Whistling past the RV sales graveyard

Heading into the Memorial Day weekend, camping industry cheerleaders were cranking out comparisons and forecasts to support their contention that the industry’s best days still lie ahead. But coming on the heels of some truly astonishing declines in factory shipments of new RVs, the chorus had a distinctly plaintive tone.

RV shipments for the first four months of the year were notably grim, down 52.1% compared to the same period last year—and down even more sharply for towables (which include travel trailers, fifth-wheels, pop-ups and truck campers), down 55.8%. Motorhomes (types A, B and C), meanwhile, were down a mere 14.9%, but the motorhome segment is less than one-fifth that of towables. Forecasts for the rest of the year have been revised steadily downward each month, with expectations now that 2023 will be the worst year for RV production in more than a decade.

Industry leaders have attempted to brush away this news with the assertion that 2023 was bound to show a decline after the pandemic-driven bumper-crop years of 2021 and 2022, and there’s certainly some truth to that. It’s the magnitude of the plunge that accounts for the barely concealed jitters, however—how many businesses can withstand half of their business evaporating in a year?—with no reasonable way to discern whether we’re in the throes of a minor correction or whether this is a deeper secular trend. But industry attempts at reassuring investors and customers have produced some near-comical contortions.

For example, Winnebago Industries, one of the biggest RV manufacturers, issued a cheery consumer survey this week that was long on insinuation but short on details to make a tenuous case that RV interest remains healthy. “Winnebago Survey Shows Growing Outdoor Activity,” its press release proclaimed, fudging the distinction between RVing and “outdoor activities,” such as hiking, cycling and boating. By the time the release got around to its ostensible subject, in a section subtitled “The Summer of RV Travel,” it was to present such carefully worded observations as “almost two-thirds of respondents have considered [emphasis added] using an RV for a vacation rather than traveling by plane,” and “over two-thirds of respondents have considered [emphasis added] using an RV for travel instead of a flight, hotel and rental car.”

Well, that’s reassuring—but what did those respondents actually do? Your guess is as good as any, but it’s clear that the airlines are not feeling any heat from RVs or other modes of transportation. As just reported by the Transportation Security Administration, its agents nationally screened 9.8 million passengers over the Memorial Day weekend, or 300,000 more than in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

The idea that RVing is a cheap alternative to flying or driving on vacation nevertheless has captivated the industry, resulting in some highly questionable cost comparisons. The RV Industry Association, for example, reported May 18 that “an outside, independent firm has found that RV vacations cost much less than other types of vacation travel, even when factoring in fuel prices and the cost of RV ownership.” Aside from the problematic issues that come with any apples-to-oranges comparisons (what kind of RV compared to what kind of air fare or car rental plus what types of hotel accommodations? etc.), the lack of a publicly defined “cost of RV ownership” makes the analysis meaningless. For instance, is that the cost of an RV purchased outright, or one with a 10- or 15-year loan? With how much down and at what interest rate?

(One detailed example, from the several that were included in the RVIA-backed study: the costs for a family of four traveling from Dallas, TX to the Grand Canyon for a 14-day vacation would be $8,801 if the family took a plane, rented a car and stayed in hotels, according to the study, contrasted with an equivalent Class C motorhome vacation expense of just $5,627. But Go RV Rentals apparently occupies a different reality. Its unrelated press release this month (touting the economics of RV rentals) calculated that using a Class C motorhome for 20 days costs $911 per day “when you factor in the total cost of ownership”—or $12,754 for 14 days, more than double RVIA’s rosier assessment. As with the RVIA study, no explanation here of what comprises the costs of RV ownership.

(Meanwhile, want to rent rather than own? Go RV Rentals says that same Class C goes for an average base rate of $217 per day, plus as much as an additional 50% for insurance, service charges, optional equipment and sales tax. That’s $4,557 for the Dallas-Grand Canyon trip—before gas, any excess mileage charges and campground fees. Throw those in and you’ll certainly exceed the RVIA’s estimated $5,627.)

The argument that RVing is an economical way to vacation works only if such a vehicle gets deposited in your driveway for free and it never suffers any mechanical issues. And with the pandemic essentially a non-issue for most Americans, the ability to travel and cocoon in a personal bubble is no longer the enticement it was the past three years. Add to that the shrinking number of American workers who remain able to work remotely, and all of a sudden the main reason to go RVing reverts to what it was before all the craziness started: to go camping!

But is that enough?

Interestingly enough, that very question—with a perhaps predictable answer, after an initial tease— was posed by Toby O’Rourke, president and CEO of KOA, at the 2023 RV Industry Power Breakfast in Elkhart on May 11. “For the past couple of years, when I’ve been asked about all these new people camping, I have always said there is going to be a natural drop-off,” she told an industry audience of more than a thousand. “Camping is not going to be for everybody.” Indeed, she noted, 32% of people who went on an RV trip for the first time said the experience was good or great—raising the question, what was less than okay for the other 68%?

But while O’Rourke used to think that camping isn’t for everyone, now “I really don’t accept that anymore and I don’t think you should, either.” Although she didn’t explain what led her to change her mind, O’Rourke said she now believes those unimpressed campers are simply in need of special attention. They’re a marketing and education challenge, blocked from a full-throated embrace of the joy of camping by a number of “pain points” that the industry must address if its wants to keep growing. “Here’s the problem as I see it: the reality is that camping is an easy choice, but it’s not always easy,” O’Rourke told her audience. “If we don’t smooth over these pain points, we are at risk of losing those 70% of people that are lukewarm about continuing to camp.”

Or maybe O’Rourke had it right the first time: camping isn’t for everyone, not because of “pain points” but because nothing is for everyone. That’s not what the industry wants to hear, of course. Much better to believe that it’s just a matter of better messaging, of becoming more customer obsessed. Desperate times call for desperation.

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Maine ponders dome glampground

Is this what Buckminster Fuller envisioned when he invented the geodesic dome? The Clear Sky Resort, south of Grand Canyon National Park, could be mistaken for an alien pod invasion.

The bastard child known as “glamping,” which embraces the dissonant conceit that we can get closer to “nature” by keeping it at arm’s length, continues to gather momentum. New glampgrounds are popping up helter-skelter like mushrooms after a wet spell, frequently clustered near the nation’s most iconic natural resources, with ever larger footprints and ever more tricked-up amenities—all while promising that “campers” don’t have to suffer the discomforts that come with actually immersing themselves in the natural world.

One such budding enterprise, dubbed Clear Sky Acadia, is lurching after acceptance in the Maine town of Lamoine. First mentioned in this blog in January as a potential competitor for KOA’s Terramor Resort in Bar Harbor, the Clear Sky proposal survived several regulatory meetings and reviews before finally getting planning board clearance May 1. But it still has to be approved by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and more immediately, the proposal faces a public hearing June 5 that may not go well.

There is, for one thing, a growing local resistance to the increased commercialization of coastal Maine. Although a long-favored vacation destination, the area around Acadia National Park has become so overrun with tourists that local residents are being gentrified right out of their homes. Bar Harbor recently capped the number of short-term rentals to preserve as much housing as possible, but that simply pushed investors into other, nearby towns that haven’t yet followed suit. The nearby town of Tremont, meanwhile, last year overwhelmingly approved an extensive revision of its land use ordinance to impose the strictest campground regulations on Mount Desert Island, including a minimum RV site size of 5,000 square feet—or nearly double the size of the most generous RV sites at most campgrounds.

Then there’s the Clear Sky proposal itself, which is as intrusive an addition to the natural terrain as a subdivision in a cornfield. The company’s signature accommodations are geodesic domes, which have a nice eco-friendly aura about them and which feature clear plastic windows through which guests can gaze at the awesomeness of the great outdoors. But these are not modest structures: for guest quarters, Clear Sky Acadia would have 38 domes that are 23 feet in diameter, 50 with a 26-foot diameter, and two at 33 feet across and 16 feet high, each with more square footage than two park models. That’s huge—but not as massive as a proposed “wedding dome” of 1,900 square feet; a main activity dome and a spa dome, each at 3,400 square feet; and a restaurant/check-in dome of 6,500 square feet. There also would be various “accessory activity” domes, as well as domes for housing 36 employees, all of it adding up to 105 boils and pimples on the Maine landscape.

It’s worth noting that this would be only the third Clear Sky facility built and operated by Hal Feinberg, an Arizona-based real estate agent who decided—as described in an undated magazine interview—to create a resort providing guests with an “authentic backpacking adventure inside a very personal dome that puts them in touch with nature.” The Lemoine project would be significantly larger than either of those first two ventures, both opened just two years ago, including a 16-dome facility about 16 miles outside of Glacier National Park and a 45-dome resort about 20 minutes south of Grand Canyon National Park. The Glacier Clear Sky Resort, which racked up a litany of shabby reviews complaining about mold, crappy service, duct-taped tears in the windows and inadequate heating for such a northern location, is no longer accepting reservations.

Despite an emphasis on providing guests “an unforgettable experience” with “uniquely styled and themed Sky Domes surrounded by unspoiled nature,” the Clear Sky Resort in Arizona clearly doesn’t believe that nature is enough of a draw. Not when you’re charging upwards of $400 a night and nature can be had for free by anyone who actually seeks out an “authentic backpacking adventure.” So those “uniquely styled and themed” domes, a mash-up of Las Vegas and Disneyland, include an “’80s Video Games” dome, a “Pink” themed dome and a “British Secret Agent” dome, which includes Goldfinger-inspired chairs and a London phone booth. The top of the heap is the “Space Galaxy” dome, which sleeps seven and can run as high as $610 for the night, but the real winner has to be the “Stairway to the Stars” dome: it only sleeps two. In a round, queen-sized bed. Suspended from the ceiling. Accessed by a spiral staircase.

Glampers opting for the Stairway to the Stars are cautioned that the bed “will sway slightly” as its occupants move about.

Thus far, there’s little indication whether the Lamoine property would continue the “uniquely styled and themed” approach, nor whether Feinberg has learned from his missteps in Montana how better to combat moisture buildup in his domes—not to mention the challenge of heating and cooling such large interior volumes. (A sphere has the largest volume-to-surface-area ratio of any geometric form, and a dome is roughly half a sphere.) One could argue that such concerns are his problem, and that’s true in the short term. But the American countryside is littered with disintegrating former motels and shopping malls, and these days even office buildings in large urban cores are sitting vacant and facing an uncertain future, and all required considerably more capital investment per square foot than goes into a glampground.

All of which is another way of saying that it’s far easier to walk away from a glampground, and if such projects go bust, they become a community problem—and eventually a blight on the community.

None of this is likely to come up at next week’s public hearing, which is in any case a curiously ambivalent exercise. The planning board already has said it won’t be taking any action June 5, seeking only to determine if it needs additional information about the proposal before taking final action June 19. Feinberg’s representatives, meanwhile, have indicated they believe they’ve already threaded the needle and plan on making only the briefest of public presentations. It remains to be seen if anyone questions the applicant’s expertise or depth of financial reserves, or the physical challenges that domes have to overcome in northern states. These are not issues that planning boards tend to examine—may not even have the authority to consider—but perhaps they should.

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Time for KOA to step up in Montana

The deck on KOA’s new headquarters provides an unobstructed view of the smoke-filled skies to the north.

An early heatwave and an unusually dry spring in Alberta and eastern British Columbia have resulted in more than a hundred wildfires in the past week, incinerating more than a million acres amid predictions that firefighting efforts—made more difficult by the province’s extensive peat deposits—will drag on through the summer. Smoke from the conflagrations has been flowing south into the United States, prompting air quality alerts for all of Montana as well as parts of Idaho, Colorado and Arizona. Overwhelmed Canadian authorities already have requested additional manpower and firefighting equipment from the U.S., New Zealand, Mexico and South Africa.

These fires, in other words, are a big deal—but not big enough to deter Montana’s lawmakers from passing one of the most aggressive anti-climate laws in the nation. Even as their northern neighbors were being evacuated by the thousands, the legislative captains of the self-styled Treasure State rushed to protect their mineral wealth by prohibiting state regulators from considering greenhouse gas emissions and climate effects when assessing the environmental impact of large projects, such as coal mines and power plants. But when asked in floor debate if he believes that humans are causing climate change, bill sponsor Rep. Josh Kassmier replied, “I’m not a scientist, so I’m not going to answer that.”

That’s like the captain of the Titanic, asked if he thinks steel is stronger than ice, replying, “I’m not a metallurgist—whadd’ya say we put it to the test?”

Scientists, of course, are in all-but-universal agreement that human-generated pollution, as from coal mines and power plants, is gradually but fatefully increasing the earth’s temperature, contributing not just to the current conflagrations but to ever more extreme weather swings overall. A 2022 poll by Colorado College found that nearly 60% of Montanans agree and want meaningful action taken to address the climate change issue; of more than a thousand comments submitted in response to Kassmier’s bill, a whopping 95% opposed it. Indeed, Montana’s own 2015 climate assessment found that the state’s annual temperature had increased between 2 and 3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950—with winter and spring temperatures rising upwards of 3.9 degrees.

All that, however, has not deterred Republican lawmakers (sorry, yes, this unfortunately has become a partisan issue) from pushing back against any perceived threat to Montana’s prodigious oil, coal and gas industries. The eastern end of the state is underlain by part of the Bakken formation, a massive oil and gas field; its mountains contain the largest recoverable coal reserves in the nation, and half of the state’s electricity is generated by coal-fired plants. Big Sky Country may have to rebrand itself as the Land of Tiny Particulates, but at least its fossil fuel interests can continue to prosper without undue interference.

That much is understandable, if deplorable. What’s not understandable is the continued silence from the state’s many recreation companies that proudly proclaim their devotion to all things outdoorsy—and they’re a huge chunk of the landscape. Indeed, Montana likes to boast that its outdoor recreation economy is the nation’s second largest, accounting for 5.1% of the state’s gross domestic product. Ten percent of Montana’s jobs are in the outdoor sector, atttacting almost $4 billion a year in spending by out-of-state visitors. Yet even as the natural beauty that pulls in all those hunters, fishing enthusiasts, backpackers, campers and hikers is steadily eroded, the outdoor recreation industry resolutely refuses to connect the dots.

Among the most conspicuous avatars of this head-in-the-sand attitude has been KOA, the company that advertises itself as “the world’s largest system of privately-owned campgrounds” but which generally eschews any of the political muscle-flexing this might enable. Big on market research and on narrowly targeted speechifying before RV industry organizations, KOA takes a markedly lower profile on other stages and clings to an aw-shucks corporate persona that extols its origins as a provider of roadside camping for the traveling masses. A lobbying powerhouse it is not. Nor, apparently, does it maintain much of a presence in the Montana outdoor recreation fraternity, much less seek out a leadership position. This is a go-it-alone company that avoids entangling alliances.

But KOA also has been around for 60 years, and that means something, too. It’s marking the milestone with a new headquarters building on the west end of town; its cantilevered deck should provide an awesome view of the darkening skies to the north. Perhaps more significantly, KOA also has announced creation of the Kampgrounds of America Foundation, an effort to increase its “already robust philanthropic efforts” by “serving as the charitable embodiment of the brand’s mission of connecting people to the outdoors and each other.”

And how will that be accomplished? According to KOA, by focusing on three primary categories, the first being “accessibility to the outdoors”—which, indeed, is where virtually all of KOA’s research, marketing and advocacy have been focused to date. The foundation’s second primary category, however, is the “preservation and sustainability of the outdoors,” possibly signaling an overdue glimmer of understanding that there’s not much point in making the outdoors more accessible if the outdoors becomes a wasteland. But it’s the third primary category—“community initiatives where KOA campgrounds are and employees live”—that could be a game changer. Could be. Were KOA to take it to heart.

Helena, the state capitol, is just a four-drive from KOA headquarters in Billings, which in that part of the world makes them neighbors. There are 16 KOA campgrounds in the state, including one each in Billings and Helena. A community initiative to advance the preservation and sustainability of the outdoors could readily include a friendly visit to Rep. Josh Kassmier and his colleagues, there to explain that you don’t have to be a scientist to know when your house is burning down. That there’s more to the Montana economy than mining and drilling, neither of which have a long shelf life at this point. That the future lies in cherishing an irreplaceable natural landscape, not in tearing it down.

And maybe KOA, peering at the darkening skies from its new corporate perch, will finally understand that the next step in its corporate maturation is to advocate on behalf of the outdoors just as ardently—no, more!—as it has been marketing it.

Maybe. Sixty years is a long time, but it’s never too late to grow up.

Florida’s land rush still going strong

Few states—Arizona comes to mind—are as closely identified with land speculation as Florida. Indeed, Carl Hiaasen has made a prodigious career out of writing a slew of books about a rogue’s gallery of grifters who view the state’s natural resources as theirs to be plundered. Casual readers who think these fast-buck artists and their pitiless machinations are a product of Hiaasen’s feverish imagination should remember that his day job, until a couple of years ago, was as an investigative reporter and columnist for the Miami Herald. As Hiaasen himself has observed, Floridians read his books “more as documentary than fiction.”

So it is in Citrus County, some 60 miles north of Tampa on U.S. 19. Snugged up against the Gulf of Mexico, much of the county is defined by wildlife management areas and state forests. Ten miles north of the junction with U.S. 98 you can make a left turn onto West Ozello Trail, which, naturally enough, will lead you to the small, unincorporated hamlet of Ozello. Make a jog here and a jog there along narrow, winding roads that hopscotch from one key to another and you’ll end up on Fishcreek Point, your route dead-ending at a battered parking lot and an old boat ramp.

Except for the way you came in, you are now surrounded on all sides by the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve and the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, a rich off-shore area of marshes, mud flats, oyster bars, mangrove islands and seagrass beds, as well as the only wildlife refuge dedicated to the protection of the West Indian manatee. The land you are standing on averages two to three feet above sea level. There are perhaps 400 people living along the few roads, plus a church, a couple of restaurants, a bait shop—just the place for an RV park and glampground, you’ll think to yourself.

Or at least that’s what Jennefer and Dimitri Magradze would like their new neighbors to think. Having bought 16 acres at road’s end two years ago, they’ve spent the last nine months seeking county approval for what they maintain will be an eco-tourism business that will give the somnolent area an economic shot in the arm. Maybe three-dozen RV sites plus a couple of dozen glamping “tents” on platforms, a tiki hut, pavilion, inground swimming pool and pool house, a score of boat slips—or at least that was their opening salvo. It convinced the local Chamber of Commerce, which weighed in with its endorsement, but the rest of the community? Not so much.

There’s the roads, scarcely 16 feet wide and without shoulders and the scary thought of weekend adventurers trying to navigate them in 45-foot motorhomes towing a car or boat trailer. There’s the all-encompassing FEMA flood zone and an average of twice-a-year flooding, and the question of how those 400 or so residents—never mind the itinerant guests— will be able to escape an oncoming hurricane when a single jack-knifed fifth-wheel can block the only way out. There’s the question of what’s going to happen to all the human waste created by 100 or 150 campers, sitting in a possibly submerged cesspool, and the noise that those same campers will be making each evening, and the light pollution that will dispel a formerly stygian night.

Most of all, there’s the fact that the property the Magradzes bought is zoned as a coastal and lakes residential district and would need to be rezoned to allow an RV park. For many of their neighbors, that’s really all that needs to be said. “It’s not complicated,” wrote one local resident to the county planning and development commission. “They knowingly bought coastal swamp land, on a pristine nature space, that is flood prone, has limited access, is zoned for residential use only—and that is what they got!

Aside from the question of how such a glampground could be an economic driver in a substantially residential area, there’s a niggling belief that the whole “eco-tourism” premise is just a bit, well, pretentious. Or even duplicitous. The Magradzes, after all, lived on their property in a fifth-wheel for some time before the locals ratted them out to the health department, their sewer connected to a decades-old cesspool; the fifth-wheel was hauled off. Then they got cited in March by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for illegally cutting down more than a thousand square feet of mangroves, which the department deemed a “significant non-compliance” with state regulations. And all along they’ve been selling access to their boat ramp, in apparent violation of rules restricting commercial operations in a residential neighborhood.

It is all, say their opponents, indicative of a pattern of noncompliance with existing regulations and hardly indicative of an ecologically sensitive approach to tourism. It’s also so Florida.

Because, let’s face it, Fishcreek Point is hardly an unspoiled paradise. Part of the Magradzes’ property is an island, created some fifty years ago when a former owner dredged a channel through the marsh, apparently without any official sanction. The area around the boat ramp was at one time an RV campground, as evidenced by a few remaining pedestals and hydrants—but precisely how (or even if) it was permitted is lost to history, the county confessing its records don’t go back that far. A couple of concrete pads and a couple of ramshackle sheds are all that remain. That, and some 200 tires and more than a thousand beer bottles that Jennefer Magradze says the couple has already hauled out. Fishcreek Point, in other words, was for decades a good ol’ boys’ fishing hole and hangout, a remote corner of a Florida bayou where a lot of rules didn’t apply.

For the Magradzes’ supporters, and of course there are some, their proposed Fishcreek Glampground and Ramp will only resume an interrupted use of the property. It will mean cleaning up a dumping ground and bringing in tourists who will spend at least some money that isn’t being spent now. And their enthusiasm has been only whetted by the eye candy prepared by the Magradzes, of paved drives and manicured grounds and South African luxury “tents.” Moreover, in an effort to demonstrate their sensitivity to local concerns, the couple has repeatedly trimmed away pieces of the original proposal: gone now are the tiki hut and pavilion, the 21 boat slips have been cut back to three or maybe one, the number of RV sites and glamping tents reduced to 32 and 16, respectively.

Yet for all that, the Magradzes haven’t grappled with the basic issue: that they’re attempting to stick a commercial operation into the middle of a residential and environmentally fragile community. Literally scores—perhaps hundreds— of letters have flooded county offices in opposition to their plans. Many come from people who own RVs of their own, and even one who owned a Maine campground for 23 years, all saying the same thing: bad idea. Terrible idea. Quite possibly an enormously stupid idea.

The Citrus County Planning and Development Commission agreed with those views in February, rejecting the Magradzes rezoning application by a vote of 5-2. They did it again this past week, this time even more decisively, voting 6-1 to reject an attempt to “lessen the scope of the project.” But now the matter goes to the county commissioners, who are scheduled to decide June 20 whether to accept the planning and development commission’s judgment. Early indications are that they may be inclined to do so.

Then again, this is Florida. And Carl Hiaasen hasn’t made a literary career out of writing about reasonable people being caretakers of Florida’s delicately balanced environment. . . .

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How will you camp in the apocalypse?

This is NOT the ELE, pictures of which apparently have not made it onto the company’s website, but at least it’s comparable in size.

We know of five mass extinction-level events in the history of the planet, the last occurring 65.5 million years ago. That one supposedly wiped out the dinosaurs, although there’s some question on that score, given recent political trends.

But I digress. The more pressing question right now is when we can expect the sixth, or even whether it’s already underway, and what we can do to prepare ourselves. This is of special concern to the people who build RVs, because these are the folks who—like fundamentalist preachers milking their followers by extolling a “prosperity gospel”—disguise their mercantile grasping by promoting the many benefits Mother Nature would like to bestow on us. Yes, nature can be icky and even downright nasty. But thanks to human ingenuity and a relentless repackaging of creature comforts into ever smaller spaces, any of us with sufficient financial resources can plunge into the great outdoors with as little thought as when we go to a movie theater or sports stadium.

And yet: is that enough? Is all that whiz-bang technology and clever packaging enough to meet the challenge of Mother Nature’s biggest “ick” factor—the next extinction level event? How can the RVer heading into the deepest, wildest outback adequately prepare for an all-out assault on his or her continued existence? When the smoke (or radioactive dust or volcanic ash) finally clears, who will be left standing?

No worries, bro’—Mammoth Overland has your back. The Washington-based company announced yesterday it is taking orders for the Overland ELE (yes, ELE—for Extinction Level Event—which the company says should be pronounced “Ellie”), “the first off-road trailer designed to survive the apocalypse or anything campers might encounter.” Comparing Ellie to an armored car or a rich person’s “safe room” on wheels, the company boasted that the trailer “features an onboard air purification system, water filtration system, gas-powered generator and solar-power systems, enabling overlanders to explore fearlessly.”

But wait—there’s more! In addition to a drone launch and night-vision camera system, plus exterior flood and underbody lights to afford maximum surveillance capabilities, the ELE is equipped with weapons storage, front armor, an underbody skid plate and optional Level 3 bullet-proofing (a $25,000 premium). The pressurized entrance doors are submarine style, each equipped with four pins that extend into the walls with the turn of a lever. But the ELE’s most stunning feature may be a defense system that can engulf the entire trailer in a 10-foot by 25-foot cloud of bear spray, “potent enough to repel even the largest bears or most desperate bandits.” No worries about bear spray backwash: that onboard medical-grade filtration system can purge and refill the pressurized cabin in less than three minutes.

Okay, so maybe there’s a bit of hyperbolic marketing going on here, because you’ve got to lay it on thick to justify a $67,000 price tag (without the bullet-proofing upgrade!) for 14 feet of trailer. “Mammoth” it isn’t, despite the company name: if the ELE’s specs are comparable to its base model ($29,500), the cabin’s inside dimensions are just 6.7-feet wide by 9 feet long by 4 feet high, which would be claustrophobic in the event of a mass extinction—those events drag on for hundreds and even thousands of years. And then, of course, there’s the little problem of this being a trailer, which means it has to be towed by another vehicle that presumably won’t have all the survival bells and whistles.

Then again, Mammoth isn’t exactly an RVing powerhouse and is, in fact, a subsidiary of Vashon Aircraft, which makes light sport aircraft—little two-seaters that actually weigh less than its overland trailers and have a service ceiling of 12,000 feet, which is lower than the trailers can reach when towed by a beefy truck. The company’s diversification into back-country trailers, on the other hand, is symptomatic of the feeding frenzy that swept over the RV industry with the onset of the pandemic, prompting all kinds of new entrants into the business. Now that the fever has subsided, look for some of those late entrants to call it quits—or to scramble for a distinctive niche that no one else has claimed, and what’s sexier than the end of all life as we know it?

But Mammoth Overland will have to step up its game if it hopes to survive the apocalypse. Although its press release yesterday announced that more information about the ELE could be found on its website, the site was barely crawling this afternoon—perhaps because of overwhelming survivalist interest?—and in fact has not one word about or picture of its rolling safe house. It does claim, however, that the ELE will make its debut later this month, May 19-21, at the Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona. And it’s taking deposits now for promised delivery late this year, so let’s hope Armageddon can wait that long.

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Horses and RVs a volatile mix in S.C.

If a name determines destiny, Blue Sky—as in “creative or visionary and unconstrained by practicalities”—Associates might want to give it another go. “Stormy weather” might be more like it.

For more than two years, Blue Sky Associates has been trying to develop an RV campground in the middle of South Carolina’s horse country, along the North Carolina border and in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And for more than two years it has been enmeshed in a running battle with the local equestrian set, which just doesn’t see itself rubbing elbows with—well, you know. With people who don’t know the difference between a hock and a stifle.

Now the whole contretemps has escalated to DefCon 1, having ratcheted past permit hearings, court challenges, revised plans, various reversals and, as of two weeks ago, a defamation lawsuit. At a superficial level, the battle is between a community trying to preserve an established way of life and a landowner attempting to exercise his property rights. Drill down a bit, however, and what you find is an entitled group of affluent hobbyists facing down a tone-deaf developer whose default mode is to steamroll any opposition. Throw in a permitting process that apparently seeks to avoid controversy by disclosing as little as possible, and you have all the elements of a spectacular meltdown.

On one side is Spartanburg-based realtor William A. McDaniel, who for reasons yet unknown decided he’d like to build a small RV park on 38.68 acres he had purchased in September, 2020 for $325,000. The listing at that time advertised the property as a “great opportunity for development, housing and private homesite. Mountain view and creek border. Horse country.” The development was to be known as T. Tree Farms RV Park, also for reasons still unknown, and was to comprise a modest 50 or so sites and a 400-square-foot office, with plans for adding an equally modest swimming pool and patio at some future date.

As new RV parks go, in other words, a more unobtrusive and even self-effacing proposal would be hard to imagine. But—as already mentioned—this is horse country.

Surrounding the proposed RV park are literally thousands of acres of protected land. A key piece of the mosaic is Greenspace of Fairview, created in 2001 by Madelon Wallace—ironically, also a realtor and owner of Walker, Wallace & Emerson Realty, “specializing in equestrian, residential, land, conservation and estate properties.” Greenspace encompassed Fairview Farms, a thoroughbred horseracing facility, and reserved roughly two-thirds of its 1,331 acres as commonly held open space; the balance is apportioned among 13 shareholders as residential farms of at least 25 acres apiece. Neighboring properties also have development restrictions, including various land trusts and conservation covenants and easements, affecting an additional 4,000 acres or so, and all fall within the county’s Conservation Focus Area, which among other things prohibits “intense incompatible nonresidential development.”

Wallace, no surprise, quickly became one of McDaniel’s chief antagonists, circulating a petition that by now has nearly 900 signatures demanding that he go away. Equally unsurprisingly, Greenspace of Fairview has been named as one of four defendant associations in McDaniel’s defamation lawsuit, which claims Blue Sky has suffered “injury to reputation, both personal and professional; embarrassment; humiliation; mental and emotional suffering; lost income” and mounting legal fees from fighting a growing litany of “meritless challenges.” The four homeowner associations, in turn, responded with a lawsuit April 28 that asks the Spartanburg Court of Common Pleas to toss the planning commission’s latest approval of the campground, reached in March on a 6-2 vote.

Yet while a 6-2 decision might seem pretty decisive, the planning commission has done little to establish itself as an honest broker. After the RV park plan was first submitted in early 2021, the proposal was placed on the commission’s agenda for conditional approval just three weeks later—the zippiest of fast tracks. Moreover, public notice of the agenda was posted only a week prior to the meeting, and the notice neglected to mention where the RV park was to be located. Nor is there a county requirement for local property owners to be notified of development plans, which means that anyone with a possible interest in the matter was left in the dark until after the Blue Sky plan got its initial go-ahead. That might raise eyebrows in most precincts but Spartansburg’s commissioners were unabashed, insisting they’d done everything by the book and that the Blue Sky application “complied with all regulatory requirements”—nothing to see here!

All of which explains why emotions have been running high for more than two years, with local resistance coalescing around the debatable contention that a 50-site RV park qualifies as “intense incompatible nonresidential development.” Maybe—or maybe an RV park, no matter how limited, just rubs people with a certain lifestyle the wrong way. But because they were sandbagged, those people have been forced into a “let’s throw everything we can at the wall and see what sticks” strategy that risks provoking cynicism: the planned septic system is too small (although the state disagrees), the septic system is a threat to local waterways, area roads are too narrow and twisty for RV traffic, the parcel overlooks a habitat for two of the state’s rarest plants, the dwarf-flowered heartleaf and the ashy hydrangea. Indeed, the septic claims have prompted the non-profit South Carolina Environmental Law Project to join the fray on behalf of the homeowners’ associations, further roiling the waters.

McDaniel and Blue Sky, on the other hand, have done little to ingratiate themselves with their putative neighbors, at best setting themselves up for years of brittle relations that promise to make camping at T. Tree Farms RV Park an unpleasant experience. The arrogance behind Blue Sky was nowhere as evident as in a Fox News interview with Alex Shissias, the company’s attorney, whose bottom line seemed to be: “The last time I checked, this is America, and you’re allowed to do with your land what you want to do.”

Well, no—as Shissias the lawyer already knows, which is why he was appearing before the Spartanburg County planning commissioners. But Shissias the mouthpiece also knows his paymaster’s views, and with his comment reflected that patron’s overbearing impatience with others’ views and interests. All of which is to say, there’s little chance this will end well.

When the house is on fire, you yell!

Just in time for hurricane season, which officially kicks off June 1, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds today held a webinar/campfire session about disaster planning. The session wasn’t without merit, but as with many ARVC offerings, it was reactive rather than proactive, following the news rather than getting ahead of it. Moreover, the session failed to deliver on a timely promise that it would “consider insurance options,” the lack of which is shaping up as a crucial economic threat to the industry.

Yes, it’s critical for RV parks to have written disaster plans, to get in the habit of educating their guests about the kinds of disasters most common to the area and how to respond to them, and to have a close working relationship with local first-responders—all bases covered by the ARVC panelists. But these and similar bits of advice are limited in scope and imagination, a quiet murmur at the back of a room that badly needs to be shocked awake by a loud klaxon wail. As Susan Motley, ARVC’s education director, mildly observed, “We’re having disasters now in areas where people aren’t used to having them”—not that there’s much outreach to ARVC members about what that means.

Campers know about the growing challenge first-hand. Nearly one in five told The Dyrt for its 2023 camping report that wildfires and other natural disasters had disrupted their camping plans in 2022—triple the rate in 2019. Tornados, hurricanes, atmospheric rivers and record-breaking snowfalls have added to an assault most prominently headlined by wildfires, with their continent-spanning smoke plumes. As reported yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle, at least five popular state parks in the Sierra are buried in so much snow they won’t be able to open their campgrounds by Memorial Day weekend—and maybe not until well into June, depending on how much damage the melting snows reveal.

An eye-opening snapshot of current environmental risks is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose National Risk Index maps 18 different threats across the U.S. But as important as knowing where we are is knowing where we’re headed, and in that respect the news isn’t good: as I wrote back in early March, First Street Foundation makes current circumstances seem downright utopian compared to what we can expect over the next 30 years. And First Street thus far has looked at only four of the 18 extreme weather events that FEMA has been mapping.

The striking thing about all these assessments is that when they’re plotted on a map, you quickly realize the last places you’d want to live or camp—or own a campground—are either Florida (and the Gulf Coast in general) or California (and the West Coast in general). And if the maps don’t convince you of that, the insurance melt-down in both states should. Weather-inflicted damage in both states is so severe that both have back-up insurance plans (so-called Fair Access to Insurance Requirements plans, or FAIR) to provide at least some limited coverage when private sector insurers go belly-up or refuse to sell or renew policies, which has been occurring with increasing frequency. Now even the FAIR plans are foundering.

Florida’s, for example, said last month it may have to borrow as much as $750 million to cover claims caused by Hurricane Ian, an expense that comes at an especially inopportune time given today’s high interest rates. In California, meanwhile, the state-run FAIR plan has accumulated a $332 million deficit while it charges premiums that are too low and has limited reinsurance coverage in case of future catastrophic wildfires. Such plans amount to a hidden tax that politicians don’t like to acknowledge, and they’re growing at a rapid clip: Florida’s FAIR plan has tripled the number of its policies since 2019; nationwide, FAIR policies saw a 29% growth in policy numbers from 2018 to 2021.

It goes almost without saying that campgrounds and RV parks are more vulnerable than other businesses to environmental assault. Many are located along coasts, lakes or inland waterways susceptible to flooding, and many more are in heavily wooded areas that make them sitting ducks in a wildfire–but the standard guidelines for reducing fire exposure, such as removing vegetation within 100 to 200 feet of any structure or RV pad, would essentially create a parking lot. Most are located in rural areas, where fire fighters, EMTs and law enforcement are stretched thin and can need lengthy response times. Disaster is not only more likely to strike a campground than, say, a motel or hotel, but when it does, it’s likely to cause more lasting damage.

These are complicated problems to assess and analyze, which may be reason enough for ARVC to shirk from doing so. Nor does it help that ARVC members as a rule are in deep denial about their predicament—if it were otherwise, they’d be clamoring for ARVC to step up to the plate. They’d be insisting that ARVC create a national database of the specific environmental threats faced by each RV park and campground; they’d push for an inventory of which campgrounds have suffered what natural disaster damages and at what cost; and they’d compel ARVC to start the discussion about insurance options that was promised for today.

You can’t effectively address a problem until you’ve defined its nature and dimensions. What came through in today’s webinar, however, was at best a fragmented understanding of a growing threat, and a somewhat wistful reliance on the industry’s long-cherished tradition of campground owners helping each other in times of need. That’s an admirable history, indeed, but one that’s completely inadequate for the size and scale of the storms ahead.

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RVs as Swiss Army knives of housing

Part of a two-mile-long line of RVs parked along a frontage road for Highway 101 in Marin County, California, reflective of a growing affordability crisis in housing throughout the U.S.

Swiss Army knives have been promoted for decades as the epitome of versatile utility. Carrying one in your pocket, you can have an arsenal of handy tools at your disposal—not just a knife blade or two, but if you’re so inclined, various screwdrivers, a bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew, metal saw, metal file . . . on and on to absurd lengths, including a toothpick, tweezers and magnifying glass, depending on how much you want to spend. The scissors aren’t worth a damn, and the Leatherman multitool eventually demonstrated what a folding pair of pliers should look like, but you can still shell out more than a hundred bucks for 6.5 ounces of 33 “essential features.”

So it is with RVs, which at one time (and not so long ago, either), were little more than hard-sided tents on wheels. But as with Swiss Army knives, which “evolved” from basic tools to gussied-up toys, you can get anything from a minimalist model to one with as many extras as you care to underwrite, progressing from an ice chest and Coleman stove all the way up to house-size refrigerators, sinks and showers with running water and flush toilets, microwaves and induction cooktops, flat panel TVs, electric levelers, gas furnaces . . . on and on to absurd lengths, including heated floors and washers and dryers.

All that frippery gets sold in the name of both comfort and versatility, in the same way that Swiss Army knives are pitched as the ultimate survival tool to urban dwellers who almost never will be in a situation that puts them to the test. Thanks to the many, many “upgrades” that have gone into “improving” today’s RVs, you can “enjoy nature” without actually getting into it, much as you can enjoy the outdoors in a zoo or at an aquarium, staring at other life forms through glass or bars; just haul your metal, plastic and glass cocoon from one Eden to another, marveling at nature’s bounty from the comfort of your marvelously appointed environment.

Okay. To each his or her own, and if that’s how you choose to spend your money and time, the proper American response is to say “so be it.” Freedom! But the thing is, this isn’t just about individual choice. All those hundreds of thousands of decisions to buy an RV with bells and whistles are rapidly becoming a socially warping phenomenon. And unlike Swiss Army knives, which even in the tens of millions are an insignificant addition to the social landscape, RVs have a distortion effect more comparable to that of the automobile.

There is, first, the impact they have on the physical landscape itself, both directly—because of their increasing weight and size, as well as their consequential increased gas consumption—and indirectly, primarily through the ancillary development of campgrounds and other support services. Those two million or so RVs sold since the start of the pandemic have sparked an enormous land rush by investors looking to cash in on the next big thing, and they’re not content to build what once was considered an “average” size RV park, of 100 or so sites. As this blog has repeatedly observed, the norm now is 300, 350, 400 sites—or much, much more.

Earlier this month, for example, the Daytona Beach City Commission in Florida signed off on revised plans for an RV park it had initially approved only a few months ago. The original plan called for 480 sites, which is very big by any measure; the revision, however, boosts that to 1,200. Public opinion on the decision was split along familiar lines, with those in opposition fretting about increased traffic and the effect on local wildlife, including bears (yes, bears—in central Florida), gopher tortoises and sandhill cranes. But for those favoring the increase it all boils down to the anticipated economic boost from increased tourism, and that’s a trump card that all too often wins the day.

Or consider the Hobson’s choice confronting residents of the optimistically named New Hope, Tennessee, where the owners of a 110-acre farm have had their property on the market for two years. Land-rich and cash-poor, they’re all too ready to sell it to an RV park developer who—if all goes as proposed—eventually will create 400 or more RV sites in a town with fewer than 900 residents. Those who turned out Monday for a public meeting on the matter clearly were torn between their understanding of why the farm is up for sale and of just how thoroughly such a sale will disrupt their lives—although as one participant noted, an RV park has got to be better than a Chinese battery factory. Or a chicken plant.

A low bar, indeed.

But it’s not just their environmental impact that makes RVs so disruptive. Marketed as a complete home package, they increasingly get promoted as actual residences, resulting in blurred distinctions and legal challenges. In Baldwin County, Alabama, for instance, the owner of a mobile home park currently is arguing with local officials and the state attorney general about their refusal to permit RVs on his property because that would violate county subdivision regulations. As the aggrieved park owner points out, RVs already are a common feature in mobile home parks across the county, so why shouldn’t he allowed to add a few spots for the RVs of construction workers hired for a new aluminum and recycling plant?

Indeed, as this blog also has observed, the Alabama dispute about RVs vs. mobile homes is going on all around the country. The irony is that this changing perception, in which RVs have morphed from recreational vehicles to residential ones, is actually putting the squeeze on the RV parks themselves—or, more accurately, on the RVers who want to stay at campgrounds because they’re, you know, camping. It’s telling, in this regard, that the latest quarterly report from Sun Communities attributes its strong financial results, in part, to its “transient-to-annual RV conversions of 524 sites”—that is, to 524 RV sites that are now filled with RVers who aren’t going anywhere. That’s swell for campground owners who no longer have to fret about low occupancy rates, but not so great for RVers looking for a site for the night.

The growing acceptance of RVs as acceptable—if not exactly desirable—housing has filtered all the way down to the economic stratum in which the thought of an RV vacation is as fanciful as dreams of dining on crêpes suzette in Paris. The progression through which homeless people have gone from sleeping on steam grates or under newspapers to pitching tents to living in battered vans, travel trailers and Class Cs has proceeded with breathtaking speed, reintroducing us within a decade to a world of Hoovervilles and shanty towns once associated with the Great Depression.

Consider the picture at the top of this post, taken by a San Francisco Chronicle photographer in one of the country’s most affluent counties, where the median household income is $131,000. As one of the couples living in a trailer parked alongside the road told the newspaper’s reporter, there are times when having an RV with a bathroom and kitchen—even though without refrigeration or running water—can make them forget they’re homeless.

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KOA gives up on explaining itself

Following the public relations debacle KOA created for itself earlier this year, when it finally threw in the towel over its misbegotten idea for a glampground in New York’s Catskills, the campground juggernaut apparently has decided to zip its corporate lip. Whereas it once boldly proclaimed development plans for its Terramor brand of glamping resorts, currently still limited to a single facility in Maine opened in 2020, KOA is now saying nothing at all about two projects still in the hopper, or whether it has plans for additional sites.

Of the two ongoing projects, the more likely to succeed appears to be a $28.5 million Terramor planned for the Adirondacks, in upstate New York. As reported here back in January, the proposed 80-site glampground would avoid much of the controversy KOA generated in the Catskills by repurposing an existing KOA campground in Wilmington instead of developing a brand new location. That campground, the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA, was “moved” 2.4 miles up the road last October and reopened this spring, albeit with only 31 RV sites. More, undoubtedly, will follow.

The vacated KOA campground, meanwhile, has the advantage of having already cleared many regulatory hurdles—although not all. As reported last week in the Adirondack Explorer, both the Adirondack Park Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been soliciting public comment, with the DEC evaluating the project for a wastewater discharge permit. The APA, meanwhile, which oversees public and private development within Adirondack Park, is reviewing the proposal’s “25% expansion of an existing tourist accommodation”—one indication of glamping’s more robust environmental footprint.

Tellingly, KOA declined to respond to inquiries about its plans from the Adirondack Explorer beyond an anodyne assurance that the company “will carry on its mission of connecting people to the outdoors and each other.” The stonewall was blatant enough to elicit a surprised comment from Wilmington Supervisor Roy Holzer, who supports the Terramor venture and thinks KOA “should be keeping the public informed and building excitement for their project,” the Explorer reported. Instead, the Explorer article appears to be the only news report about the project in several months, and even it put in a tardy appearance, publishing on April 20—the deadline for public comments to the DEC. The Adirondack Park Agency, meanwhile, is accepting comments until May 4.

While the communications black-out in New York has succeeded thus far in allowing KOA to fly under the radar, the weather is a bit stormier—literally as well as figuratively—at its other announced Terramor venture, at Midpines in Mariposa County, California. Although it filed a preapplication proposal more than 16 months ago to build two major campgrounds straddling the road that access the south entrance to Yosemite National Park, including a 400-site KOA resort and an 80-90 site Terramor, KOA has yet to follow up with an actual application. Nor has it followed through with promises of additional public meetings after a “coffee and conversation” meeting with local residents last June that left many “uncertain and unhappy,” according to a local newspaper.

But nature abhors a vacuum. While one extreme weather event after another battered the western Sierra foothills—forest fires, record-breaking snowfalls and now widespread flooding, prompting the National Park Service to close Yosemite’s campgrounds starting tomorrow—a similarly extreme human storm has been building among local residents, enhanced in no small degree by KOA’s aloof approach. A grassroots group calling itself Mariposans Against KOA and Terramor has been gifted with the lawn signs used by KOA’s opponents in the Catskills, which it has been erecting locally, and has created a Facebook page where the current hot topic is the amount of water KOA would be sucking out of the ground—five times as much as is used by Midpines residents.

Given the extraordinarily challenging environmental considerations KOA has had to take into account this past year, it’s not inconceivable that it might be having second thoughts about its Mariposa County plans. Then again, this is not a company that backs down gracefully. Three years after opening its Bar Harbor Terramor to mixed reviews, and with earlier projections of having three such glamping resorts up and running by 2025 increasingly in doubt, KOA seems to have decided that the less said the better. Unfortunately, that also means that a lot of people may feel ambushed when the other shoe drops.

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Cacapon RV park booted—for now

Just days after a court challenge successfully blocked a public hearing into a West Virginia proposal to build an RV campground at Cacapon State Park, the state has decided to shelve the idea altogether—for now. The about-face comes in the wake of growing weekly protests from area residents and park supporters, angered by the state’s announced goal of making the campground a profit center, and by the proposals it attracted, including one for a major facility of 350 RV sites and numerous recreational amenities.

The decision was disclosed yesterday by a state senator representing the area and rejects all three proposals that had been submitted by the March 1 deadline, marking a significant setback for Blue Water Development, which has been chasing the project for at least 18 months. As reported this past week by Morgan County USA, an online news outlet based in the state’s eastern panhandle, the Ocean City, MD-based developer was pursuing the idea of a large RV park at Cacapon at least as far back as September, 2021—six months before the state legislature approved an eleventh-hour bill that opened the door to commercial development of state lands.

“Attached is a draft concept for the RV Park at Cacapon we did for Bluewater (Blue Water),” a civil engineer wrote in an email on Sept. 28, 2021 to Steven McDaniel, then the head of the state’s Division of Natural Resources, as reported by Morgan County USA. “They wanted us to pass it along to you and see if this area still works and what the next steps would be.” The draft concept called for an RV campground of more than 300 sites, to be developed behind the park’s Nature Center.

Last June, less than three months after the legislature created Blue Water’s opportunity to get into Cacapon, company CEO Todd Burbage told Mike Gast, then an editor with the online magazine RVtravel, that a lot of state and federal parks were in dire need of infrastructure improvements—and by “infrastructure” he wasn’t talking about roads or bridges or even wifi, which is how most people would define the term. Gast, no slouch, apparently picked up on the inference. “Would Blue Water be in the market for taking over and running some national park campgrounds or state park campgrounds?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Burbage eagerly replied. “We’re actually in high level talks with one of the mid-Atlantic states right now. They’re actually being wildly helpful with us.” Although Burbage acknowledged that government does a good job of protecting “beautiful parcels of land,” he added that “when it comes to providing services along the level of what you and I expect, they just don’t have the expertise in it.”

Asked about that exchange earlier this month, Burbage insisted he’d had “zero communication” with West Virginia’s elected officials about Cacapon. Yet there’s no question that Blue Water was primed and ready to go when the Cacopon request for proposals (RFP) was issued last December—indeed, Blue Water was the only applicant from beyond the panhandle, raising a question of how widely the state had advertised its RFP. Moreover, one of the two other “proposals” came from a nearby competing RV campground that’s still being developed and which amounted to a request that the Cacapon venture be deep-sixed. The third proposal, meanwhile, came from a campground operator with no development experience and on its face failed to meet the state’s minimum requirements.

While Burbage has danced around the issue of his company’s behind-the-scenes machinations, the Blue Water proposal in fact included a 350-site campground near the Nature Center—just as described in the 2021 email. And while the proposal also included a 240-site alternative in a different part of the park, neither suggestion went down well with local residents who treasure Cacapon’s rugged beauty and more rustic vibe. “The theme-park style proposal from RV campground developer Blue Water is obviously a successful model for their private enterprise,” editorialized the weekly newspaper Morgan Messenger. “It just doesn’t fit inside Cacapon State Park.”

While Morgan County USA chipped away at the good ol’ boy relationship between Blue Water and state park officials, local residents and park supporters became increasingly outspoken in their opposition. An initial meeting March 27 to protest Blue Water’s ambitions drew a crowd of 70 or so, which grew to approximately 90 at an April 3 rally and more than 120 on April 10. Even more were expected for the April 18 hearing, before a court order cancelled it, and yesterday’s announcement that the Division of Natural Resources was rejecting all three RFPs suggests that the campground idea is dead. Unless, of course, it gets resurrected down the road.

For now, however, the division has decided to do what it should have done from the outset: listen to its constituents. An online survey, open for 30 days, asks respondents to provide their ideas for “camping or additional recreational amenities,” both throughout the state and at Cacapon specifically. Those who complete the 10-minute survey will be entered in a random drawing for a free, two-night stay at the state campground of the winner’s choosing. The division, meanwhile, promises to “consider future projects in light of the public comments received.”

Color me skeptical, given all the influence-peddling history here, but at least it’s a nod in the right direction.

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