal bailout package as soon as possible, filing an application for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan on March 27 and for the PPP program on April 3. But then it all started to bog down. On completing the EIDL application we received a number that apparently doesn’t connect to anything — there’s no online tracking system — and not one thing more. No way of knowing if we filled out the online form correctly. No way of knowing if the feds want more documentation. Nada. It’s as though we’d thrown a pebble into a large lake and watched it sink with scarcely a ripple.

Separately, we submitted our PPP application to a local branch of a large regional bank, only to be told we’d have to go online. There followed a flurry of email exchanges, as an earlier form was supplanted by a newer form, followed by several requests for documentation that had already been provided. Interspersed in this back-and-forth were a couple of emails explaining that the bank was toiling mightily to train hundreds, perhaps thousands of employees in how to process this tidal wave of supplicants. Eventually the emails trickled away, then stopped altogether. The fate of our application? Unknown.

SO THAT’S OUR REALITY, and by extension the reality of thousands of RV parks across the country, although Virginia is on the extreme end of the spectrum. We’ve done a decent job of pulling in campers for two-week stays by offering a 50 percent discount, filling most of our full hook-up sites, but those bigger time blocks also mean sites have week-long and ten-day gaps between reservations.

All our cabins are sitting empty and will stay that way until June, and nobody’s camping in a tent. And our non-sewered sites, tolerable for weekenders but not so much for someone camping more than a few days, remain empty despite our offer of two free honey-wagon pump-outs per week, leaving half of the campground lying fallow.

Somewhat off-setting this bleak description has been the generosity of the RVing community in general and of our regular campers specifically. Ever since Chuck Woodbury wrote in RVtravel.com two weeks ago highlighting the extreme situation in Virginia — no other state has as lengthy a stay-at-home order — and published our letter to RVers arriving after hours without a reservation, we’ve had an outpouring of supportive emails and telephone calls. One of our regular campers, after canceling a May reservation, called back to buy a $1,000 gift card. Overnighters, heeding our invitation to be our unpaid guests so they have a safe space off the road, have responded with notes of gratitude and donations from a few bucks to $50 for the night.

Perhaps most touchingly, Tom and Cheri at enjoythejourney.life, a YouTube channel, read my note posted on RVtravel.com on their show (video is below) and teared up in doing so — and prompted another outpouring of support.

Meanwhile, if there’s one thing we’ve learned in all this, it’s that our policymakers have little if any understanding of the RV world. It’s clear that most lawmakers view campgrounds as playgrounds, a place for people to kick back and party — and there’s certainly a lot of that. But as readers of RV Travel already know, this world of ours is far more complex than that. There are a million or so full-timers in the U.S. for whom their RV is their home. Countless others rely on their RVs as a base while working itinerant jobs, be it on a pipeline or in a hospital, even if they have a permanent home somewhere. Still others live in RVs as students, or while staying near a hospital for several days or weeks for specialized treatment, or while building a house in a nearby community.

These are all RVers, too, and they don’t fit the recreational stereotype that governs how lawmakers are responding to this crisis. Campendium has calculated that 44% of all RV sites in the country have been shut down by federal, state and county officials — and there’s no evidence that those officials have given any thought to where the people they’re displacing are going to go, or where they’re going to stay while they’re getting there. That clearly is an ignorance that has to be addressed long-term by the industry at large, and by all those who have bought into this lifestyle, if we’re to prevent a similar over-reaction the next time around — and there will be a next time.

Meanwhile, we’ll do our best to be good hosts within the constraints by which we’re bound, both legal and financial. And please know we’re grateful for the support and thanks with which you’ve responded. Stay healthy — safe travels.

Andy can be reached at (540) 337-3920 daily between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. and again between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. If you call outside those hours, please leave a message for a return call, or email office@walnuthillscampground.com . EDITOR’S NOTE: Consider purchasing a gift card for your favorite Virginian RVer.

BELOW IS THE VIDEO THAT ANDY DISCUSSED ABOVE. The point in the video where they talk about Andy and his park begins at the 6-minute mark.

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Don Lee

The United States Attorney General, Bill Barr, has said that political overreach in dealing with this pandemic can be remedied in the courts.

Sonny

That Governor is God Awful

Sonny

Spam = Censor = Typical

Sonny

That Governor of Virginia Northam is Anti-American and exposed his Anti-God Behavior with his approval of eliminating full term unborn . Virginia totally turned when George Soros once again gave unlimited campaign monies to those who would support his Anti-American Agenda. Does Northam care that businesses in his state are going broke , workers that live paycheck to paycheck are scared to death on how they are going to survive, Hopefully Virginia turns Red 2020 as this guy is pure evil

Cheryl Bacon

I debated about adding my opinion to Walnut Hills situation with obtaining the federal funding that was offered for small businesses. Again I sympathize, but I’m not sure what they expected. What they are dealing with is typical of any Federal Funding red tape from any POTUS administration during a disaster. None of it comes easy or without jumping through hoops and still not knowing where you stand. Best practice is expect the least and hope for more. It is not even just during disasters, try having a business that the majority of the revenue comes from grants or contracted employment for the Federal Government. Talk about uncertainty, that can change from contract to contract or just the whim of someone. Sadly, none of this is new and will never change. I’m not saying Walnut Hills shouldn’t be stressed over it, but they have plenty of company from others that are and have been in their shoes.

Cheryl Bacon

While I sympathize with Walnut Hills, it is also so hard to imagine with the weather and temperatures they have are not also causing some low attendance. I also agree with the 2 week requirement. None of the privately owned campgrounds near us closed. Ours is full and continuing with all their upgrades that have been going on for a year already. Same goes for the campgrounds near our home town. So when I hear these stories, it is hard to get your head wrapped around the fact that not all Governors are doing the same thing with campgrounds.

Sandra

OPEN YOUR BUSINESS BACK UP. Not cabins, pools or bathrooms yet, but RV slots.

Daren Ullger

In long island we are a permanent resident in rv park paying 238$ a week.There are 10 of us in here and nobody can come here till july but the park is accessible 24/7.That means people come in at night use the bathrooms and showers We caught a stranger wandering the park at 3am,just want to know if this s normal because who knows if these people are sick. its just wrong.

Steve, Greta, Brie & Abbie

In early May, after waiting out the first 15-days to slow the spread of the Wuhan Caronavirus, we found it necessary to travel from Texas to Pennsylvania by way of Virginia. Our travel plans were made hastily as we had no idea what to expect in each state we traveled through because each governor seemed to make decisions to destroy the civil liberties guaranteed to all American citizens in accordance with their own political agenda.

We opted to move quickly and stopped hoping for places to land for a few days along the way because we could not be sure how long we might be allowed to stay if any governor expanded the list of ‘unessential’ business required to close. We also respected the fear of some park owners who might not be willing to take the risk of having interstate travelers stop or stay in their parks. As a result we were unaware you were open…

We wanted to reach out to let Andy and Carin know, that we would have loved to stay in Staunton, VA, for a few days or weeks. We lived there for a few years and still love the area. We will be sure to stop next time we pass through!

We sincerely hope some political leaders will stop searching for designer ice cream in their big fancy freezers and get back to work to pass legislation to help more small businesses around the country.

Even better, we hope that governors will start to show respect the Bill of Rights and allow Americans to resume personal responsibility for ourselves and our businesses to operate in a way that protects others to the best of our abilities. Too many businesses have been declared ‘unessential’ even though there is no such thing. ALL JOBS ARE ESSENTIAL TO THE JOBHOLDER, BUSINESS OWNER, THEIR FAMILIES, THEIR COMMUNITIES, AND THE COUNTRY!

Andy Zipser

I’m old-school in these matters, believing that once I’ve written something it should stand on its own without my chiming in about various responses. But frankly, I’m a bit boggled by how quickly these discussions turn into political stand-offs, with people attributing the most nefarious motives to each other while completely ignoring any underlying rationale or logic.

For the record, I do not believe that Governor Northam is making a power grab or that the corona virus is a hoax. What I believe is that we are enduring a serious health threat that requires an extraordinary public response, and the only agent in a position to formulate such a response is our government–that is, indeed, why we have government, any claims that we can do without it notwithstanding. Where I part ways with Gov. Northam is in his ongoing refusal to justify his actions toward one very small segment of the economy, which is all we are. And to some extent that’s our fault, for not making ourselves more visible before a disaster struck instead of in the middle of one.

By acting the way he has, Northam has done himself no favors and gives the impression that he has bought into his press coverage as the nation’s only governor who’s also an MD. As a result, what should be a discussion about science and best health practices has veered into gratuitous declamations about civil liberties and personal autonomy, which then quickly polarizes everyone’s position–as witness the comments below. It also results in the kind of senseless behavior that occurred here in Virginia yesterday at the capital “protest,” with people picnicking on the lawn and sharing food with strangers.

At heart, I believe this is a matter of a governor who’s tone-deaf rather than politically calculating, perhaps because he’s too overwhelmed by matters of state, or because he’s putting out bigger fires. . . . whatever. The point is, shouting “string him up” doesn’t advance anyone’s case and simply makes a bad situation even more intolerable.

James Olson

RVers that want to stay there should reserve for whatever length is considered long term — and then only stay as long as they truly intended; fly what you want, log what you need (other Navy pilots will understand this!).

Charlie

At our park, we have lost 60% of our income. What can we do? One thing is vote RED in November.

David Binkley

The company I own is in the exact same boat, just a different business. Our PPP application process was EXACTLY like yours. We applied, then had to re-apply, etc. We did it literally within minutes of receiving the emails and I had all the necessary paperwork at the ready.

After 8 days of hearing absolutely nothing, I called in, waited 57 minutes on hold only to be told by the guy who finally picked up that he knew nothing about anything.

Bottom line: We finally got an email from the bank two weeks after applying stating that the funds had run dry. (Luckily I applied in the interim with another online bank since I was not getting any response from my bank of 25 years; however, even though they did give me an SBA Loan Number and said all looks great they have gone quiet since the funds ran out.)

I get it, this is a major cluster. But in my mind, the banks (who you know make some sort of fees from the government for doing the PPP) were so excited to get going to make money off these fees that they sent out the applications long before they were ready for the response. This bogged down the system, slowed everything to a snails pace along with the fact no one really knew what they were doing.

Now, we pull out money from savings to pay our employees or lay them off. We will pay it ourselves for now but we can’t do it for long.

Meanwhile, the politicians, most of whom have zero experience running so much as a lemonade stand, keep us shut down while they make 100% of their salaries. Their incompetence is glaring. Most are so unprepared for this since their priorities were not about protecting their constituents, but rather their priorities were about paying the way for illegal aliens, new age pronoun usage, sanctuary cities and states, transgender bathrooms, etc.

What a joke.

Al Lefeusch

I’ve stayed at your campground. It is traditionally very crowded with lots of kids running around and sites very close together. As a full time RVer, I am extremely thankful for orders that limit parks to long term reservations– us full timers do need safe places to shelter in and a bustling, child filled park with campers packed in tightly (as they do at Walnut Hills) is not safe.

Luckily, the park I’m currently in, which is traditionally a holiday/short term stay park, limited the guests to long term reservations– even before the government suggested it. They have kept most spaces between campers empty and have taken all social distancing and cleaning procedures extremely seriously. All public areas other than laundry were closed weeks ago. Campers are required to use their own showers and to practice distancing when walking about the park. Every day at 7pm, we bang pots and pans in honor of essential workers.

That is the type of park that cares about the safety of its staff and its guests. I feel very lucky to be here.

Don Kostyal

“policymakers have little if any understanding of the RV world.” There’s an understatement–they have little understanding of anything except trying to get reelected. They are at home being interview on Zoom and Skype, standing in front of their 20K dollar refrigerators trying to figure out what gourmet ice cream to eat–they are all doing what they can to get on TV and point fingers. Both sides just chomping at the bit to hang this disaster on the other side for their own gain. And no one has the right answers, but one side is in charge right now and that’s who everyone should be backing until the enemy is defeated. Can you believe some of the commentary? Joe Biden said if he was President he would have had 100% free testing and would have opened 10 Army Corps of Engr hospitals in every state. Like that commercial on TV with the guy having to jump in the volcano…”Joe? You got it here?”
Most of us with RV’s will weather this storm. Many will continue as in the past. Some will say the virus has show open road is too unpredictable and will return to conventional homes. Unfortunately, many small business owners with only 2 – 4 weeks operating cash will no longer be in business, especially those that did not get the early gov’t money.
My heart goes out to Andy and his wife with their campground, and to the many other small business owners that are 50% of our economy.

Steve

We have what’s called common sense. No one wants to kill anyone with it. Our government has continually shown us, it does’t know this word exists.

We can make a personal decision balancing earning an income, keeping ourselves, families, and others safe. We should not need the government to do this for us. Everyone has the same ability and should use it. Ask yourself, “Do I have more common sense than the government?”

We are not children that don’t know better. The constitution is a document that LIMITS governmental powers. Clearly this will only happen when people believe they can make a decision better than the government.

Bob Garbe

And in and earlier article we have Gary Bunzer. Oh how to reconcile the one with the other.

I know, let’s blame the government. Easy and no personal responsibility.

If individuals had responded responsibly to the initial recommendations, and social distanced etc. none of this would have been necessary.

Civic rights come with civic responsibility, and without the one you lose the other.

Not so simple.

Billy Bob Thornton

Ok, so the guy in Black Face, him right. The same guy who is guting the second amendment on a state level, that guy. Had he been the opposite party, he would have been run out of town, on a rail.

Well Virginians, if the old adage, the South will Rise Again has anything left in its tank, vote the clown out. Otherwise, join the likes of the other liberal states, that are fiscally run into the ground, mismanaged during the virus, and one in particular loves to showboat to the press. So much so, that the lunitic will highly likely become a leading contender in the 2024 election cycle.

Larry H Lee

Northam is a power monger pure and simple. He is not seeking solutions for our problems. His “solutions” only make things worse.

Timothy J Detiveaux

Leave it to politicians to destroy people’s lives.