RV parks as the American dream

RVtravel.com, an online publication for RVers of all shapes and sizes, regularly runs reader polls to take its audience’s temperature. Most are of only passing interest to me personally, but the one that ran May 22 hit home–as did the responses and how they shifted over time.

The question was: “If you were given the opportunity to own and operate an RV park, would you?” And unlike most RVtravel polls, which typically provide a range of possible responses, this one expressly did not. As the poll makers wrote, “You’ve got to choose between a simple ‘yes’ and a simple ‘no.’ Some of you may say something like, ‘Sure! If it only had five spaces and it was next to a beautiful waterfall and kids and dogs and campfires weren’t allowed . . . ‘ It’s just gotta be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ No ifs, ands, or buts!”

As someone who wrote a book last year about this very topic–one that detailed our family’s eight-year history of being ground into the dust by the weight of operating an RV park–I was intrigued to see the results and encouraged by the early returns. By that evening, 72% of the thousand-plus respondents had turned thumbs down on the idea, sometimes in vehement terms in the comments section. “No option for ‘No, Hell No!’. Too much work for too little appreciation of it!” wrote one poll-taker. “A simple ‘no’ doesn’t BEGIN to express the no-ness of my no,” wrote another, with Zen-like simplicity.

 Explanations for why this is a truly asinine idea included the amount of work involved and the realization that owning a campground would put an end to one’s own travels. But the most cited objection was, strikingly–other campers. There are a lot of RVers, it turns out, who don’t like the way other RVers behave. “Dealing with the public would be the primary issue–and we’ve lost a sense of civility as a society,” explained one of the more civil respondents. Added another: “Big NO! Too many messy, inconsiderate (not to mention lazy and stupid) people camping now. Pick up after your dog, pick up after yourself, your family may not mind that you are rude but we do. Keep your music to yourself, save the profanity until you are in your own camper, leave the bathroom as clean or cleaner than you found it.”

And then there were the rants like this one:

“Big NO.
Sick of cleaning up after PIGS.
They don’t own the property so people just throw crap wherever they feel like.
Bathrooms are the worst. Did I mention PIGS.
Try to poop IN the toilet. Put the tissue IN the toilet.
Aim for the drain of the urinal, not the floor.
Don’t write your complaints on the mirrors.
Cans and bottles strewn outside.
I guess it’s too hard to use the cans management has provided.
I often wonder what their home and yard looks like?”

But then a curious thing happened. As the hours slipped by and more RVtravel readers took the poll, the sentiment quickly reversed. Within 24 hours the “no” votes dropped from 72% of the respondents to just 43%; by Tuesday the gap widened even more, to 63% “yes” and just 37% “no.” And as of this morning, with more than 5,400 respondents to the poll and 213 of them weighing in with comments, the turnaround is almost complete, with 68% saying they’d love to own and operate a campground and just 32% grousing about the workload and the public.


In digesting these results, as well as the comments they elicited, I have a couple of takeaways. One is that of the 16 or so comments made by people who’ve actually owned a campground, or at the very least worked at one, the overwhelming majority were too happy to walk away and wouldn’t want to repeat the experience.

A second is that a significant number of those saying they’d jump at the chance did so on the basis of their experience as RVers, with little if any understanding of the difference between being a producer and being a consumer. To use my go-to analogy for this sort of thing, it’s as if I were to say that I’d like to become a rancher because I like to eat steak. That’s probably not the best strategy for making life choices.

A third takeaway is that an equally significant number of affirmative respondents are, if not desperate, at least wistful in their wish for something more than what they have, such as the commenter who wrote simply, “I’d really like to own something.” Several seemed to interpret the poll as a job posting; some said they think of campground ownership as a retirement plan; and some apparently just need housing, as in “We are looking for an RV park to make into a homeless shelter!!”

A fourth conclusion, and one I’ll explore in my next post, is that not enough RVtravel readers have picked up my book, Renting Dirt–or that they have, but were not deterred by our experience. The siren song is strong indeed!

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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