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.