RV park owner laments crowding, rookie RVers

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By Andy Zipser
Owner, Walnut Hills Campground and RV park
cover storyHere it is, mid-March as I write this, and Memorial Day weekend is all but booked up. Small is beautiful: Of the handful of sites we still have available, none is longer than 30 feet and all are back-ins. Of course, when the phone rings it’s from someone with a 36-foot motorhome or 40-foot fifth-wheel. No one wants to back in. Everyone wants a full hook-up, even when we offer them the possibility of reserving a honey wagon pump-out at $15 a pop – but the full hook-ups were the first to go. Two months out, and we’re turning away business. 

You’re probably thinking that for a campground owner, that’s a nice problem to have. Let me assure you it’s not.

Andy in his KOA garb, now gone along with the KOA franchise.

Sure, it’s great to have reservation money rolling in, especially after the fallow months of December, January and February. And it’s reassuring to know we won’t be penalized for dropping our KOA franchise, with any loss of KOA-driven business offset by our reputation and Good Sam affiliation. But wall-to-wall campers diminish the overall experience for everyone, stress out our staff, and discourage those campers who have been coming to our park for years and all of a sudden find themselves squeezed out because they waited too long to make a reservation.

“We’ve been trying to get in there for the past two years and decided to really call ahead this time,” a caller seeking Memorial Day reservations told me on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m sorry, I replied – you’re already so very late to the table. . . .

DON’T GET ME WRONG: On May 29, all kinds of sites will open up, as they will every Monday except July 2 and September 3. But weekends generally, and holiday weekends especially, can be problematic. As Chuck Woodbury and others have noted many times, the era when they could simply roll into a campground without advance notice and score a spot for the night is pretty much over. Gone with it, too, is a simpler, less hectic age of spontaneity, an age when the romance of the road still plucked at the heart strings. Now it’s all about planning and booking and frustrated wheedling: “But I always stay with you when we’re passing through your area,” as if we have a hidden reservoir of sites available only to the faithful.

But there’s another, perhaps bigger problem: A lot of those RVers filling up the pipeline are … well … new. They don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t know their equipment, and when you get right down to it, they don’t know how to camp. Which is to say, they don’t know campground etiquette, they don’t know how to relate to other campers and they most certainly don’t know a campground’s “rules of the road.”

Walnut Hills Campground

Start with the guy – or gal – driving into our park. Most will never have steered anything larger than a minivan – until the day they get behind the wheel of an F-350 towing a 40-foot fifth wheel. No additional training required! No special license needed! How much harder can it be to haul a 16,000-pound Big Horn than a carload of groceries? Except, of course, when it comes to backing up. Or navigating one of our narrow one-way roads on a hill, with tire tracks scoring the grassy uphill side of the curve. We’ve lost fences, had our trees clipped – in one memorable instance had a motorcoach drop off the side of a culvert.

Toy haulers are the worst, their novice drivers oblivious to the amount of overhang behind the rear axle. One such driver camping with us last year was so gun-shy – after hitting one of our trees on a too-wide turn – that he dispatched his teenage son and wife with walkie-talkies, fore and aft, to talk him through the park. I quail at thinking that he’s out on our highways, tooling along at a nervous 65 mph or trying to navigate city streets somewhere without a walkie-talkie escort.

BUT IT’S NOT JUST THE DRIVING THAT’S A CHALLENGE. With each passing year we get more and more RVers who have little to no idea of how to make things work. They don’t know how to flip on the breakers at our pedestals – or they flip everything in sight, no matter how explicitly marked, including breakers servicing our driveway lights, aerator pumps and WiFi towers, prompting us to get locks for those individual switches.

They don’t know about their unit’s internal GFCI outlets and how to reset them. They don’t know how to operate their propane space heaters, fail to heed our warnings to disconnect water hoses at night when the temperature is plunging into the teens and 20s, are clueless about turning off their antenna boosters when connecting to our digital cable system.

It’s as though these folks had bought an RV and been promptly showed the door with no more than a handshake and a hearty “good luck!” Yet at least new RV owners have a vested interest in learning what they don’t know; not so the growing legions of RV renters who sally forth with only the vaguest idea of what they need to do. Dump the holding tanks? Sure – and won’t any PVC pipe sticking out of the ground do the job? Which is why we’ve had hapless RV renters sticking their hoses into water valve housings, clean-out valves and anything else that looks remotely like it’ll accept 50 gallons of sewage.

Then there’s the whole intangible business of campground culture and what is or isn’t acceptable behavior. Experienced RVers have their own set of beefs: novice or oblivious campers who walk across others’ sites, play their TVs or music too loudly, ignore their dogs’ constant barking. We try to patrol for those kinds of transgressions and call out the obvious insults to proper decorum, but then there’s another whole universe of offenses that matter more to us than to our campers.

That would include the campers who drive across our grass, oblivious to the ruts their rigs are creating, because the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The campers who disregard our many posted 10 mph signs, barreling along at twice or more that speed despite the abundant presence of ducks, children, folks on bikes and old folks out for a stroll, because 10 mph just seems so slow. The campers who park on an adjacent site simply because “well, there was no one there.” The campers who use their fire rings as trash pits, or who dump their ash trays on the ground, or who stand six feet from our propane station and its prominent “No Smoking” signs while, yes, lighting up a cigarette.

Most of the campers we confront about these missteps are apologetic; sometimes they even mean it. But there’s always the excuses and even straight-out denials: They were tired and not thinking clearly, or they simply didn’t know better, or there’s no way they could have been driving that fast – and of course they had been looking at their speedometers all along. Most of the time we don’t mention that we have two radar guns and usually know what we’re talking about, because that’s not really the issue anyway. The issue simply is that campers need to understand that there is a right way to do things and a wrong way; and while there will always be that small percentage of people who will never care about the distinction, most will. If they’re educated.

So that’s what we end up doing, a lot: educating the waves of new RVers who are washing over campgrounds everywhere. Helping them back into sites when all they want is to have a pull-thru. Showing them how to set their TVs on scan for our cable stations. Explaining yet again that we don’t want them parking on our grass. It’s an exhausting and sometimes stomach-churning business, and often leaves us yearning also for a simpler, more capable and aware age – if one ever existed.

Andy’s family-operated Walnut Hills Campground and RV Park is located in Staunton, Virginia, a short drive off I-81. Learn more at its website. The park receives a five-star rating from the staff of RVtravel.com.

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115 Comments
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Matt
1 year ago

I remember the first time we bought a 38ft 5th wheel and tried to park that thing. We definitely are all newbies at some point, but agree there is a lot of people that just don’t care or are rude campers. Fast forward 10 years and we are still hitting the road ever chance we get. Doesn’t hurt that we own an RV park supply company as well. It keeps us moving and meeting campground owners!

Louisa Born
2 years ago

We were all newbies before we weren’t. You have to learn from your mistakes. Please try to be patient with folks just learning the camping “rules”.

It sounds like either the campground owner needs to retire or go on a camping vacation.

He is correct in that some folks are just rude campers. Those are the ones you put on the no list and not let them back in.

MadMike
2 years ago

BRAVO AND WELL SAID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Long overdue that someone called these fools out on their lack of civility and downright buffoonish behavior.

Fred
2 years ago

I think Andy brings up some very valid points and sounds like a campground owner that needs to retire all in the same article.

Are there too few campgrounds? Absolutely.
Do the RV dealerships send new owners out into the world without the proper training? Certainly.
Should there be a special RV driver’s license? Probably.
Are there new AND experienced owners that violate proper campground etiquette? EVERY DAY!

I appreciate those conversations.

As for his lack of pull-through sites, tight spaces, narrow roads, lack of tree trimming, and at capacity days, I have no sympathy for Andy. Those are his problems to deal with. He needs to adapt to the market which is larger units that require wider roads and maybe a little tree trimming. Why is he complaining about a cramped campground? It sounds like his own spaces are too close together. Why is he complaining about being booked up? That is his own management issue to address. It sounds as if he is blaming RV’ers (his customers) for a big portion of his problems.

And Andy, there is nothing wrong with people using walkie-talkies to assist a driver. Those are called “Spotters” and we do it all the time. It is actually a best practice recommended by many RV sites.

Sharon N.
2 years ago

Reading all the comments, I’m really disturbed by the number of people who feel it is the duty of someone else to teach them how to use their RVs and what proper RVing etiquette consists of. I suspect these are the “special people”, the ones to whom the rules do not apply. If you are one of those people, do us all a favor and find a different way to travel.
If you are someone who sincerely wants to learn the ropes, take classes, watch well-made videos, talk with experts, and read, read, read. Do that before plunking down money on an RV. One of the commenters mentioned the Escapees RV Club, and their classes. They are excellent. There are other great sources of information as well. This weekly newsletter that Chuck puts together offers lots of good suggestions. If you start this process well ahead of the time you plan to start out on the road, you’ll really be ahead of the game. Of course, as many people here have pointed out, once you do get your RV, practice at home all the things you’ll have to know once you’re ready to go RVing.
Above all, please be respectful and considerate. Campground owners and other campers will really appreciate that!

ted
2 years ago

First of all, I have been a full time RVer for the past eight years, no home , only my 2010 Sunseeker 2300. Having spent the better part of eight years (and still learning) about my RV, I have never taken for granted that I know too much. Before I began full time RVing, I attended many RV shows and read RV travel.com as much as I could, I finally realized I just might be ready for my very first RV and settled on my present RV. Before I turned the key and drove away into the sunset, I had the mechanic run through all the systems (oh yes, I recorded the conversations) not just once but at least three times. He tried to explain transfer switches, fresh water tank, the black and gray tanks, the generator, the battery disconnect switch (it cost me two marine batteries) the tires covers (too late, dry rot set in and I was required to buy new tires).
I have had good luck at my current campground in Glen Allen, Virginia. Here we look out for our neighbors., try to remind campers to leash their dogs (written in rules given out to campers) and not hang their clothes on a clothesline. Yes, we have a lot of dogs who do their thing. We have small bags at various spots in the campground so they will be able to pickup the poop. Kids are the worst offenders when they walk their dogs. We have 240 sites available for all types of RVs and to say the least its crowded but we make do. Finally, it makes a difference when the managment and its staff do their job making our stay enjoyable. Otherwise I have no complaints

Deb Kainauskas
2 years ago

I am a new RVer. I just came back from my second overnighter. Yes, we needed help backing in. The camp we stayed in for one night was filled with experienced seasonal Rvers. One had their dog poop next to our site and didn’t pick it up. Another’s dog barked all morning. One guy revved his motorcycle at 9am for 10 minutes. Please don’t blame the rookies for all the problems

Les
2 years ago
Reply to  Deb Kainauskas

Deb, you are so right, dogs and their owners are becoming a real problem total disregard for other campers, along with the large cost that campground owners incur something has to be done, all campgrounds should have pet free areas to alleviate some of the dog problems caused by irresponsible pet owners.

nick
2 years ago
Reply to  Les

great idea, put dog owners together, away from the non-owners

Electrojake
2 years ago
Reply to  Deb Kainauskas

Dog owners & tobacco addicts. They’re absolutely fine… but not in a crowded public place like a busy campground.

LabradoodleMom
2 years ago
Reply to  Electrojake

I’m sure I will not change your mind, but we travel with our 2 labradoodles who do not bark incessantly and are very well mannered in any crowded place such as a busy campground. We go for numerous walks and a fenced in off leash dog area is great for getting some exercise, tired puppies make great camping neighbors. We have never once not picked up our dog waste and find ourselves picking up others just so we maintain the right to camp with our dogs. It is very rare that we run into dogs that are a nuisance, other campers and their kids, well that is another story.

Electrojake
2 years ago
Reply to  LabradoodleMom

This could be the start of a difficult discussion between a Left-leaning good citizen and a Right leaning good citizen. A discussion that history shows is un-resolvable.
One thing we both can agree on is that a small percentage of bad campers ruin it for all the rest of us.
And thank you for being a good pet owner.

brent
2 years ago

Andy, very good insight on the situations you face. If we ever get back that way I would love to stay at your park (we are way out west). People who can’t drive still believe they are good drivers, so sometimes helping out is difficult.
(just an observation: my 5th wheel toyhauler has less overhang than a regular 5th wheel.)
Love your thought process, and thanks Chuck for getting him to write, even though it may be just to the choir!

Mary Ihla
2 years ago

My husband and I are newbies. We purchased our 2002 Class C three years ago, but we didn’t camp with it the first year. That was our learning time. A guy at the dealership went through the operation of our rig, and not only did I ask hundreds of questions, but I took videos of it all. He said I was the first one who had ever done that. We also relied on my son-in-law, an experienced camper, for answers to some of our questions and to give us tips. The neighbor across the street has also been helpful. Before we ever ventured out, I did extensive research online, which led me to this newsletter. I still depend on the online community to provide answers to any issue that comes up or to get tips on how to make our RV living more enjoyable. We don’t do much roaming, just driving back and forth from Minneapolis to Fort Worth. We stay in a small park that’s crowded with full-time residents, but it’s cheap and close to family members and the golf course. This place is like a community where everyone looks out for each other and helps their neighbor. I’ve seen so many negative comments about long-term park residents, but my limited experience has been that the ones who spend only one or two nights in the park are the ones who play loud music all night, let their dogs bark non-stop, and have no regard for their neighbors.

JMCherry
2 years ago

Go to You Tube and you learn a lot. I learned to drive my 43’ MH watching the Lazy Days RV Sales out of Florida. Looks for the 45 minute video. Also, if you live in TX, anything that weighs over 26,001 lbs., you have to have a non-commercial class B license. Whether it’s a MH, or a combination of truck/trailer/5th wheel, or you are pulling two trailers. Read chapter 14 of the TX DPS book. Go get your permit and then you have 90 days to take your driving test. No one tells you you have to have this license and insurance doesn’t have to cover you if you are not properly licensed to drive your RVs.

Joel Vinson
2 years ago

The one thing I know is that RV dealers don’t give a dang about what they sell you, what you’ve overloaded your truck with, or show how to use what you drove off with. We don’t run into that many newbies, but I try to help everyone I can. Our frustration is our local campgrounds are on the Redneck Riviera (FL., AL., MS. coast) and are FLOODED with snowbirds. The times of practically having parks to yourself ARE OVER. If we’re spontaneous, we’re out of luck, most of the time. I’m getting a quiet generator to try and change some of that. We don’t have too many issues with campers. However, the people that will get my goat the quickest are the speeders. I won’t tolerate someone that doesn’t have any regard for playing children, or people having fun. In saying that, I teach my child to treat all vehicles as though they don’t see you. Over the years we have meet alot of really cool Canadians, Europeans, Yankees, left coasters and good ole’ Southern folks. Alot of people are tired of flights, nasty hotels, and disease ridden cruise ships. In closing, if you talk to me about traveling and RVing, I’ll talk to you right back. Y’all have a great day and I’ll see you on the road????

Rob
2 years ago
Reply to  Joel Vinson

Interesting comment “disease Ridden Cruise Ships” We are campers with a 5th wheel and have been using our RV for 3 years. I also have a Class A license so pulling my RV isn’t a problem. We just have come back from a non RV trip on a cruise ship and also stayed in hotels. I honestly don’t want to travel again where I stay in hotels and especially a cruise ship. Both of us got really sick 2 days into the cruise. The only tough part going forward camping is finding decent places to camp in the years to come. Towing a 5th wheel costs lots of fuel and campsites being crowded are also getting expensive. Thinking of maybe buying a smaller motorhome or a truck camper that can be parked in smaller spaces or boondocking.

Mainer
2 years ago

We have a 30′ trailer and leave it at a FL campground during the summer while up north. The cost of a vehicle large enough to tow our rig is not within the budget.
Many of the comments/complaints written here are all-to-familiar to us. At the top of the list are dog owners who allow barking without attempting to quiet them. Most of the objectionable things we experience can be laid at the feet of the owners, who we feel are money-grubbers who do not want enforce the rules or employ sorely-needed hosts.

Karen Pfundtner
2 years ago

Being an RVer all my life, and a camp host the last six, I would say excessive speed in the campground is my biggest gripe. My best Camp Host story is when an irate camper came barreling into my campsite reciting off a full shopping list of groceries. He was expecting the park to reimburse him for everything that was in his cooler! Why? Because it was one of *our raccoons* that had gotten into his cooler in ate all their food!! All campers, upon registration, we’re given a slip of paper and told verbal warnings, plus signs up on all outbuildings, that the coons were unusually aggressive this year. It is mainly because of availability of food from careless campers. When I asked him why he didn’t put his cooler away in his car, as instructed. His response was: “well we left it up on the picnic table and covered it with a quilt”!!!! Oh Vey!

Brad
2 years ago

One overlooked issue is how very user-friendly most of our human-machine interactions have become. Remember choke levers? We now have ABS and plug-and-play hardware. Our son (BS in Computer Science) says that if you have to read the operators manual for anything, it is poorly designed. RVs aren’t there yet.

Harry
2 years ago
Reply to  Brad

Good comment! This is one of the challenges our sons, daughters, and grand-kids are faced with. In many cases, they have not learned how to effectively communicate.

Rob
2 years ago
Reply to  Harry

Being an IT person and knowing my way around technology, the electronics on some of the new rigs are insane. Like when you visit a store and the computers are down and the person can’t figure out your change or even serve you because the system is down. Something happens on the computer board of the new rigs and you can’t get anything to work. I have an in great shape 1993 5th wheel and love the simplicity of it.

DANNY
2 years ago

This is why there should be a recreational vehicle specific driver’s license, very similar to the commercial driver’s license for professional tractor trailer drivers. There should be extensive training, and testing. For many people, as the article says, have ever driven anything larger than a minivan when they go out and buy these big long wide units. And another very good idea when someone comes into a campsite the owners if not themselves then a person well-versed should be hired to escort these people back to their space and assist those people into backing into their space and walk them through their appropriate hook up. Granted that would cost a little more money for the site operators, but still far less then a full size rig breaking pipes and maybe even falling into a septic tank while driving that straight line that they should never be on between two points!

Bill Patterson
2 years ago
Reply to  DANNY

i agree that if you buy anything over 24 feet you have to get a “RV” license and prove you know how to drive it and back it up. Especially if it is a trailer. Also if you are pulling a car you need to understand how all that works and that you can not back up. We bought a class C 28′ and did many small trips to learn the feel of driving it before we went on an 8000 mile trip across the country. We pulled a small jeep. Had no problems except the cost of gas! We educated our selves on the mechanics, tires (TPMS) and the emergency situations that might happen. Some people are just plain lazy or arrogant to think they need to educate them selves. Hope it gets better as we have many future trips.

Lee
2 years ago

All good points here. Newbies are usually OK folks if they just have common sense. You can be new at Rving but also know how to behave like adults. We are work camping this winter and enjoy helping newbies. We have seen quite a few and most are very polite. Of course, most are you 50 plus in age so they have better manners at that age.

rvgrandma
2 years ago

I like the article. Having been a workamper for years, I have seen most all. One park I worked we had underground irrigation so people did not have to worry about water hitting their rigs. Problem: people, usually big MH, would cut the corner running over the grass breaking the irrigation even though we warned them. Every week the maintenance guy was fixing broken lines.

Another park many times people would drop their sewer hose down the pipe where the shutoff faucet was even though the sewer was painted and we told them that when checking in. Horrible job for grounds to clean out the sewer.

Have seen people drive off with their power and/or water still hooked up – again usually MH. And majority of these people were experienced RVers, not newbies.

You hand out park rules when they check-in, review them with them, but some think they are meant for others, not them. There are also those office workers that just hand you paperwork expecting you to read it. Majority of parks offer free wi-fi. They come complain when it won’t work. They do not realize that if it is free there is no legal obligation to provide it but most parks will do their best to help them. Many times I have found it is the settings on their computer.

We had to stop working 5 years ago due to my husband’s illness, so we have been in our current park 4 years. 3/4 of the residents are long term. And just like overnighters, there are those who think the park rules to not apply to them. Worse yet, the management does not enforce the rules.

When we came to where we are, my husband could no longer drive so I had my first drive. I was trying to back it up but the guy next to us who has a MH offered and I accepted. I didn’t want to be one of those we all sit in our chairs for our daily entertainment watching them try to park. 5th wheels seem to be the ones people have the hardest time. RV dealers teaching you? A lady in the park bought a new 5th wheel. The manager of the dealership delivered it. He could not back it in. After a 1/2 hour of trying he finally let the lady do it since she at one time was a truck driver.

Be courteous, be thoughtful of your neighbors, live the golden rule which also applies to the park property, follow the park rules, and expect there will be problems at times. If you are not sure which is the drinking water or sewer drain – go the office and ask. This will make it better for everyone.

As in everything, there are good and bad RVers. Andy brought up a lot of good points and problems. So have others.

Bob Warfel
2 years ago

My wife and I have only been camping for 38 years. The campground etiquette has gotten bad with people leaving their dogs run lose or they bark all the time. We have had people sit 2′ from our camper get drunk and be loud till 3 in the morning, and that was during the week. This is why I like to boon-dock.

Stewbie
2 years ago

I guess I’m in the senior category of RV people although my new one is arriving next month. Andy is spot on target with “practice at home.” I believe it was Caesar Augustus that wrote “experience is the best teacher”, but where you get that experience is critical. Furthermore, learning is incremental. It’s not a one time reading of ‘RV for Dummies’ and suddenly you’re a knowledgeable professional, any more than reading about Elon Musk will make you qualified to fly his space ship to Mars. If you take your rig on the road and haven’t filled, emptied, AND cleaned you tanks at least 10 times, ASK for help. Lots of RV people are willing to help you, but don’t treat us to your ignorance (or laziness) because you’re too busy to have even practiced doing it a couple times with clean water.

Linda
2 years ago

We are just starting out with high hopes of finding guidance and support .My husband and I are hoping for a wonderful trip to Co.Thank you all in advance for all the input hoping we don’t make any big mistakes as we take our first trip.