Tuesday, July 5, 2022


Crowded campgrounds: Can municipal campgrounds help?

As more and more RVers hit the road, it’s getting harder to find a place to stay. Private campgrounds are working to fill the gap, but more is needed. Municipal campgrounds are making way for RVers. How can you find them? And can more local governments be encouraged to build their own?

Doesn’t have to be expensive

Why would a city or town build an RV park? For many, it’s a public courtesy, an extension of a town’s parks and recreation system. Often, the town has land where a park, baseball field, or other sports field already stands. The idea then gets planted, “Why not put in a few spaces for RVs?”

Building a municipal RV park doesn’t have to be expensive. If the town already owns the land, a big chunk of the “money” matters are covered. Of course, the more accommodating to visitors the RV park becomes, the greater the investment. Some will start out small, simply setting aside a parking area for RVs, putting out a few garbage cans, and maybe some picnic tables.

Then can come enhancements. How about a water connection? Electrical hookups? If a city sewer is available, maybe some connections can be added for a “full hookup” park. For some, a municipal campground is practically an afterthought. For others, it could be an elaborate—and costly—construct.

If you build it, will they come?

For most municipalities, having an RV park is just that—a single RV park. But then there’s Seward, Alaska. Sitting on Alaska’s southern coast on the Gulf of Alaska, Seward serves as the starting point for the famed Iditarod Trail. It’s also the stopping point for plenty of passenger ferry traffic. Still, for a city that sports a population of less than 3,000 and sits on just 14 square miles of land, Seward has nine city-owned RV parks and one “tents only” campground.

Alaska is famous for its cold winters, and Seward is no exception. Only three months out of the year do average daily temperatures get up into the 50s. You might wonder if Seward’s politicians have taken leave of their senses—nine city-owned RV parks? We asked Seward’s Parks and Recreation Department just how well things go for the city parks on a financial basis.

Seward has 400 campsites across all of its 10 campgrounds. Last year, despite the issues associated with the COVID pandemic, those campgrounds cranked out $1.4 million in revenue. Some 34,000 “site nights” were bought and paid for over the course of a largely limited season. But while the city itself is raking in fees, Seward tourists are also spending plenty of money in local shops and businesses.

Seward keeps it simple

It didn’t happen overnight. “Our campgrounds have enjoyed steadily increasing visitation over time,” says Tyler Florence. Tyler is Seward’s director of parks and recreation. While RVers see the “good” part of Seward’s campgrounds, city staffers have to deal with the day-to-day. “Like most small Alaskan towns, we have a limited workforce that relies primarily on scarce seasonal workers; it can be difficult to procure equipment and supplies necessary for operations due to our remote location; and we do not have the same flexibility as a private campground operator.”

To stay ahead of the game, Seward apparently relies much on “keeping it simple.” Only two of Seward’s campgrounds offer anything more than dry camping. The city takes advantage of what digital tools are available, including an on-line reservation system that frees up city employees. These would otherwise be fielding phone calls.

What do Seward’s municipal campgrounds cost RVers? Dry sites during peak season (mid-April to the end of September) run $40 per night, and are $15 a night during the off-season. Other sites offer water and electric, and range from $55 to $65 per night. The latter are “prime location” sites, and none of the hookup sites are open during the off-season. While some might think these rates to be a bit on the high side, the city is taking advantage of high tourism. Based on their nearly “million and a half” dollar annual revenue, Seward’s recipe for serving RVers is a success.

Your price may vary!

Not every municipal campground charges the rates that Seward asks. Drop into Broken Bow, Nebraska. There, the municipal campground offers full hookups and pull-through sites for just $20 a night. Stay a week and get the 7th night for free. A similar rate prevails at the Langdon City Park in Langdon, North Dakota. This one comes with a swimming pool.

Want to head South? How about Nashville? Well, if you can do without the nightlife of Tennessee, the city of Nashville, Arkansas, has a deal hard to refuse. At a tiny, eight-site campground, you can park your rig for $10 to $15 per night—some of those with full hookups.

While all of these are great, and low cost, how about free? Yes, there are FREE municipal campgrounds, or ones that simply ask for a donation. How about this one in Jal, New Mexico? Jal Lake Park offers up to three consecutive nights’ stay, with electric, at no cost. We’ve run across similar offers in our travels.

How do you find them?

So, how do you find a municipal campground near you? It requires a bit of sleuthing. We’ve not been able to find a database that strictly lists municipally owned campgrounds. However, one free website, allstays.com (click on the Camping tab), does list them, right in among all other types of campgrounds. The trick is to drill down through their system by state, then city/town. Municipal campgrounds will be listed with the symbol “C”.

We’ve also been able to find free and low-cost campgrounds when traveling by calling up local Chamber of Commerce offices and simply asking. Of course, they may try and steer you into a member-owned RV park, but persevere.

Could municipalities help the crowded campground problem? Every added RV site relieves the pressure from the overall system. You might encourage your own local government folk to consider building an RV park in your area. Not only might the local government see some direct revenue, the local economy will fluff out a bit too.

How about you? Do you have a favorite municipal campground? We’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line by filling out the form below. Please include “Municipal Campgrounds” in the subject line.

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Donald N Wright
2 months ago

I like “Loyd Park” in Grand Prairie, Texas, just south of DFW. City owned with full hookups, a lodge for meetings and little cabins to rent next to the lake.

2 months ago

Highly recommend both the Seward and Homer facilities. We have stayed on both several times!
Is anyone aware of a publication or web site that has a list of the available municipal facilities? I know many counties have fairgrounds with available sites.

Sally Harnish
2 months ago

In 2014 when we went to Alaska, we used both the Seward and Homer facilities. Excellent facilities! Got a kick out of Bob’s Pennsylvania (Pennsyltuckey) comment below. Having lived in Chambersburg for 50 plus years, we fortunate to have Letterkenny Army Depot just outside of town. In I believe 1995 the Base Realignment Commision was downsizing and closing the Depot. On the property was a Fam Camp, an RV park for active and retired military. A group asked Franklin County to possibly take ownership of it and operate it during the summer as we were only 25 miles from Gettysburg. Of course, they got the “deer in the headlight” look.

Bob M
2 months ago
Reply to  Sally Harnish

I was TDY to Letterkenny Army Depot, I think it was around 1985 for a few months. Chambersburg was a nice place. Liked having breakfast at Martins restaurant, now closed. They were the ones who owned Martin potato bread bakery. Would have been a nice area to camp. Not sure if they totally closed Letterkenny Depot. Seem like some of it was still open before I retired. I think they had a congressman with clout.

2 months ago

I visited Sturgis SD a few years ago and was pleasantly surprised to find power posts all over the place and energized, for free.

Warren G
2 months ago

We’ve stayed a few times at the city campground in Ellis, KS. Water and electric with a dump station, most of the sites shady, and on a small lake. Only $15 paid via a self serve pay station. It must be doing okay, as the last summer we noted they added several sites.

Bob M
2 months ago

The reason municipalities in Pa don’t have campgrounds is taxpayers can’t afford their high properties taxes. Which would pay to build, run, maintain, and insure the campground. Plus you have the problem of residents not wanting a campground in their neighborhood. Paying $40. a night or $15. a night offseason wouldn’t be bad for a good clean campground. Many would squawk about the cost. That amount wouldn’t support paying for the campground. The only Municipal campground in Pa I know of is in Erie, Pa run by the Erie Municipal authority.

2 months ago
Reply to  Bob M

This is kind of an amusing argument. City governments, which already have trained staff on board, and equipment for building and maintaining roads, water lines, power lines, and sewer can’t afford to do some of this in the service of parks and recreation? Uh-huh. They are actually the only ones who CAN do it in their ‘spare time’, unlike private companies which do have to start from scratch.

2 months ago

Good article. I seek these out in the Great Plains region, and make a point of spending grocery and repair money in towns or counties that have chosen to help me with a place to camp. Often they are adjacent to city parks, where it doesn’t hurt to have some ‘squares’ parked overnight to make the park safer.

Only ‘issue’ with these is often they are unattended, but you are supposed to find city hall and pay a clerk, during office hours, ridiculous when summer driving days end in the light of evening. The better parks set up an honor system with a drop box.

2 months ago

One of the nicest RV parks we have ever stayed in–pubic or private–was a county, not city, park. The Hall County campground in Grand Island, NE, is located just north of I-80. It has paved, 30/50A electric campsites, a two-lane fill station/dump, clean restroom/shower building, beautifully maintained landcaping, and close proximity to the terrific Stuhr Museum.

2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

PS: The best Free city campground we have stayed in was in Beloit, KS. Looks like a CCC-built park from the 1930s, it has paved electric/water sites adjacent to picnic shelters, a dump, swimming pool, ball fields, tennis courts, playground, and a pedestrian bridge over the river into downtown Beloit. When we were there in early September 2001, we were the only campers in the park. So much for overcrowded FREE campgrounds!

2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

2001? I wonder what the current situation is.

2 months ago
Reply to  T N

Sorry, it should have been 2021!

2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Beloit City Park Chautauqua is the name and it is a “free will” offering for the fee. 10 day limit in a 60 day window.

2 months ago

We always search for municipal or regional parks in our travels. One of the best we stayed at was Meadowbrook Park in Bascom, Ohio. Bascom is not a big town, but they have really invested in this 130 acre facility. In 2019, during the weekdays we stayed there, only a couple of other units were in the huge campground. Olympic sized swimming pool, playgrounds, a frisbee golf course, hiking paths, picnic facilities, and much more.

2 months ago

We have always stayed at the Seward Municipal Campground right on the shore over the years when we have spent the summers in Alaska. Best view of Resurrection Bay in the area! While in Homer Alaska we always stay on the Spit at the Homer Spit Campground.

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