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Now you, too, can buy a campground!

One sign of a market top is when people with no relevant experience start hitting up strangers for money to fund a new venture—and getting it. Another is when that sales pitch is so arcane it requires pages of explanatory text just to describe its underlying premise. Yet another is when the goal of all that fundraising transforms a quotidian quest into an epic venture, as with the announcement issued Jan. 23 on the PRNewswire to let RVers know they could become part of a “member-led community unlike any other.”

Meet Travis John, self-described passionate RVer and founder of something called CampersDAO, which in his words is “focused on buying and operating the best RV parks in the world.” That’s right, the world. This ambitious undertaking will create “a global community of camping enthusiasts by merging blockchain technology with the great outdoors,” which presumably has been waiting for just such a moment. And the marriage of these two great forces will be consummated just as soon as CampersDAO attracts up to 10,000 investors willing to pump in a minimum of roughly $500 as Trailblazers or $1,000 as Pioneers, for a projected total investment of $8 million or so.

Oh, but there are a few wrinkles. This is not a stock offering. John is not offering secured bonds—or, for that matter, any kind of security at all. Membership in “the world’s first Web3 camping community” will be gained through purchase of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, priced in Ethereum at the time of minting. Put another way, CampersDAO—the DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization—“uses the latest blockchain technology and an innovative business model to turn a membership into an NFT asset.” So if you’re looking to pile up some NFT assets, this may be just the play for you. Want to own a campground? Maybe not so much.

Let’s start this exercise in skepticism with the maestro himself, an Orlando, FL-based self-described entrepreneur whose various hustles—according to his LinkedIn account— include NewFutureRealty and NewFuture Digital, neither of which has any discernible online presence despite Travis John’s claims of having “experience building Web2 product and service businesses.” John also claims to be affiliated with Charleston, SC-based Healthycell, where he says he is “head of the tech stack, growth strategies and partnerships for a new patent-pending dietary supplement line using MICROGEL technology.” Healthycell actually does exist, although good luck trying to find out who owns it, and it actually does market Microgel products. Whether those products do much for you, on the other hand, is an unknown, as Healthycell scrupulously acknowledges that its Microgel statements “have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”

On to all that geek-talk about Web 3.0, NFTs and DAOs, all of which also exist and none of which you’ll be able to explain to your grandfather—although John gives it a shot, burning up hundreds of perfectly good words in the attempt. But strip away all the techno-babble, and what it comes down to is that a DAO is governed by its owners, who are all the people who purchased its NFTs. One NFT, one vote—but vote for what? That depends, as John himself concedes, noting that “the degree of decentralization in a DAO can vary, with some being more decentralized than others,” depending on “the protocol it is built on, the importance of the protocol to the overall crypto ecosystem, regulatory factors, and the maturity of the organization.”

As for how that applies to John’s project, or what kind of protocol it will have, he hasn’t said yet. Maybe that will be made known by Earth Day, April 22, when John is planning CamperDAO’s official launch.

Assuming the sale is fully subscribed (it should be noted that John has yet to say what will happen to the sold NFTs if it isn’t), it’s doubtful there will be enough money to buy even one of “the best RV parks in the world,” much less a promised “network.” Eight percent of the NFT sale is scheduled to go to the NFT launch and a third of the balance will be used for operating costs, with the remaining $4.8 million to be held in reserve “to cover operational costs, RV park purchases and future growth.” Exactly what “operating costs” will necessitate spending several million dollars remains unspecified. And while $4.8 million will suffice to buy a decent campground, it won’t come even close to touching a world-class RV park—assuming that some of that money isn’t diverted to cover even more of those pesky “operating costs.”

As sketchy as all that sounds, though, it’s not without precedent. In fact, John seems to have gotten his brainstorm (as signaled by one of his LinkedIn “likes”) from a similar DAO launched just about a year ago, albeit in that case on behalf of the golfing world. LinksDAO raised nearly $11 million for the purpose “of purchasing a network of global golf courses while designing parallel experiences in the Metaverse”—a truly baffling aside that I’m not making up—as well as “building the world’s greatest golf community.” Founder Mike Dudas planned, at that time, to acquire LinkDAO’s first course by mid-2022 and open it for play by the end of the year.

To date, however, LinksDAO is little more than a buyer’s club for golf enthusiasts looking for discounts on clothing and gear. Indeed, as one DAO observer told a Forbes writer last February, such arrangements amount to little more than a “group chat with a bank account.” As for actually buying a golf course, LinksDAO acknowledged that additional funds will have to be raised. Moreover, it should be noted that owners of LinksDAO NFTs won’t automatically gain membership in any golf course that might be acquired—that will require a separate fee.

For all that, the LinksDAO’s NFTs were all snatched up within 24 hours of being dropped, suggesting at least one reason for Travis John’s enthusiasm. There’s every reason to think CampingDAO should be DOA, but that’s expecting too much from people who undoubtedly will clamor to join a member-led community unlike any other—which it will be.

As they say in Rome, caveat emptor.

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KOA amps up the camping con game

One of the KOA-Terramor glamping “tents” in Bar Harbor, Maine. Behind the wooden wall at the head of the bed is a shower with dual shower heads and a ceramic floor.

It’s mid-winter in New York, but the temperature was unseasonably hot when the Saugerties town planning board held a public hearing last week on a KOA-proposed 75-site glamping resort. Approximately 200 local residents turned out Jan. 17 and hooted their approval as a score of speakers—and one mischievous singer—detailed the many reasons why this is a deplorable idea. But while not a single business owner, politician or civic booster rose in defense of the project, KOA showed no sign of backing down, either, demonstrating yet again how far it’s departed from its folksy origins and how oblivious it has become to public opinion.

The Saugerties venture is KOA’s second attempt to diversify into the high-dollar end of the campground business, following an initial foray in Bar Harbor, Maine. That first effort converted a conventional KOA into a glampground under the Terramor nameplate, but while repurposing an existing campground avoided some troublesome issues, it created others. So, on its second go-round, KOA decided to find an undeveloped piece of land on which it could start with a clean slate. It settled on a 77-acre site between Woodstock and Saugerties. And then its problems began.

While initially slow to take notice and build support, the anti-Terramor movement in recent months has gained both momentum and sophistication. Fund-raising to hire scientific and legal talent by now has generated nearly $40,000. The group’s online presence is rich with documentation and resource materials. And its arguments are becoming more refined, homing in on what may be the project’s greatest weakness: an unyielding terrain.

“I think the real surprise for Terramor was not the neighbors. I think the surprise was that the blank canvas they purchased was on bedrock that made septic impossible, contained wetlands that made wastewater difficult to release and included an endangered species that needed a protected habitat,” said Susan Paynter, a leader of the local opposition. “The neighbors are the least of their problems.”

While all that is daunting enough, another argument still shaping up in Saugerties has more widespread implications: that all this talk about “glamping” is ultimately deceitful. That to describe a project as having “campsites” occupied by “temporary structures,” as KOA has done in its presentations, is at best disingenuous when those “temporary structures” have 600-square-foot footprints and are erected on wooden platforms with plumbing and electricity. The Terramor “tents,” while superficially qualifying for that label because the outer shell is canvas, have wooden interior walls, ceramic-floored showers with twin shower heads and, in some cases, a second bedroom in which to stick the kids.

In that respect, glamping “tents” are another aspect of the industry’s efforts, similar to its embrace of park model RVs, to push the limits on what kinds of dwellings it can erect with minimal tax and regulatory liabilities. “Temporary” structures—one because it has a canvas shell, the other because it still has wheels attached to its chassis—in most jurisdictions aren’t subject to real estate taxes. They don’t have to conform to zoning restrictions that would apply to fixed structures, and they don’t have to meet HUD or other housing regulations. And while glamping tents are less durable than park models, they can be larger (park models are limited to 14-foot widths and 400 square feet), are substantially cheaper and can be more readily tarted up as glamorous camping accommodations.

And for now, at least, they can charge novelty prices of $300 and up per night.

That lure is so great that the glamping silliness has exploded. Even as it battles the Saugerties crowd, KOA is simultaneously developing a third Terramor resort, also in New York, and this time it’s reverting to its original approach of converting a former KOA campground. The Lake Placid/White Face Mountain KOA in Wilmington, closed for the season in October, is now being “moved up the road” 2.4 miles, according to KOA, and will reopen in the spring—albeit with fewer than half as many sites. Meanwhile the former site, on Fox Farm Road, is being repurposed as a Terramor Outdoor Resort, with 80 glamping sites, a main lodge with a restaurant, a pool, pavilion, wellness cabin and staff housing.

The Wilmington plans, it should be noted, call for glamping sites that “will consist of both insulated tents and ‘hard-sided’ units,” which the design narrative explains are “to resemble a tent, but with walls and a roof” so they can be used in winter. In other words, ersatz tents of up to 900 square feet—hard-sided “tents” imitating “glamping tents” imitating the kind of tents that you can buy at REI, in a regressive progression whose next step can be nothing less than a motel shaded by a large piece of canvas strung from a series of telephone poles.

Meanwhile, underscoring that this is not just KOA running amok, its Bar Harbor Terramor Resort may be about to get some competition across the bay, in nearby Lamoine. Clear Sky Resorts, a glamping outfit based in Arizona, wants planning board approval for a 90-site “dome glamping camp” with an onsite restaurant, pool, spa, wedding venue and employee housing, but town officials kicked back its application earlier this month, saying it provided incomplete information about water and sewer use. Clear Sky supposedly will be back Feb. 6 with a second effort.

As with KOA’s “tents,” the camping domes Clear Sky wants to erect are huge—660 square feet—and an additional 13 domes intended for staff lodging, wedding venues, a restaurant and other uses presumably will be even larger.

Back in Saugerties, local residents are pushing the planning board to request a State Environmental Quality Review Act assessment from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation—an outcome that could result in KOA having to prepare a draft environmental impact statement. KOA has until Feb. 21 to respond to the volley of concerns it received last week at the planning board hearing, with board members saying it will take months to reach some kind of decision—so stay tuned. There’s more needless drama to come.

A Clear Skies “glamping dome,” which because of its shape (a 28-foot diameter) has an even bigger footprint than one of KOA’s glamping tents.

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Giddy times at the Tampa supershow

As waves of winter storms batter the Pacific Coast, the Rockies and the upper Plains, any friendly—dare I say amorous—thoughts about Mother Nature may be the furthest thing from the minds of the folks who live there. Not so in Tampa, Florida! As proclaimed in an RVBusiness headline, exhibitors at the Florida RV SuperShow are “rocking and rolling.”

This annual five-day RV orgasm, rapidly becoming one of the largest in the country, runs through Sunday and shows every sign of defying the downturn in RV sales that kicked in mid-way through 2022. Attendance has been at near-record highs, edged just a bit by last year’s extravaganza, when then-low interest rates and pandemic-unleashed tailwinds made RVing the newest “it” thing for American consumers. Aggressive interest rate hikes and possible market saturation for first-time buyers subsequently took the wind out of the industry’s sails, but now that corner may have been turned.

More than 1,300 RVs are currently on display, with an additional 1,500 or so owned by show attendees camped at the fairgrounds. Winnebago was offering test drives of its second-generation all-electric RV, still in the prototype stage, but all available time slots reportedly were booked days ago. High-end motorcoaches are a dime a dozen, liberally garnished with “wow” add-ons like Garmin total-control coach control systems, electronically controlled suspensions and blinged-out interiors. And custom builder SpaceCraft (?!?) Mfg. has trucked in a 54-foot converted semi-trailer that sports 10,000 watts of solar panels, 108,000 watt/hours of lithium battery storage and 485 gallons of water tanks—enough, says the company, to enable up to a month of off-the-grid camping.

Of course, first the thing has to be maneuvered into its boondocking paradise. That alone should limit the customer base. As will the price tag.

But it’s not just the big-ticket items that are drawing attention. RVers are swarming supplier displays as well, leading a Dometic brand manager to tell RVBusiness, “I would say I wouldn’t wait to buy something. If you see it and you think it’s cool, you should buy it, because it’s selling out.” Campground reservations also have been surging, according to Don Bennett of the Anderson Brochure Distribution Service, which distributes RV park brochures at trade shows. “I think the one thing that the pandemic has impressed upon not only the new campers but the seasoned veterans as well,” he said, “is to try to make reservations as early as possible, and I know a lot of campgrounds are seeing an uptick in reservations as of January.”

There is, in other words, a lot of excitement in the Tampa air this week—as is a certain fin de siecle feeling, as though too many people were rushing for too limited a supply of lifeboats. A surprising number of news accounts about the show include interviews with potential buyers looking to become full-timers. As one noted, even an upscale motorcoach “is still cheaper than a house,” which is a remarkable comparison to make on behalf of a depreciating asset. Meanwhile, the economy is still wobbling around the rim of a possible recession, an increasingly volatile climate is playing Russian roulette with campgrounds, and the owners of gas-guzzling behemoths run the risk of becoming the next generation of scorned wearers of mink stoles and sable coats.

It’s a mixed bag, in other words, and possibly not the best time to get swept up in the crowd’s euphoria. But it’s always hard to see a bubble from the inside.

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RV chickens coming home to roost

This may sound harsh, but the campground industry has an enormously uncomfortable relationship with Mother Nature: like the victim of an abusive spouse, it prefers not to acknowledge that there is a dark and sometimes violent side to its partner.

Two days after passing around a tin cup for donations to help campgrounds getting swamped on the West Coast, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) was at it once more, this time on behalf of campgrounds at the opposite end of the country. Proclaiming yet again that “When natural disasters strike, it’s in our nature to help,” the solicitation summarized the situation as follows:

At least eight people were killed on Thursday as severe storms and tornadoes left a trail of damage across the South. Ferocious winds sent residents running for cover, blew roofs off homes and knocked out power to thousands. The storms damaged power lines, severed tree limbs and sent debris flying into streets in Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky, where at least 35 preliminary tornado reports were recorded as of Thursday evening, according to the Storm Prediction Center.

All of which undoubtedly was true, as was a similarly generic recitation about the West Coast disaster—but in neither description was there any mention of an actual RV park or campground. The reader is left to assume that campgrounds were damaged, which is quite likely, but how many campgrounds or to what extent is left to the imagination. There are no human faces put on the tragedies for which ARVC is seeking a compassionate response, for the simple reason that ARVC doesn’t know them—nor does it really want to know them. Much better to leave this all on an abstract level.

That may sound harsh, but it speaks to the enormously uncomfortable relationship ARVC, and perhaps a majority of its members, have with Mother Nature. Like the victim of an abusive spouse, the campground industry prefers not to acknowledge that there is a dark and sometimes violent side to the relationship. Yes, there are problems, but we’ll keep those to ourselves—regardless of how unsustainable that may be—while presenting only a sunny face to the public. Anything else might be bad for business.

What throws this dynamic into sharp relief is the ironically concurrent news in the journal Science, published yesterday, that scientists at ExxonMobil “predicted global warming correctly and skillfully” more than 40 years ago. The peer-reviewed study found that Exxon’s scientists made remarkably accurate projections of just how much global warming would be increased by burning fossil fuels—“as accurate, and sometimes even more so, as those of independent academic and government models,” reported the New York Times this past Thursday.

Exxon’s corporate suite, no surprise, quickly put the kibbosh those several decades ago on its own research, casting doubt on its scientists’ work and cautioning against any move away from carbon-based fuels. Global warming projections “are based on completely unproven climate models or, more often, on sheer speculation,” the oil company’s chief executive assured a company annual meeting in 1999. “We do not now have a sufficient scientific understanding of climate change to make reasonable predictions and/or justify drastic measures,” he wrote in a company brochure the following year

ARVC, whose members rely on customers who drive vehicles of unenviable gas consumption, was only too happy to fan the embers of skepticism. Calls to reduce greenhouse emissions were premature, it declared in a 1998 policy, because of the “considerable uncertainty surrounding the theories on climate change.” What was needed, ARVC contended, was “more research, data collection and scientific analysis”—although presumably not by scientists employed by ExxonMobil. And guess what? Nearly a quarter of a century later, ARVC’s policy remains unchanged, as mired as ever in “considerable uncertainty,” even as its members watch helplessly as their campgrounds get inundated, leveled and swept away by pounding seas, tornadoes, mud slides and thousand-year storms.

And the tin cup gets passed around yet again.

To be clear, asking help for those unfortunate enough to be home when the chickens come to roost is both admirable and necessary. It’s just not enough. Aside from the disproportionate ratio of need to available resources, it doesn’t deal with the underlying problem. It doesn’t answer such fundamental questions as: who’s at risk? can that risk be managed? if not, what’s the alternative? is the current campground business model sustainable? if not, what changes—if any—can make it so? It essentially ensures that without such questions being asked, the pleas for help will only grow more bigger and more frequent.

One place to start changing this vicious spiral would be for ARVC to create a reporting system so it can quickly identify which campgrounds and RV parks may be affected by the latest extreme weather disaster—to put a face on the victims. Another would be to revisit its 1998 policy, in light of the past 24 years of “research, data collection and scientific analysis,” and figure out what a meaningful revision might look like. Yet another would be for ARVC to promote discussion among its members of a common threat, so it’s no longer seen as a taboo subject, the bogeyman whose name must not be uttered.

Most of all, it would help if ARVC and its members simply acknowledged that the love of their lives is sometimes abusive. The first step on the road to recovery, as any 12-step program participant will tell you, is to acknowledge that your life has become unmanageable.

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We’re not ready for the new normal

As California reels from a two-week series of storms that have claimed at least 18 lives, forced tens of thousands to evacuate and permanently altered the landscape, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) finally took notice yesterday with an email blast from its disaster relief foundation, requesting donations to help battered campgrounds. The solicitation was heralded with the bold statement, “When natural disasters strike, it’s in our nature to help.”

Well, maybe sorta.

While the jury is still out on the helpful nature of the industry’s recent wave of institutional investors, ARVC members’ recent track record of helpfulness is not reassuring. As I reported in a November post, mere weeks after dozens of Florida campgrounds were devastated—some terminally—by Hurricane Ian, the ARVC Foundation had dispensed slightly more than $20,000 in disaster relief for all of 2022. And Hurricane Ian was far from the only weather disaster to ravage the U.S. last year, as witness the following graphic (a larger version can be seen here):

Indeed, it’s ironic that ARVC jumped on the assistance bandwagon just one day after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released that map as part of a larger report on 18 U.S. weather disasters in 2022, each causing at least $1 billion in damage. That’s the third costliest such tally on record, trailing only 2017 and 2005, both those years also marked by severe hurricanes. Ian led the charge this time, with a $112.9 billion price tag contributing the lion’s share of a tentative $165 billion in total damages—tentative because the final total is still awaiting cost estimates from a year-end winter storm that could add as much as $5 billion. Oh, and lest we forget: those 18 supercharged weather events also caused 474 deaths. The price tag for those is incalculable.

Now we’re off to the races again, jump-starting the casualty and damage steeplechase with torrential downpours that are predicted to start tapering off over the next week or so. The destruction no doubt will exceed NOAA’s billion-dollar threshold for inclusion in the 2023 map, continuing a pattern that since 2016 accounts for more than $1 trillion in damage and more than 5,000 deaths. While the campground industry obviously is no more than a footnote on that balance sheet, it’s just as obvious that $20,000 in damage relief doesn’t begin to address the need. Yes, every bit helps for those lucky enough to get a donation. But let’s also acknowledge that such help ultimately is as futile as bailing out a lake with a tin cup, amounting to little more than feel-good virtue signaling.

What’s to be done? For starters, ARVC and the rest of the industry must step out of their glamping bubble, look around at the natural landscape, and recognize that the natural order of things really is undergoing a fundamental change. You can’t deal with a problem without first acknowledging that it exists. The blissfully mild and predictable weather patterns of 40 and 50 years ago are growing steadily more anarchic, and more recently have become downright nihilistic—not everywhere, and not all the time, but often enough to demand attention. Unfortunately, that means talking about a phenomenon that most campground owners resolutely deny is even a thing, much less something that requires a response from them.

Meanwhile, although ARVC might be expected to provide leadership on the matter, this is an organization that operates with a transactional business model: the things that get talked about must either a) strengthen the executive suite; or b) enable someone to sell something, be it a product or a service. EV charging stations currently are a hot topic not because of ARVC’s commitment to a carbon-free future, but because RV manufacturers are developing electric RVs that they won’t be able to sell if their customers won’t have any place to plug them in. Nothing wrong with that, any more than there was anything wrong with promoting on-line reservation systems or enhanced campground wi-fi capabilities—just don’t confuse all that with a policy-driven agenda.

So until either someone figures out a way to make money off natural disasters or ARVC has a come-to-Jesus moment about climate change, the tin cup response will be the default position—again and again. “Groundhog Day” comes to mind. So does that quotation attributed to Einstein about the definition of insanity.

Even redwood trees like this one, at Sue-meg State Park in Humboldt County, CA, are succumbing to the relentless wind and rain buffeting the Pacific Coast. Be glad you weren’t camping here.

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Lions, coyotes and wolves, oh my!

One of 80 signs warning of mountain lions in the area around Nederland.

My recent post about the one-year anniversary of the Marshall fire in Colorado cited a U.S. Fire Administration report, issued last June, that raised the alarm about urban encroachment on undeveloped land. Titled “Wildland Urban Interface: A Look at Issues and Resolutions,” the report was an unabashed effort to “trigger a sense of urgency and motivation” about safeguarding exurban communities from wildfires.

It’s a report worth reading, but given its narrow focus, only scratched the surface of an increasingly complex subject. While the intrusion of human dwellings into wildland areas increases fire risks, “wildlands” don’t consist solely of vegetation: there’s fauna associated with that flora. And while wildfires can cause destruction on an epic scale—the Marshall fire consumed more than 1,000 homes—wild animals can be just as lethal in the number of human lives they claim. Moreover, predators increasingly are moving into fully urbanized areas, where they’re greeted with a mixture of fear and anthropomorphizing wonder that complicates an appropriate human response.

An extreme example of this phenomenon played out in Los Angeles last month, where a mountain lion known as P-22 was euthanized after spending more than a decade prowling the city—euthanized not to remove a potential threat to adults, children and pets, but because of its long-term health problems exacerbated by being struck by a car. The “bona fide celebrity,” as the lion was described in news stories, was finally trapped after reports that it had attacked three dogs within a month and had several near-encounters with hikers. Veterinarians found that the emaciated puma’s injuries from the accident included a skull fracture, an injury to its right eye, herniated organs and a torn diaphragm. But the lion also had lost about a quarter of its body weight and had heart, kidney and liver disease, a thinning coat and a parasitic infection—hardly the stuff of an uplifting “Born Free” sequel.

While news coverage of an apex predator’s life and death in the country’s second-largest city was inexplicably fawning, the problem of large wild animals penetrating towns and cities is growing coast to coast. The resulting human toll is still limited, although not negligible, but the worry is that increased habituation to humans coupled with growing wildlife population pressure will lead to more attacks. Pets, meanwhile, have decidedly more to worry about than do their owners.

As reported last week by the Colorado Sun, residents in and around Nederland, a Colorado town in the Rocky Mountain foothills west of Boulder, have been complaining to state wildlife officials that mountain lions had killed 15 dogs over a recent 30-day period and have been stalking their horses. As one woman from nearby Rollinsville said, about an incident Dec. 26, “Our beloved Aussie shepherd was snatched off the porch by a massive mountain lion right in front of me as I ran to open the door. . . . I’m now scared for our children.” With an estimated four mountain lions per 36 square miles in an area that stretches from the Continental Divide to Interstate 25, more such incidents are all but inevitable. “That’s yeah. That’s a lot of lions,” as one wildlife manager acknowledged at a local meeting.

But mountain lions are only one among a handful of beasts with large teeth and claws adapting to the human landscape, a list that includes wolves, coyotes and black bears. And while all tend to avoid humans when possible, that aversion may be lessening with increased interaction among the species. Wolf attacks on humans are extraordinarily rare, for example, but not unprecedented. The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research recently compiled a list of 489 wolf attacks between 2002 and 2020 in North America and Europe, most by rabid animals, but also including 67 people who were victims of predatory attacks; nine of those victims were killed, for an average of one every two years.

Coyotes, meanwhile, historically far more wary of humans than either lions or wolves, have proliferated across the continent and appear increasingly capable of regarding people as a food source. After an aggressive pack in the Cape Breton Highlands killed a 19-year-old Canadian woman in 2009, followed by 32 other reports of “coyote-human incidents”— including seven in which people were bitten—a research project concluded that such emboldened behavior is a result of the pack acquiring a taste for larger prey. Because of changing environmental conditions that depleted the supply of the smaller mammals they usually hunt, the coyotes began to learn how to take down moose, which average 1,000 pounds apiece. Attacks on people “are at least partially the result of prey-switching,” concluded the study, according to an article last month in the National Post.

Although the Cape Breton coyotes may be an extreme example, the species is expanding by leaps and bounds elsewhere, and frequently in menacing ways. The Massachusetts coastal town of Nahant reportedly has at least a dozen coyotes that have grown increasingly brazen about going after pets, with some owners outfitting their dogs with spiked “coyote jackets” to repel attacks. Yet despite 500 or more coyotes killed in Massachusetts each year, the number keeps growing and coyotes are now in every part of the state except for the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Just how large a problem this can become is illustrated by South Carolina, where annual hunting and trapping has yet to make a dent in a population of 25,000 to 30,000 coyotes.

Meanwhile, the growth in black bear populations has been almost as remarkable, with current U.S. estimates ranging from 300,000 to twice that number. Although omnivorous, rather than carnivorous, and far more shy than their aggressive brown cousins, black bears are so ubiquitous that their encounters with humans are increasingly inevitable, with occasionally tragic consequences—and especially so if a bear cub is involved.

There’s other wildlife of varying degrees of concern, of course. Every year seems to include at least one story of someone becoming an alligator snack. Raccoons can be incredibly destructive of private property, but also pose an acute physical threat to anyone foolishly trying to ward them off. Muskrats, beavers, porcupines, skunks—the list of creatures that don’t mesh well with urban and suburban environments is extensive and often problematic. The problem is not that we share this planet with other animals, however—it’s that we don’t acknowledge their essentially wild nature. Too often we treat this wild element as something that exists for our amusement (see P-22 above), but we’re just as foolish when we perceive such animals as being on par with a tree or boulder—as just another piece of landscape.

A comprehensive understanding of the wildland urban interface must include more than trees, grasses and underbrush; it also must include the four-legged critters that call the woodlands home. It’s a wildlife urban interface, too, with obvious implications for every campground owner, boondocker, backpacker and other outdoor enthusiast.

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Part III: RV parks and campgrounds are NOT part of a ‘hospitality industry’

The first two installments of this series examined how the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) fails to live up to its promise of being either “national” or an “association.” That was a relatively straightforward case to make. The more abstract yet more fundamental argument, however, is to demonstrate how ARVC’s leadership has been so seduced by the idea of being part of the “hospitality industry” that it has lost its way—and in doing so has lost sight of the many existential threats now confronting its core constituency. Which, if anyone needs reminding, is RV parks and campgrounds.

The “hospitality industry” identity, which ARVC claims overtly in its “vision” and “mission” statements and which it embraces in practice, is a seductive one. It sounds high-toned and professional, even scientific, as though there were a single overarching set of principles that could be applied to all those many ways of hosting people away from home: hotels, motels, campgrounds, bed-and-breakfasts, inns, RV parks, ski lodges, marinas, resorts, glampgrounds, and so on. And, indeed, there are commonalities—including some common problems, the most obvious being the extraordinary shortage of workers willing to be hospitable. But the differences are far greater than the similarities, and overlooking them in order to lump all those disparate businesses together makes as little sense as combining trees and horses in one category because they both have limbs.

Three years after the pandemic decimated the labor force, for example, the hospitality industry still has nearly a million fewer employees than it had in early 2020. But that burden is not distributed evenly. Hotel and motel employment has rebounded almost to full strength, while campgrounds and RV parks are still struggling to flesh out their payrolls, and especially among seasonal operations. One inevitable result: campers increasingly are pushed toward making reservations online (some campgrounds, if they answer the phone at all, now charge an extra fee for the “service” of accepting your money), are encouraged to check-in remotely and may never interact with a campground employee before checking out. That might be a preferred way of doing business for some, but it makes a mockery of any pretense at campground “hospitality,” just as the “hospitality” of an automat is nothing like that of a full-service restaurant.

But that’s only part of the problem. RV parks and campgrounds are significantly more labor intensive than their bricks-and-sticks counterparts even in the best of times, with campground owners having to deal with grounds-keeping, sewage disposal, and water and electric utilities on a scale that would make hotel managers blanch. But these are not the best of times. An increasingly unstable climate has added to this burden, with more frequent and destructive weather creating disproportionate damage to open-air facilities through flooding, wildfires, ice storms or wind damage. Their labor forces depleted, campgrounds and RV parks are accumulating a significant backlog of deferred maintenance projects, while routine housekeeping is increasingly sparse—and the claim to “hospitality” becomes even more illusory.

It therefore may seem paradoxical that campgrounds and RV parks have become sought-after acquisition targets for various investment groups, which over the past couple of years have been snatching them up at a fantastic rate, for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere. But while that may be an attractive development for campground owners wanting to get out of the business, it also creates enormous stresses and strains for the survivors—in the same way that gentrification puts the squeeze on long-term residents of a neighborhood—as site rates get pushed to unprecedented heights and campgrounds increasingly remake themselves as amusement parks.

This trend also means that an industry that once was largely diversified across thousands of small one-off operators, typically small family holdings, increasingly is dominated by companies that own dozens of properties. Being big has a remarkable effect on one’s perspective: problems that can fill a small operator’s horizon may be negligible from an absentee investor’s broader overview, with its deeper pockets, backfield of talent and abundant outside resources. But guess who’s more likely to get the ear of industry leaders?

Taken together, those three dynamics—an insufficient workforce, a more hostile natural environment and a gentrifying business model—are fundamentally transforming the campground industry right under ARVC’s nose, yet without a flicker of recognition of what that means for association members. To take just one set of examples: how should campgrounds respond to the growing recognition of wildlife-urban interface problems? What best practices can they adopt to mitigate threats of wildfire or flooding? How many campgrounds may soon find themselves unable to to obtain property insurance in environmentally threatened areas, and how should ARVC respond to that need? What are the possibilities of the industry as a whole becoming self-insuring? Alternatively, what can the industry do to promote non-private insurers of last resort?

Similar kinds of questions can be asked about a depleted workforce and gentrification, but not by an organization that doesn’t recognize them as issues in the first place. And if that organization has isolated itself from its membership base, and if it identifies itself as being a segment of a more refined “hospitality industry” than as representing a bunch of hard-scrabble dirt renters for whom this is their entire fortune, it’s every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. The most critical questions won’t be asked until ARVC remembers why it was created in the first place: to serve the needs of privately owned RV parks and campgrounds, just like its name says.

Everything else is a distraction.

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Part II: ARVC’s name is misleading, because it’s hardly an ‘association’

There are lots of nouns a group of people can adopt when creating an entity of common interests. “Grange” has a certain folksy appeal, despite its admittedly short-lived history as a farmers’ group to advance agricultural methods and to promote its members’ social and economic needs. “Society” is another possibility, as is “alliance,” as are “union,” “brotherhood” and “confederation.” But when a group of campground owners got together in 1967 to form a national group that would meet their needs, the noun they chose was “association.”

That’s “association” as in the National Campground Owners Association, decades later changed to the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). “Association” as in “a group of people or organizations who work together for a particular purpose.” “Association” as a collective noun whose commonly understood synonyms include partnership, companionship, fellowship—words, alas, that hardly describe ARVC as it is today.

This is an organization, after all, whose current stated “vision” is a mystifying five words—“an empowered outdoor hospitality industry”—and whose “mission” is couched in soulless corporate-speak: “We empower outdoor hospitality businesses by providing industry-tailored resources, organic connections, consumer exposure, professional development, and proactive legislative action.”  That’s a long way from the association’s founding principle, which was “for the purpose of promoting camping through the private sector and protecting the camping industry from unfair legislation and unfair competition.”

Just as ARVC has replaced the earthiness of “camping” with corporate jargon about “outdoor hospitality,” so too has it jettisoned the fraternal trappings of an association in favor of a service organization’s efficiencies. Members are asked for little more than their annual dues, in exchange for which they get a strongly hyped menu of vendor discounts, various educational opportunities and a steadily more expensive annual convention. True, ARVC has a notably energetic legislative watchdog and lobbyist in the person of Jeff Sims, whose efforts readily fulfill at least that part of the original mandate. But efforts to promote “association”? To harness the energies of people to “work together for a particular purpose”? Not so much.

Instead, under the 12-year leadership of chief executive Paul Bambei, ARVC has become increasingly transactional and more distant from its individual members. Nominees for the board of directors, for example, must have received a certificate from—or be actively enrolled in—the organization’s Outdoor Hospitality Education Program, regardless of how much campground operating experience they already have. While the full program leads to certification as an Outdoor Hospitality Professional, it’s questionable how “professional” one can become after just eight days of face-to-face instruction. What’s unquestionable is that the $3,790 tuition cost, plus the expense of hotel, travel and time lost from work, can be a steep deterrent to potential ARVC leaders and a surprising hurdle for an association to place before any civic-minded members.

Once elected to the board, however, ARVC directors conduct their duties in a bubble. Although their names and pictures can be found on the ARVC website, no contact information is provided for any of their constituents who might want to reach them. The membership is not notified of upcoming board meetings before which it might to tempted to bring up matters of interest, and the minutes of board meetings are not published for membership review. Meanwhile, the flow of membership publications has been steadily choked off, its last magazine being quietly dispatched last year without so much as a farewell notice. As a result, ARVC members have little to no idea of their organization’s internal workings, and ARVC’s leaders hear extraordinarily little of their members’ concerns. Small wonder, then, that membership ranks have been eroding.

Thus insulated from their supposed following, ARVC’s “professional” leaders are free to develop solutions for non-existent problems while remaining oblivious to actual industry threats. Among the current distractions, for example, is a renewed push—more than a decade after it was first rebuffed—to create an industry-wide set of “standards.” Regardless of whether this is a good idea or not, the lack of prior membership involvement and education—and how could that have happened, given the leadership’s near-total isolation?—has resulted in a massive backlash and still more alienation between the leaders and the led.

Just how poorly those leaders appreciate the chasm that lies before them was suggested by a letter one of the board’s past presidents wrote a few weeks ago to the various state affiliates, seeking to explain why the standards had been proposed. None of his reasons indicated that the proposal was a response to membership demands. Instead, his chief rationale seemed to be that because the “hospitality industry has emerged as a leading travel and vacation style in recent years,” “regulators” are paying more attention. And since the regulators “don’t know our industry, wouldn’t it be better if the industry itself provided the definition rather than ceding that inevitable chore to others?”

Although no evidence is presented that this is in fact a problem (what “regulators”? making what “attempts to define us”?) the argument has a certain logic—until, that is, one realizes it turns the whole association dynamic on its head. Instead of an association of campground owners “protecting the camping industry from unfair legislation,” as was originally conceived, an increasingly “professional” ARVC has reached the point at which it will attempt to institute its own regulations, its own legislation. That’s a whole lot easier than pushing back against ignorant meddling by outsiders.

And, not incidentally, it also cements the transformation of a society of equals into a corporate-style command structure. There’s the top of the pyramid, which controls all internal communication and sets the agenda for everyone else; and there’s everyone else—until they aren’t. Until they bail, out of resentment or disgust or simply because their real needs aren’t being met.

Next post: Part III of why the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds should reconsider its name. Perhaps it should rebrand as the National Association of the Outdoor Hospitality Industry?

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Part I: ARVC’s misleading name, to whit, it’s not really a ‘national’ org

There’s only one national organization that non-franchised campground owners can turn to when they need help with their business, and that’s the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). It’s unfortunate, therefore, that ARVC is “national” more in name than fact, and is scarcely an “association” in any meaningful sense of the word.

For a better understanding of that first point, take a look at the map above. The blue states are ones that have state associations affiliated with ARVC: if you own a campground in one of those states, you can’t belong to ARVC unless you first belong to that state’s ARVC affiliate. Indeed, so entwined are these relationships that the blue states are charged with collecting dues on behalf of the national association as well as themselves—there is no option for paying dues directly to ARVC. Want to benefit from national membership but don’t see any value in belonging to the state organization? Too bad. This is an all or nothing proposition, not dissimilar from other bundled “services” we’ve grown to resent.

Own a campground in one of the six green states? You’re comparatively lucky there, because in those states you can belong to either ARVC or the state ARVC-affiliate—or both. Your choice, courtesy not of ARVC but of those state affiliates, which apparently feel confident enough in their offerings to believe they can attract members without having to ride ARVC’s coattails.

Then there are the grey states, of which there are 24, or roughly half the total but more than half by any other measure, such as land area or population. Those are the 24 states that don’t have an ARVC affiliate in the first place, so prior state association membership isn’t a consideration—for ARVC. Take a closer look, however, and you might realize that the country’s four most populous states—California, Texas, Florida and New York, accounting for fully a third of the U.S. total—are all grey, and while they don’t have ARVC-affiliated associations, they most definitely have their own campground membership organizations. They are, in other words, competitors.

How many campground owners in those states do you think might belong to both ARVC and to their own, unaffiliated state associations? To both ARVC and TACO (Texas Association of Campground Owners), or to ARVC and CONY (Campground Owners of New York)? Some, to be sure, but far fewer than would be the case if those independent associations weren’t around. Indeed, as illustrated by the California Outdoor Hospitality Association, former ARVC state affiliates have a distressing tendency to jump the ARVC ship when it seems financially feasible to do so: COHA did so in 2019, and hasn’t looked back since. Other non-ARVC associations, meanwhile, are reaching across state lines to create larger industry groupings, as Florida has with Alabama.

The result is an anemic “national” organization from which its potentially strongest affiliates have seceded altogether, while its main membership base is sustained by a mutually dependent relationship with state affiliates that might not otherwise stand alone—not unlike two drunks leaning against each other for support. That mixed allegiance led Greg Gerber, the now-retired editor of a daily RV industry watchdog publication, to observe that ARVC has a muddled public mission. “Does it represent campgrounds, or is it an association of state associations that represent campgrounds?” he wondered in 2016, in his seminal report, “RV Industry Death Spiral.”

Good question, and one that ARVC has never answered, even as it continues to trumpet its standing as “the only national association dedicated to representing the interests and needs of private RV parks and campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada.” Which is true as far as it goes, but that seems to be progressively less each passing year: even as its overall income increased by 50% over the five years since Gerber wrote his report, overall membership has declined and now sits below 3,000 campgrounds—or less than a quarter of the industry overall.

Next post: Part II of why the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds should rethink what it calls itself, in this case focusing on what it means to be an “association.”

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Too much tinder, not enough water

As 2022 lurches toward an uncertain finish, with blizzard-battered western New York still counting its dead and California bracing for yet another round of torrential rains, two recent Colorado-centric events deserve the attention of anyone concerned with the outdoors. Unfortunately, any meaningful response seems unlikely. Worse yet, Colorado is only a bellwether for much of the nation.

The first of these events is the one-year anniversary of the Marshall fire in Colorado, a conflagration that on Dec. 30 forced the evacuation of more than 35,000 people–killing two—as it incinerated more than a thousand homes and seven businesses. Although an anniversary may not fit the dictionary definition of an “event,” in this case the event merely started on Dec. 30 and is still unspooling: 12 months later, just one of the 1,084 missing homes has been rebuilt and fewer than 170 building permits have been issued to reclaim what was lost in just a few hours.

To date, no one knows why the fire started, although some possible causes—such as downed power lines—have been ruled out. That in itself is remarkable. Nor has there been a conclusive accounting of the financial losses sustained—a process made more complicated by the surge in interest rates over the past year—but the total is expected to exceed $2 billion. In short, this continues to be an unfolding story for those who once lived in the devastated area.

But there’s more. As documented in an extensive ProPublica story published two days ago, the Marshall fire underscored in the most dramatic way possible the growing danger of developing the so-called wildland-urban interface, or WUI. Once understood as a zone of transition between unoccupied land and human development, WUIs are now recognized as having encroached on urban areas that formerly were considered “non-burnable.” It’s not just that development has pushed ever more steadily into wildland areas; it’s that “wildland” increasingly penetrates urban areas, with trees, shrubs, grasses and even wooden fences mixed in with homes, power lines and businesses.

As ProPublica reports, fire experts who recently thought that fire threats were confined to the WUI now believe that the entire state of Colorado may be at risk of conflagration. Even without that more expansive view, however, the fact is that the number of new homes built in Colorado’s classically defined WUI more than doubled between 1990 and 2020. Nationwide, meanwhile, the WUI is growing by 2 million acres a year, with more than 46 million homes in 70,000 communities now within the path of a firestorm, according to a June report from the U.S. Fire Administration. One of the most generally unrecognized danger zones: the southeastern states, where the Fire Administration says the potential for larger fires will increase by 300%-400% by midcentury.

So that’s one alarm bell sounded at the end of 2022. The second is being rung by the Colorado River Water Users Association, which concluded its annual convention a couple of weeks ago pretty much as always: looking helplessly at the impossibility of squeezing a 10-pound ball of crap into a five-pound sack. Unlike recently recognized firestorm dangers, the inevitable collapse of a seven-state compact dividing the Colorado River’s waters was foreseen decades ago. The drawing down of the river’s two largest reservoirs, lakes Mead and Powell, has been many years in the making; that they are now nearing dreaded “dead-pool” status cannot be a surprise to anyone.

And yet. With drinking water for 40 million people at stake, not to mention irrigation for farmers tilling millions of acres of former desert, the various vested interests remained unable to agree on how to reduce water allocations by 15%—in 2023. More cuts undoubtedly will be needed in the years ahead, as decades of drought continue the aridification of most land west of the 100th meridian, affecting not just the Colorado basin but also the upper Missouri, the Platte, the Arkansas and the Rio Grande rivers. But with the Colorado River convention ending without a plan, the seven states now have until the end of January to somehow reach an agreement before the federal government, via the Bureau of Reclamation, imposes its own “solution.”

Why the scare marks around “solution”? Because anything the Bureau of Reclamation—or anyone else—concocts is only a rear-guard action. There is no long-term way to water an area that 150 years ago was more accurately described as the great American desert, any more than there is any hope of transforming the Sahara into a garden. John Wesley Powell tried to tell that to a disbelieving Congress in 1876. Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb was equally ignored in 1957, when he wrote in Harper’s that the West is “a semidesert with a desert heart.” What happens when the rivers run dry? When the aquifers finally collapse from over-pumping? When the cost of such fantastical dreams as diverting the Yukon or tapping into the Great Lakes is finally, fully comprehended?

But even today, as the alarm bells ring ever more loudly, we go blithely about our business as though there’s nothing to worry about. A concluding anecdote in an excellent Dec. 23 report in The New Yorker says it all. According to reporter Rachel Monroe, a boat captain who has spent decades on Lake Mead—where six of seven boat launches had to shut down last year because the water level is so low—isn’t worried because his neighbor, a retired intelligence operative, “told him that water shortages were created by the government ‘to promote the climate change.’ If the region ran out of water, he assured me, they would step in and fix it.”

Magical thinking isn’t unusual during the Christmas holidays, but it won’t be helpful in the harsher time that awaits us. Too much fire and not enough water: they’re opposite sides of the same coin, elemental forces that we can resist only so long. And there is no “they” to fix it.

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