Here are your RV news highlights for the weeks of August 31 – September 13, 2019, since the newsletter did not get sent out last Saturday due to technical difficulties.
Retail sales of towable RVs continue on the decline, according to Statistical Surveys Inc. Pop-ups were the biggest losers, with sales going downhill nearly 13 percent January through July. For the same time period, travel trailers and fifth-wheels both declined more than 9 percent. Park trailers took the least of the beating, dropping better than 7 percent. Overall, towable retail sales were down almost 8 percent for the period.
A 68-year-old jogger got a nasty scare late in August when he was tracked by a cougar in Oregon’s Dunn Forest, near Corvallis. Peter Idema saw the cougar approach him, ears laid back – an aggressive sign in a cougar. Idema did all the right things, shouting and attempting to make himself look bigger, but the cougar kept right on coming. In an act of desperation, Idema kicked the cat in the face – causing it to retreat, but only briefly. Finally two other men appeared on the trail, accompanied by a dog, which scared the big cat away. Four days later, wildlife officials tracked down a cougar matching the description of the one that came after Idema and shot it dead. They said the cougar was thin but not emaciated. The animal has been sent to a laboratory for analysis.
When crossing railroad tracks with your rig, ever stew about getting caught by a train? It happened in Springfield, Oregon, August 30, when a northbound Amtrak passenger train met up with a motorhome. The motorhome was being towed across the tracks when it high-centered, became stuck, and the close encounter took place. Fortunately there was no one in the motorhome, and no one on the train was injured. The front end of the engine took some damage, but there wasn’t much left of the motorhome when all was said and done.
State parks may be in line for grants from Uncle Sam. Last week the Interior Department announced that $170.6 million in grants are up for grabs from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The money available has come from lease fees from the Outer Continental Shelf lease system, and will be awarded as matching grants. A department news release suggested the funds could be used to “Help rehabilitate and improve infrastructure at state and local parks and other recreation areas,” and could, “also be used to maximize access by opening up landlocked public lands. A small investment in a little strip of land can open up thousands of acres to outdoor recreation enthusiasts.”
A man whom we reported had been convicted of kidnapping and other charges after he took off with his children in his motorhome, leading police on a chase near Malibu, California, has now been sentenced. Stephen Merle Houk, 48, got an 88-years-and-four-months sentence for kidnapping, child abuse and detention, injuring a spouse, assault with a firearm, criminal threats, being a felon in possession of a firearm and fleeing a pursuing peace officer’s vehicle. He also pleaded no contest to failing to register as a sex offender. The police chase, which happened on May 1, 2018, lead police up the 101 and 5 freeways more than 100 miles. Houk hung the motorhome up in an orchard near Bakersfield, and left the children unharmed in the rig while he took off on foot.
The RV Industry Association (RVIA) is moving its 2019 California RV Show, Oct. 4-13, to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. More than 40 RV manufacturers will display more than 1,000 RVs at the show, which also features food, live entertainment, family fun and free parking. The event was previously held at the Los Angeles County Fairplex in Pomona.
Road closure at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Park officials of the Arizona monument say they’ve closed the Roosevelt Reservation Road (the monument’s southeast border road) from the Lukeville Port of Entry on to the Santa Rosa Mountains. No vehicles or pedestrians are allowed on the roadway until further notice. What’s the reason? “The closure is in response to public safety concerns associated with border infrastructure construction activities. Implementing the closure protects the public from exposure to heavy machinery and construction traffic/activities,” says the official Park Service news release.
A Labor Day Weekend motorhome fire on Utah’s I-80 not only destroyed the RV, driver distraction nearly caused injury to a responding firefighter. When the driver of a Class A motorhomer noticed smoke under her floorboards, she pulled over near marker 133 in Parleys Canyon on the eastbound side of the freeway. The rig burst into flames, and the driver and her passenger escaped without harm. Police and firefighters responded, and noticed plenty of passerby gawking and shooting pictures. One woman, scanning her blind spot, was blind to what was ahead – she rear-ended a fire truck that a firefighter was standing behind unreeling hose, not hitting him, but reports say “It was a close call.” At accident scenes, put down the phones and keep your eyes open, plead troopers.
The Devils Backbone Brewing Company wants to go wet. Well, at least it wants 25 of its dry campsites to go wet. The Nelson County, Virginia, brewing company has a campground and recently got the go-ahead to ask permission from the county’s Board of Supervisors to bring water and sewage service to 25 presently dry sites. The campground already has 25 full utility sites, and neighbors expressed reservations that adding the “equivalent of 25 one-room apartments” to the campground’s sewage system would be too much. The company showed it had already designed that capacity – and more – into its treatment facilities.
Police in Schertz, Texas, are hunting for a party or parties responsible for ripping off two travel trailers from a storage facility there. The first trailer was found just hours later, evidently dumped by possibly frightened crooks. But it seems another trailer was stolen at close to the same time from the same yard, Lockaway Storage. This one wasn’t treated too kindly – a resident found it “wedged” in some trees on his property, so tight the tow driver could barely pull it loose. The owner of the rig says it had been stripped of everything, “even the toilet paper,” and severely damaged. Authorities were able to harvest fingerprints from the rig, hopefully leading to the culprit. The storage facility website boasts, “This facility is the perfect place for any budget to keep your vehicle safe and in tip-top shape when not in use. Vehicle storage is one of the many fantastic amenities we offer including climate controlled units, 24-hour security cameras, and drive-up units.”
Bainbridge Island, Washington, city council members have come under fire from their own staff and the local fire chief. This, after the council proposed new rules that would allow RVs to be used as permanent residences. But the local fire chief has raised an alarm that RVs are not safe for permanent dwelling, as (in his argument) they don’t have emergency egress methods among other problems, and would need the addition of “smoke alarms, propane detectors, carbon monoxide alarms.” City staff members chimed in, adding (among other arguments) that RV plumbing systems “Are of a much lower quality and are not designed for continual or prolonged use.” As of press time, it was unclear how the council would respond.
Mesquite, Nevada, could become home to a “high-end” 100-site RV park, providing the city council approves. The park would feature two pools, four hot tubs, four pickle ball courts and a clubhouse on approximately 15 acres. If the wheels of government move smoothly, construction could start by the first of the year.
A Canadian Court ruling has, in the words of a private campground association, “Put the nail in the coffin” of many family-owned campgrounds. The ruling removes private campgrounds from tax protections provided small business owners, and will leave their owners open to huge amounts of back taxes. Ironically, the parks lost their designation as “small businesses” under the tax code because they had too few employees to meet the description, which includes having five or more fulltime, year-around employees. A route to an appeal of the ruling is being investigated.
There could be a new campground at Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake State Park. Under state law, every ten years each park must file a new master plan, outlining potential future development. In the park’s latest master plan, a 60-site campground, 10 cabins, a paved off-road multipurpose trail, and a new picnic area are on the books, along with the reconfiguration of the park entrance. At month’s end, the public will have a chance to comment on the proposed changes.
There’s a bone of contention at work in Alberta’s Athabasca County. Seems county leaders wrote up a new law, one that kills off any new RV parks, or the expansion of existing ones. That’s really upset the county’s own Tourism and Economic Development Committee because they say they’re tasked with bringing tourists to the area, and the county is eliminating a big tool to bring them. The committee is also upset because the law was put in place without even a courtesy consultation. But council member Penny Stewart has an explanation. Pointing to a community in the county, she said, “Wandering River, who has probably a population of about 800, goes to 3200 in the summer. You want to talk about density and impact on those residents. They stay here, they don’t pay taxes, they don’t really contribute, they beat up our infrastructure.” “Tourist dollars” spent on fuel, food and other purchases, as well as those spent on RV park fees, apparently don’t make it into that negative computation.
They say confession is good for the soul. A woman in York County, Pennsylvania, must be feeling pretty good after she had a change of heart and ratted out herself and two companions, confessing to burglarizing RVs at the Otter Creek Campground. Police were called to an RV break-in there, finding someone had slit a window screen, then reached inside and unlocked the door. While plenty was missing, something new was found – a Criss Cross brand cigarette butt. Later, speaking with three people in another campsite, an officer noted a pack of Criss Cross smokes at the site, but all three denied any responsibility for the break-in. Nothing came from the interview, until police hopped in their rigs to leave. It was then that one of the three flagged them down and confessed the three did, in fact, burgle the RV – and five more in the area. Her two companions are now in jail.
Campgrounds at California’s Joshua Tree National Park reopened early this season. Gates swung open on August 30, ahead of the fall season. The park closes several campgrounds during the summer months to save on maintenance costs and help renew vegetation, as the number of campers tends to decrease amid the hot weather, according to the park’s website. The Cottonwood, Indian Cove, Black Rock, Black Rock Equestrian, and Jumbo Rocks campgrounds, which have been closed since June, are now open through May 26.
A Blaine, Washington, man is up on felony hit-and-run changes after he allegedly took off after clobbering a pedestrian with the side mirror on his motorhome. Richard W. Chase (63) is said to have struck a pedestrian on Washington’s Deception Pass Bridge last July 17. The story, according to court documents, is that Chase was driving across the bridge when a woman posing for a photo on a bridge walkway was hit by the motorhome mirror. Rather than stopping, Chase told police he had been “overwhelmed” while passing a big vehicle on the bridge, and thought he’d hit a sign. Police noted there are no signs on the bridge, and that a passenger in Chase’s rig was in a good position to actually see what the RV hit. The pedestrian suffered a severe concussion from the strike.
A strange hotel arson case in Victoria, B.C., now has ties to an Airstream trailer. Last May a huge fire destroyed the Plaza Hotel and the building’s caretaker, Mike Draeger, was never seen again. The historic hotel had been vacant for about six years, and Draeger had been living at the scene in a 1972 Airstream Bullet trailer. Fire officials combed the scene looking for any trace of the missing Draeger, to no avail. Draeger’s Airstream was towed away, and now, All-Ways Towing says it sold the trailer at auction for a mere $5,000. Police confirm there is a missing-persons file open on Draeger, but would not comment on whether he is a suspect in the fire or not.
A lucky visitor to the ongoing Hershey RV Show will win a 2020 Rockwood Geo Pro SRK travel trailer. Entry information is available at the ticket gates, at Forest River Block A1, inside the Giant Center and at the displayed unit in front of the Giant Center. A winning entry will be announced on the largestRVshow.com website and on PRVCA’s social media accounts.
A Calgary, Alberta, man found himself on the wrong side of the Royal Canadian Mounties. On July 23, Douglas Ochitwa got into a verbal altercation with folks camping at Waterfowl Lakes Campground, evidently upset with what he considered their loud generator. He then made threats, after openly carrying a semi-automatic rifle in the campground. The threats were made in such a way that police reports say his campground neighbors “believed their generator was threatened.” Prosecutors charged him with violating firearm possession in a national park law; the judge agreed, fining Ochitwa $1,500 and permanently taking away his rifle.
A weird one from Spencer Township, Michigan. Police received a report from a caller who said a man was attempting to move his tractor and evidently started it up, without getting on board. He then walked alongside the slowly moving tractor. Evidently the 911 caller lost interest, because the next thing they knew there was a loud crash. On investigating, they found the tractor compressing its owner between itself and a fifth-wheel trailer. The tractor owner sustained serious chest injuries.