Governor’s misguided order deals crushing blow to at least one RV park

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By Andy Zipser
Owner, Walnut Hills RV Park, Staunton, Virginia

Never underestimate the power of one individual to effect change – especially if that person is hysterical. Case in point: This past Monday, the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, issued a “temporary stay at home” edict. Tucked into the middle of this order is the one sentence that has upended our lives, commanding the “cessation of all reservations for overnight stays of less than 14 nights at all privately-owned campgrounds.”

The order makes no mention of any other sector of the hospitality industry, leaving hotels, motels, resorts, B&Bs and all other lodging open for business. As icing on the cake, the order is effective for more than two months, until June 10.

And, just like that, we teeter on the edge of insolvency. Ninety percent of our business is short-term campers, anything from over-nighters traveling the I-81 corridor to residents within a 250-mile radius looking to camp with us for a few days.

When you’re dealt lemons, make lemonade!

So for the past week we’ve been burning up the phone lines, calling literally scores of campers to tell them we have to move or cancel their reservations. Some are rescheduling for the fall, when we all hope the virus pandemic will have petered out. Some are accepting rain checks, good until December 2021 and packaged with a 25% discount coupon. A few are accepting our BOGO offer: pay for a one-week stay and we’ll throw in a second week for free, meeting the executive order’s arbitrary 14-day threshold. Anything, in other words, not to have to return the deposits we’ve already taken in — and yet, despite all that, a tide of red ink is threatening to overwhelm us.

In just the first three days following the March 30 order we’ve voided more than $20,000 in reservations, and we’ve yet to finish working our way through April.

MAY STILL AWAITS, including the fully booked Memorial Day weekend. Our occupancy rate for April is now looking to be less than a third of last year’s 30%. I haven’t had the heart to start calculating what it will be in May, when the season historically starts swinging into high gear.

So okay — life is tough all over. Lots of businesses are on the ropes, and the ranks of the unemployed are swelling by the millions. I get it. But the question that has to be asked, in every instance that our lives get curtailed by executive fiat, is how a particular edict protects public welfare. The state has a legitimate interest in proscribing behavior that further enables the pandemic that is ravaging the world. But short of martial law that confines everyone to their homes — presumably with roadblocks at the state borders to keep out non-Virginians — people will be traveling. They will need a place to stay, other than a highway shoulder.

Walnut Hills Campground and RV Park

So why were campgrounds singled out for special treatment, while all those sticks-and-bricks accommodations are allowed to continue serving the traveling public? Why is the most self-contained, inherently socially distancing form of shelter shunted aside, but not facilities that flip rooms every day that must be accessed through public hallways and elevators? Why are RVs, whose occupants have their own linens, their own beds, their own bathrooms and their own cooking and dining facilities, regarded as a grave threat to public safety?

ENTER THE HYSTERICAL POLITICIAN — no, not Governor Northam, although he deserves a measure of opprobrium for his role in this sorry mess. Rather, the problem arose with a Virginia delegate who reportedly heard from a friend that there were too many people crowding into the state’s campgrounds on the Eastern Shore. The delegate then conveyed that opinion to others in state government, lamenting with a note of urgency that . . .

. . . “travelers to the campgrounds will take all our food” and complaining that “there are thousands of travelers coming from all over the country.” “People will die if we don’t do something,” he was quoted as saying to a campground official.

That “something” landed with a thud just days later, as the panicky prognosis rippled throughout the Old Dominion’s legislative halls and seeped into the governor’s office. There was no prior consultation with the state’s privately owned campgrounds, no heads-up on the draconian prohibition that was coming, no articulated rationale for the knee-capping we would all experience this week.

There are other consequences of the ban that are still emerging. One is the predicament it has created for RVers themselves, including a substantial number of Canadians and New Englanders who are still struggling to get home from their wintering grounds in Florida, the Gulf Coast and New England.

Interstate 81 traverses 325 miles of Virginia landscape, much of it hilly enough to require construction of separate truck lanes. The executive order means RVers are unable to reserve a site for the night anywhere along this section of their route, and reports are that Pennsylvania is just as buttoned up. Care to be on the same highways as these over-tired fifth-wheel and motorcoach drivers?

ANOTHER IS THE RIFT the ban has exposed between private campgrounds that cater to transients and those that are predominantly focused on the seasonal camper. The latter tend to be much larger properties (especially on the sun-and-surf oriented eastern end of the state), with only a tiny slice of their revenue coming from overnighters, and most haven’t even opened for the season yet. For them, a two-month ban on short-term stays approaches a rounding error for the year’s financial results; for campgrounds like ours, it’s catastrophic. For them, with openings still more than two weeks away, there’s time to lobby and pressure for a reversal; for us, every day under the “new normal” means that many more refunds and cancellations we have to absorb.

The most problematic consequence, however, means a more far-reaching disruption of our business model — one that may be irreversible for many, many months. Because as our ability to take short-term reservations gets frozen, our only recourse has been to start converting our overnight sites to seasonals. We make less money that way — but still more than if the sites sit empty. But the long-term implication is that once we get past this pandemic and business elsewhere returns to something more familiar, we’ll still be dealing with commitments that will have removed even more overnight sites from the nation’s shrinking inventory.

If for no other reason, that alone should prompt dedicated RVers to petition Governor Northam to rethink his ban. You and your friends can do so here.

Andy and his staff can be reached at (540) 337-3920 daily between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Or visit the park’s website.

##RVT942

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John Koenig
3 months ago

I understand that this decision effects you adversely. You need to understand that “the powers that be” still don’t fully understand Covid19 and therefore, MUST act in a manner that has the best chance of mitigating the pandemic. You have NOT been closed down permanently. I understand that the majority of your business is SHORT TERM transient but, people moving about quickly is the primary method that Covid19 spreads. I AM a Full Time RVer. I AM “isolating in place” in a campground (I arrived ~ a month ago and, fully expect I’m here for at least a month longer (and VERY possibly MUCH longer). Covid19 MUST be stopped and, since a working vaccine is still a long way off, stopping transient travel seems to be the most effective way of achieving that goal. Get the word out that you ARE open but, ONLY for stays of 14 days or longer. Once the word gets out, there should be many long time and full time RVers who need a SAFE place to hunker down. Before the economy can come back, the spread of Covid19 MUST be stopped.

Jeff Craig
3 months ago

This reads less like an opinion piece, and more like a lawyers pleading to the Court of Public Opinion for relief. I definitely think that this decision is bad for all campgrounds, but it should have been done all over the nation, not piecemeal. Maybe barring guests who have a home address within 240 miles would be good, or working out a ‘contactless’ way of guiding overnight guests to their spot – but the fact remains, STAYING HOME SAVES LIVES. This has NOTHING to do with ‘free will’ or the Constitution. This is about staying alive and keeping your family – and EVERY OTHER FAMILY – healthy and safe.

If you can’t make a minor, inconvenient, sacrifice for the good, the health, of your fellow man…. then you don’t deserve to call yourself a good Christian. Or an American, IMHO.

pursuits712
3 months ago

We have considered full-timing several times, but being a risk-averse personality, decided we would never be comfortable doing that without at least a cabin in the woods, condo or even a piece of land with hookups to which we could return if necessary.

I feel bad for those who are having a hard time finding a place to stay. But when the orders starting going out, every full-timer was camping somewhere and many could likely have stayed for as long as needed. Those who wanted to continue to “push the envelope” and get in a few more days of sightseeing may be the ones who are now finding the doors shut.

Moral of the story: if you are lucky enough to find a campground now — stay there!

Tony
4 months ago

As a Virginian and an RVer, I hope that those who voted for this, *** remember that we are stuck with a stay at home order that , unlike most states, was put in place for almost two and a half months. I know that as we travel in our motorhome that if stopping for a one night stay, we don’t go shopping or sightseeing, but if we had to stay for several nights or weeks, we would be all over the area, potentially spreading or contracting the virus as we buy groceries or other needed supplies. To me, limiting the possible spread would require travelers to limit stays to a single night and send them on their way. We certainly don’t need the travelers to roam for fourteen days and spread this virus to the service stations and grocery stores that we, as residents, must have open for our survival.

William Steenbergh
4 months ago

While I understand your frustration with this situation, you set up a false equivalency. The fact that hotels are allowed to remain open is whats wrong, not that RV parks are being closed to transients. As someone who works full time in public safety and healthcare, I know that the whole point of this is restricting travel so that asymptomatic people (or uncaring symptomatic people who care more about themselves than society at large) don’t inadvertently spread COVID-19 from one place to another. 2 wrongs don’t make a right. Depending upon where you are in the US, the COVID crisis probably feels very different. Here in the suburbs of NYC, it is a daily struggle, and people are rightfully scared to go outside their homes. People getting on airplanes at JFK and flying across the country is simply unconscionable, and I’ll never understand why that wasn’t stopped in the very beginning. Hotels should be closed to out of town travelers, unless they are staying for 2 weeks (i.e. healthcare workers coming to assist in an area of surge capacity), but full time RVer’s also need to stay in one place until this all settles down. It has to be all about stopping the spread. What metro area is going to be the next NYC? How many NYC-sized outbreaks can our country withstand? The simple truth is that more rural areas are even less prepared for this than Manhattan. How many ventilators do you think are available in a rural community hospital? Don’t tell me that you’re being “careful”. A person has no idea how often or if they’ve been exposed. Think about all of the items you touch in a given day that someone else has touched before you. Every one of those touches is a potential exposure to COVID. Wearing a face mask or bandanna does nothing to prevent you from getting sick, all it does is reduce the droplets that you emit when in public. Wearing the same pair of gloves all day, while still touching your face accomplishes nothing. In healthcare, PPE is changed after every individual patient encounter to prevent cross-contamination. The longer the entire country remains shut down, the longer it will take for both our healthcare system and our economy to recover. Find a nice place, get comfortable, and stay put for 2-3 weeks !!!

Andy Zipser
4 months ago

William,
Thanks for your comments–I agree with many of them. But the problem you (and our governor) fail to address is encapsulated in your last sentence, when you recommend readers to “find a nice place, get comfortable and stay put for 2-3 weeks.” All well and good–unless you’re a Canadian wintering in the U.S. under government orders to get back home. Or unless you’re one of a million or more full-time RVers for whom their RV is their only home, but whose RV park had been ordered to close (as some have). Or unless you’re like the couple who called me today because they’re trying to make it to upstate New York to pick up their 82-year-old mother who lives alone, so they can bring her back to their home in the Deep South. Or unless. . . well, you get the picture.

Ted Denman
4 months ago

I question WHO gave the Governor the power to close private businesses! America either lives through our Constitution, or NOT! Wake up America! This power WILL be tested in court soon enough.

John
4 months ago
Reply to  Ted Denman

This is what I have been saying over and over. Many respond “oh, but this crisis is ‘so bad’ that it makes it OK”. Tell that to the people who died birthing our nation. Or those who have died over the past two centuries defending it. I think much of the actions are over-reactions. Two things. One, I am far more afraid we will permanently lose our Constitutional Rights and Freedoms, than I am about getting sick or dying from the virus. Two, the damages from all these closures and people using up their savings, will hurt much longer than the actual virus.

ROL
4 months ago

It is incredulous how arrogant and bigoted that so called Governor is. Yes.. bigoted. Why else would he leave all lodging businesses open EXCEPT for RV parks? Does he think anyone who owns an RV is not worthy of compassion, understanding, or equality under the law?

An RV park does not have staff preparing meals for you, a possible route to transmission of the virus. An RV park does not employ staff to come into your vehicle to clean it, another route to transmission. Hotels do. Motels do. Air B&B’s do. But let’s keep them open and without restrictions. Great idea… NOT.

The virus is a danger… absolutely. Take it from me, with asthma, lowered lung function and an enlarged heart. I know it can kill me. But I’m not flying off the handle screaming and panicking that the sky is falling. The virus isn’t going to destroy this country. Zealots like Ralph Northam will. Discrimination against anyone with a tickle in their throat, a cough or a runny nose… that will be the end of this free nation.

We as a people need to stop listening to doom sayers in the news spreading fear and hate because of a virus that sells airtime, and start working together as a nation to bring calm to those afraid, safety to those in need, and comfort to those who have lost all hope.

This virus will pass… but with the discrimination?

Mike in Texas
4 months ago

Typical blue governor. A couple of days ago the blue county “Judge” (Glorified County Commissioner) of Dallas County TX ordered all Hobby Lobby stores closed as non-essential. Even sent County Deputy Sheriffs to enforce his misguided order. At the same time, all Walmarts remain open. Hobby Lobby sells materials to make face masks. Yes, most Walmarts sell food these days, but why is the rest of the store open? As my favorite NYC politician crows, “It’s all about the Benjamin’s”

Howard Malpass
4 months ago

To think the Governor of Virginia {who has no common sense) would ever consider residing anything he runs his mouth on. Whatever you do NEVER tell them you have a weapon for your protection…..he will freak out!@

I have property in Texas Louisiana and Oklahoma which we can set our 5th Wheel up on, but every trip I have booked between the middle of March to the middle of June has been canceled and most have been non-refundable deposits! One of the trips was involving the rental of a condo on the beach in Sanibell Island, Florida AND a Fly Fishing trip. That was a little over $2,150.00 and they did not refund a dime. Just said it will be good this time next year!

Good luck RV’ers and be safe and stay healthy!

Ed Bickford
4 months ago

Looks like a great place to stay and ride out the virus! We have been in an RV park in Silver Springs FL for a month now ( We are FT) and will be staying for at least one more. We will definitely try to stay at Walnut Hills the next time we travel that way.

Suru
4 months ago

Well, the rest of us that do not live full-time in an RV are staying home. I’ve personally had 4 trips cancelled. I think the point of the mandate is to restrict travel and thus hinder the spread of the virus. Why can’t full-timers hunker down for 14 days in the same place like the rest of us? Win for them and a win for the RV park. Why are they still traveling all over the place? All of us have been inconvenienced, but it seems as if for full-time RVers, this website thinks nothing should change for them. They should be allowed to continue to travel and live life as normal. Life is NOT normal.

In my state, Utah, thousands of travelers from neighboring locked-down states have converged in our parks and hotels to escape staying at home. Now our Covid-19 numbers are on the rise. I don’t know if these visitors are the reason, but in my opinion, these visitors selfishly showed they care more about themselves and their “freedom” than others.

If you are not living full-time in an RV, then cancel your travel plans and stay home! I feel bad for the RV parks but every business is suffering. Everyone is suffering. Everyone is inconvenienced. Think about the essential workers such as police, fire, and medical that are working their butts off to stem this pandemic with no end in sight. Until we all stay home and keep put in one place for an extended period of time, then the end will never come for them.

Is it fun staying home? NO! But, we all need to stop complaining and do our part or life will never return to normal.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
4 months ago
Reply to  Suru

Hey, Suru. Probably thousands of full-time RVers have been kicked out of their campgrounds/parks due to closures and are forced to move. But to where? So many places are closed. Where are they supposed to go? And if they find a place to go, they are FORCED to travel to get there. What are they supposed to do? Do you have the answers? Many would like to hear them, if so. Thanks. —Diane at RVtravel.com

Suru
4 months ago
Reply to  RV Staff

Thank you for your response Diane. I’m sorry if I offended you.

Of course I don’t have all the answers. My point was, this RV park owner is complaining because people have to now stay for a minimum of 14 days. So they are not closed. But, that’s what all of us SHOULD be doing; staying put somewhere for more than a few days. Why do full-timers have to move every few days? On second thought, I wonder if the people who want to stay only a day or two are actually full-timers? Are they part time camping people who probably have a permanent resident, but they don’t want to be trapped at home? If that’s the case, then it seems to me that people are more worried right now about their right to travel than about saving lives. They should stay at home!

My neighbors, who live full time in a house, took off a few weeks ago when our governor asked us to stay home. According to them, no one was going to tell them what to do. They have a right to their freedom, blah, blah, blah. So the result is, they are now in Arizona in an RV park taking up a space that a full-timer could be using. According to a recent text from them, they are “warm and having a great time”. I know of another couple from my area that left for the same reason, but they are boondocking in New Mexico and at least not needlessly, IMO, taking up a spot a full-timer could be using.

I feel very sorry for the full-timers. Maybe they should be bringing up the point of how many people who have a bricks and sticks home to stay in are choosing to take up camping spots that full-timers could be using right now. They are in those camping spots just because it’s no fun to be stuck at home, not because they have to. Sad.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
4 months ago
Reply to  Suru

Thank you for your explanation, Suru. I’m not offended, just very concerned for the full-time RVers who have no place to go, and no sticks-and-bricks homes to go back to, if even allowed to travel. According to the RV Industry Association, in 2018 there were more than a million full-time RVers — and I’m sure there are even more now. I’m assuming most of them have no place to “go home” to. They’re the ones I’m concerned about — they’re getting “evicted” from campgrounds, etc., with almost nowhere to go and with restrictions on travel if they can even find someplace to head for. It’s very tough on them. Stay healthy, Suru, and everyone reading this. —Diane at RVtravel.com

Bob Wangen
4 months ago
Reply to  Suru

Easier said than done. We are fulltimers and, while we don’t have a house anymore, we have relatives in Michigan with enough land that we can “hunker down” there. The problem is we have to get from Florida to Michigan to do that. We have already had four campgrounds cancel our reservations and now we are concerned that we may not be allowed to transient a state to get to Michigan. I am not complaining, just letting you know that your simplistic solution is not as workable as you may think.

Little Kahuna
4 months ago

I just ran the gauntlet up I81 and am happy to report that at least one campground exercised common sense and courage in honoring my 2 night reservation and said that while the government order was to stay put for 14 days, they couldn’t prevent me from leaving. An excellent interpretation of the constitution.

Just as bad are the states discriminating against NY, NJ, CT and LA license plates. Clearly this is unconstitutional, morally reprehensible and demonstrates a lack of geographic knowledge.

Strange days indeed.

Ted Denman
4 months ago
Reply to  Little Kahuna

I bet a few million dollars could be raised on a go fund me page and, by class action, sue the crap out of anyone going against our constitution!! This abusive power, against our Constitution, needs to stop!

Andy Best
4 months ago

I’ve stayed at walnut hills many times both as a transient and staying for days. We love the campground, the location and the present owner and his staff. This is unbelievable and obviously an overreach by the governor! I hope he will see the errors of his ways sooner than later.
Campground’s should be viewed as a relatively safe place to be right now and a good way to relieve people’s stress without providing a risk to others.

Hope you are able to open soon!

Andy Best

Dave
4 months ago

It’s also the I95 corridor. We had reservations in park just south of Petersburg VA for April 4, one night while we’re traveling north. Fortunately, I called ahead on April 3 to confirm our reservation. They confirmed my reservation, but told me we could not stay for just one night. We would be considered a visitor to VA and would be required to self-quarantine in place for 14 days, by order of the Governor. I canceled our reservation and we ended up staying a little further south, just over the line in NC.

I don’t know how they would “force” us to stay for 14 days. We could have just checked in and then left the next morning. I guess if we did this the campground could have reported us to the authorities and they could have chased us down before we were out of the state.

But, being law abiding citizens, we’ll just stay in NC and then travel through VA the next day. The VA leadership hadn’t thought this through very well.

Gayle
4 months ago
Reply to  Dave

I don’t think individual parks should be punished-they have no choice. We should support the parks. We returned home from U.S. & had to “Shelter in Place” at home for 14 days & NOT to stop for groceries. 1 million $ fine if caught breaking it

dave savage
4 months ago

I am going to send a check when I get home. We are 2,500 miles from Andy’s campground. We will probably never be that Far East.
He deserves donations from any RV er that loves RVing
Dave Savage
Indio
Ca

Richard Hubert
4 months ago

My Observations & Suggestions on Government RVing Restrictions –

(1) Almost all Federal, State and Local campgrounds, along with some public lands, were closed very quickly – YET it seems that almost all private RV parks stayed open. So how can they manage to do that while public campgrounds cannot?

(2) So many RVers have been kicked out of /off of Federal and State campgrounds and public lands (such as COE parks) where they thought they were best complying with stay-in-place orders. Now no longer in secluded, often remote, and usually widely separated campsites and instead forced into private RV parks (usually much more costly with sites typically closer together) OR forced to travel around trying to find a place to park each night.

(3) Total lack of understanding of the RV lifestyle, or compassion for RVers by public officials. Many, many public lands have been shut to camping, even though (especially for boondockers) these lands offer the best opportunities to self-isolate and to stay-in-place. In some areas local officials have even ordered private RV parks to shut down or operate at 50% capacity.

(4) What should be done instead is for public officials to:

> Open up campgrounds in order to provide to those who are traveling a safe place to stay put and be self-quarantined.

> Extend allowable stays (beyond the usual 2 week limit) in their parks to help support quarantine periods to help keep more people isolated and not moving around.

> Utilize some of the available open spaces – such as parking lots and fields – and permit RVers (who are so equipped) to boondock there, also with extended stays.

> Enlist those camping to voluntarily assist in maintenance of their camping area through trash collection and basic road and site maintenance. The purpose of this is to allow campers who benefit from these rule changes to demonstrate and acknowledge their appreciation as well as take over some of the work that park personnel would have to do, relieving limited personnel of some workload. In some posts some RVers have already volunteered to help clean bathhouses in these parks as well if they are allowed extended stays during this crisis.

Ray Zimmermann
4 months ago
Reply to  Richard Hubert

To answer question #1, they can shut down the state;/Federal campgrounds so quickly because the people in charge of those places will still be getting their paychecks, unlike the people who run private parks.

Richard Hubert
4 months ago

Seems like RV parks are going to have to start playing “lawyer” with the state. When the state of VA puts stay restrictions on “campgrounds”, then many RV parks should simply assume that it does not apply to them, as they are not “campgrounds” but rather “RV Parks”. Their customers are RVers – those people stating in their own self-contained travel units. Most RV parks I have stayed at do not seem to cater to tent campers – for the most part,

Jann Forrest
4 months ago

I wondered if that would happen. I see both sides but wonder if the issue is contact by people outside the unit. Pools, office, clubhouse, laundry mats, maintenance people. Also, people not doing their part to help the situation i.e. physical separation, etc. Its a mess and unfortunately our country did not think it would get to us, at least not very soon, and we are behind in getting a handle on anything. First in number of cases in the world and also deaths.
It is just so sad but we will defeat this thing. We must. Prayers for Andy and our nation.

PennyPA
4 months ago
Reply to  Jann Forrest

We are NOT first in the number of deaths in the world nor are we first in the number of cases in the world.

SHW
4 months ago

Just maybe his fear is grounded in an obvious desire to satisfy some parts of the social-economic community and not intelligently think about the ramifications of his actions. Similar to his (and the entirety of the state lawmakers) interpretation of essential and non-essential surgeries.
I would think that the analogy that goes like this; “If the government crashes a truck into your house making it unlivable–then they, the government , must pay reparations for the damage. Such is the same –if they deem that you must close your business–then the government should pay for your loss and restoration. Apparently no-one in the government thought about that! Maybe enough law suits to the state will enlighten their thinking?
SHW

Pam
4 months ago

Lake Ouachita State Park closes after three campers test positive for COVID-19
A spokesperson with the state park said the campers had “some level of contact with 12 of the park’s 23 employees.” https://www.thv11.com/article/sports/outdoors/lake-ouachita-state-park-closes-after-three-campers-test-positive-for-covid-19/91-2cf0df7e-383d-4aa4-a691-af787e85c130