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No room for RVs in gentrifying parks

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As RV parks and campgrounds become increasingly folded into the cultural mainstream, it’s perhaps inevitable that they start resembling the larger society, warts and all. And so it is that campgrounds, once a refuge from the glitz and ostentation that characterize the contemporary world, have become as vulnerable to gentrification as any downtown warehouse district.

Remember Woodlands KOA? Probably not. A well-reviewed and moderately priced campground in Bar Harbor, Maine, it was closed three years ago with promises that it would be renovated and improved. RVers who had camped there in the past were thrilled. But when the campground reopened in 2021 it had been rebranded as Terramor Outdoor Resort. All the RV sites were gone and all “camping” was now restricted to renting one of four different styles of luxury tents—at an average price of $450 a night.

No? Then perhaps you’re familiar with French Broad River Campground RV Park in North Carolina, described in an online review as “a little hidden rustic gem” with all of its RV sites right on the river and a nightly rate averaging $45. That little gem went for $1.8 million earlier this year, as its owners of the past 27 years decided they were ready to do a little RVing themselves. “After some renovations, the new owners will reopen,” they assured their campers in a final Facebook post.

Yes, they will—but not any time real soon, as there’s still a lot of work to be done. That’s because the new buyer is AutoCamp, a fitfully growing national chain of glampgrounds that rents Airstream trailers and luxury tents but does not maintain spaces for RVs or tents, which would bring down the upscale vibe it’s seeking. This is, after all, an operation that describes itself as “an outdoor boutique hotel experience.” Which, in English, means nightly stays north of $300.

Another example of gentrifying a campground

Or consider Prospect Lake Park in the Berkshires, a decades-old campground on the shores of a 56-acre lake that hosted generations of campers for the kind of idyllic summer vacations that would have caught Norman Rockwell’s eye. Its sites started at $39 a night, but if you needed 50 amps you were out of luck, and whether you had a good time depended on how well you dealt with a gruff management style. If that rubbed you the wrong way, good news: The campground is now closed for at least another year, purchased last winter by a local developer, Ian Rasch, for $2.1 million.

As reported recently by Bill Shein of the Berkshire Edge, longtime summer residents who had put down deposits for this past season got refunds and were told that the new owner was planning on “significant improvements to the facilities.” Which is true as far as it goes—which isn’t far enough: The “improvements” entail replacing 125 RV sites with 40 park model RVs, reportedly being designed by a Brooklyn-based firm widely known for its “innovative prefabricated modular structures.” The improvements will not leave room for RVers or tenters.

Rasch’s intentions are also signaled by his working with LAND, an Austin, Texas-based design firm, to create a new “brand identity” for what had been a somewhat scruffy facility. LAND’s most recent project in the area was the 2018 launch of Tourists, a motel-turned-boutique hotel in nearby North Adams, where rooms rent for $300 to $700 a night. Chichi ‘R’ Us.

Why rework an existing RV park?

Why go to all the trouble of reworking an existing RV park rather than starting with a clean slate? Wouldn’t the latter be much easier and less messy?

Perhaps. But going the virgin-birth route opens up a developer to the uncertainties that come with seeking conditional use permits or other zoning approval, which means public hearings and potential public opposition. That’s what Terramor is discovering with its second venture, a 77-acre property it wants to develop from the ground up in Saugerties, New York. Despite its best efforts at community diplomacy earlier this summer, Terramor has been hit by local opponents who seem unimpressed with its pretensions to “outdoor opulence done right” but are worrying about water use, traffic and noise. Last month the newly formed Citizens Against Terramor told the local newspaper, “We’re afraid we’re headed for World War III.”

The alternative to that nightmare, however, can mean dancing right up to the line defining permitted use. Although Rasch’s redevelopment of Prospect Lake Park will amount to construction of a lakeside cabin community, by using RV park models instead of real cabins—or even tiny homes—he can maintain the fiction that the property will remain what it’s always been: a “campground.”

Just don’t try to camp there.

 PREVIOUSLY FROM ANDY… 

Van-life mantra: ‘Tune out, drive off’

These days, the LSD-driven urge of another age to “turn on, tune in, drop out” is being replaced, to a significant degree, by the sound of transmissions shifting into gear and the refrain “tune out, turn on, drive off.” Many of today’s RVers are the new hippies.

Continue reading.

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park, and of Turning Dirt, a step-by-step guide for finding, buying and operating an RV park and campground. Both books are available through bookstores or at Amazon.com.

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Backcountry164
1 month ago

It’s evolution. The people who camp out of the back of thier cars got pushed aside by people who can afford to drag around 30′ worth of junk. Now those people are getting pushed aside by people who can afford to have the junk pre-placed…

Larry Nelson
1 month ago

This is an outgrowth of the current direction we are heading, where we are too lazy to go to the store ourselves, or too lazy to shop for a car and must rely on a “car vending machine”. Those looking for a “vibe” at a “campground” are best sequestered with others of their own kind, so this might be a good thing. And, apparently, they can afford it. I hope these conversions work for the developers so that more of this ilk will be enjoying the “vibe” of the sterile experience their $400 per night will bring them. Like banning older RV’s from some parks, this move is banning this old RV’er and for that…….I am eternally grateful.

Big Bill
1 month ago

I started camping in my youth with an army surplus tent. Then a Ford E150 with the back seats removed. Then a starter 5ver, then a loaded Montana 5ver. Now on my third MH. First was small, second was very big, current is a comfortable but moderate 32′. Yes we used to head west from Florida, call ahead for a reservation in the afternoon of the same day, get a nice site for $30 bucks + or -. Those days are long gone. However, there are still small but well maintained rv campgrounds that can be had for $40 + a night. But most are off the beaten trail and not close to major attractions. This year on our trip from Florida to Maine and back we avoided Interstates and Toll roads. Drove slower and stayed in some very nice small RV parks for less than $50 a night. There are fewer of them these days and usually not close to major cities or big name national parks. But if you are not in a big hurry and are willing to drive on lesser routes you can save money and still enjoy the ride.

Thom
1 month ago

This is a good trend. It’s pretty tough to justify schlepping an empty hotel room rv around the country when the world is experiencing such climate change.

rottenrollin
1 month ago
Reply to  Thom

Say what?

Ceil
1 month ago

This is pretty shocking. I think their market research is extremely faulty. There’s no way anyone is going to pay those prices. And considering one is in Maine, how long is the camping season there? Those tents better come with heat.

Big Bill
1 month ago
Reply to  Ceil

As a long term Maine summer resident, I can tell you the warm weather season is July and August in the Northern half of Maine. Southern Maine is much warmer but the really great scenic areas are in the North. In the old days you could drive to Kahtahdin, Baxter or Acadia and get a camp site without an advanced reservation. Not anymore! And of course prices have gone way up. Plan way ahead, book long in advance for prime locations and be prepared for tons of tourists in prime time..

Sarah
1 month ago

Eh. Woodlands was outdated, too small and they already had a better KOA across the street. Terramore is on par with other recent glamping locations downeast.

That example is very out of context and not gentrification.

bull
1 month ago

Like any other BUSINESS and these RV parks are BUSINESS’S therefore time will tell IF their “new” BUSINESS plan is a Hit or a Flop!

Rampant inflation, higher fuel cost, higher interest rates, upcoming increases in un-employment are ALL huge hits to everyone’s disposable income and therefore huge negatives to the success of any type of rebranded upscale business as their potential customers feel the economic pinch hitting them from all sides.

Face facts.

$500/night for a park model trailer/Airstream in a trailer park OR $500/night at the Hyatt?

The $500/night Hyatt customer ain’t staying in no Redneck trailer park and very few RVer’s are going pay $500/night for a spot to park their RV no matter how nice the place is!

Going HIGH END in a time of an impending recession is NOT A GOOD BUSINESS PLAN!

Just because RV parks are a changin now does NOT mean they won’t be changin again in the future to a new business model that matches the then current economic times!

rottenrollin
1 month ago
Reply to  bull

The “elites” will afford those exorbitant prices….

While the rest of us will be inflated into relative poverty.

And the charges at many “regular” RV parks anymore make many of us shiver…….you bring in valid mitigating costs, I KNOW how property taxes, liability insurance, trash removal, city water and sewer, and myriad other costs are sky-rocketing (Thanks, Joe),
but it just seems RVing as a fairly cheap way to travel is eroding away.

Bob p
1 month ago

This all boils down to the younger generations who don’t want what their parents had and want to be waited on and pampered like they have been all their lives. Sorry if I step on toes, no I’m not, this is what society is/has become. I’m not looking forward to dying, but I can’t imagine what the world is turning into and what it’s going to be like over the next generation. As the Bible says “You reap what you sow”, let’s hope they wake up before they no longer have what we have left them.

Gary Ray
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

Mmmm. “In 2021, the average net worth in an American household aged 64-75 reached over $1.2m [1], while the average household under 35 had a net worth of just $76k.”

John Koenig
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Ray

You state: “In 2021, the average net worth in an American household aged 64-75 reached over $1.2m”. Where did you pull this number out of???

I just did a quick web search and came up with numbers MUCH smaller (well UNDER a half million dollars). Link below:

https://duckduckgo.com/?q=+the+average+net+worth+in+an+American+household+aged+64-75+reached+over+%241.2m+&t=chromentp&ia=web

Burt
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Ray

I’m missing your point. I think you missed the previous poster’s point.

Triggeringrepubesdaily
1 month ago
Reply to  Burt

It’s the old people who will be staying at these glampgrounds. The young people can’t afford it, so it’s the old rich people who want to be waited on hand an foot.

rottenrollin
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Ray

And……?

Don’t you know the natural order of things including “wealth” growth?

Or are you the subject younger generation, wanting it without earning it?

Scuse me if I’m off-base.

Thom
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

“Camping” in an rv is somehow not “pampered?”

KellyR
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob p

I agree, this younger generation is using up all of MY oil and the ones with electric vehicles are using up all of MY electricity When I die I hope there is still enough diesel for the backhoe to dig my grave. .

Jerry Plante
1 month ago

Sippewisset in Falmouth on Cape Cod was bought out by AutoCamp. They kicked the long time seasonal campers out and replaced them with 100 custom made Airstreams that run around $500 a night. Gentrification takes takes an odd twist at this ‘campground’ – you can have a campfire, but it can’t produce smoke.

James
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Plante

Lol, as an Airstream(and Coachman TH) owner, I think it will take a while to make up what they paid for those AS rigs. We built our own 3 site campground w/a beach on our back acreage due to possible Covid restrictions that never materialized. However, we camp there more than anywhere else, unless we go to an AS or motorcycle rally. Screw the “glampgrounds”!