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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‘Active shooters’ at campgrounds?

Here’s how much the cultural landscape has shifted: the Campground Owners of New York is promoting a five-page “Active Shooter Policy & Prevention” set of guidelines for its members, who operate private campgrounds and RV parks. New York’s state motto is Excelsior! which translates from the Latin as “ever upward.”

Well, maybe at one time.

A press release about this guidance came out last week, just days ahead of a preliminary report from the Texas House of Representatives that excoriated nearly two dozen police agencies for their botched response to a shooting at the Robb Elementary School, in Uvalde. By the numbers: 376 law enforcement officers stood by at a scene in which 19 students and two teachers were killed by one very disturbed individual.

That was on Sunday. Yesterday, Tuesday, marked the start of the penalty trial of the Florida shooter who killed 17 people at Parkland’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, four years ago. And today, July 20, marks the ten-year anniversary of the opening of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, chosen by another deranged young man as the setting for a massacre in which he gunned down 12. The day began with a midnight vigil and continued with a city-wide outpouring of anguish, still vivid after a decade of loss.

That’s the backdrop for the CONY release, which urges park and campground operators to hold active shooter training sessions and to develop policies and procedures to protect campground staff during active shooter “events.” As the guidelines, prepared by the Towne Law Firm of Albany, observe, “there may be legal liability should an employee be injured in an active shooter event” in the absence of a “well-rounded active shooter event policy.”

Well, yes. Trust a bunch of lawyers to bring up the pesky legal liability issue. But a “well-rounded” active shooter policy? What exactly does that mean? Was the Uvalde shooting response flawed by a lack of roundedness–for weren’t there abundant policies already in place for just such an occasion? Maybe a campground operator could do a better job of it?

The law firm’s guidance on the matter, unfortunately, is a predictable mish-mash of common-sense advice (report suspicious activity) and nonsensical prescriptions (do background checks on campers to determine “if they are connected to any violent crimes or incidents”–and then?) that may provide some legal cover, but certainly won’t withstand an assault by someone armed with semiautomatic weapons and a death wish. This is the same kind of wistful thinking that propelled a generation of children in the 50s and 60s to use their school desks as shelter from nuclear weapons.

It’s also the sort of thinking that underscores how our society’s default position when confronted with a threat (global warming is another example) is to prepare for the worst outcome–as if that were possible–instead of making the difficult choices needed to confront it directly. Rather than press the politically difficult battle of banning assault weapons, or requiring extensive background checks and licensing for gun ownership, let’s just practice the “run, hide, fight” scenario that apparently is coming, ready or not. Give up on root causes and just negotiate the consequences.

Sadly, the other thing CONY and the Towne Law Firm are communicating is that there’s no escape. Society’s every ill will follow you, regardless of where you go. Even “the great outdoors,” it turns out, is not immune to the tragedy of the commons as we’ve now redefined it.

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