COUNTY RV PARKS -- AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
by Tom Gonser 07/2012
During recent summer RV travels we had the good fortune of staying in Howard Miller Steelhead Park, a visionary project created by the Washington State’s Skagit County Board of Commissioners. The RV park is near Rockport, Washington, along the banks of the Skagit River. The park offers 39 very nicely spaced RV sites with full amenities (water/power/sewer), has both paved roads and RV parking sites, and is attractively landscaped and maintained. The park is designed to accommodate today’s longer, wider RVs. It’s the type of park one finds intending only to stay overnight, but can’t resist staying for a longer time.
Opportunities Realized -- and Neglected
We’ve seen other highly successful RV parks developed by county governments, port authorities, or other local governmental entities. But they are remarkably few and far between. Much more common is to find a plot of ground owned by one of these governmental units that has superb potential to attract the traveling RVer -- but no one has connected the dots to see the valuable potential for developing the property as an RV Park.
We have a home in Florence, Oregon. Just down the coast from us is Winchester Bay. There the local port authority, which had a prime plot of unused real estate, developed an available waterfront parcel into one of the most attractive coastal RV parks along the Oregon Coast. This formerly dormant piece of real estate has attracted thousand of RVer visitors into the Reedsport/Winchester Bay area during seasonal months, bringing a very significant economic stimulus to the surrounding area. The park was developed with the assistance of a well-known RV park design consultant.
Closer to home, the port authority that controls a parcel of land with similar potential in Florence, OR has let its real estate asset continue as a completely outdated rudimentary RV park that is only partly paved; has completely inadequate site spacing; offers marginal amenities, and fails to attract the high-end RV consumer that has discovered far better RV accommodations just a half hour south in Winchester Bay. While the RV facility at the Florence port property has contributed somewhat to the economy of the superb historical business area within walking distance, it falls incredibly short of its potential to tap into the economic stimulus that would come by following the example from its neighbor to the south.
But the Story gets Worse
Unfortunately the worst-case scenario is by far the most common: A country or local governmental authority owns vacant real estate with outstanding potential for development as an RV park -- and either does not recognize the potential, or fails to take the initiative to make the development happen. What’s particularly striking about this failure is that local governments often hold real estate parcels that have offer exceptional opportunities to attract RVers, whether it’s fishing, hiking, bird watching, golfing, biking, or access to near by recreational opportunities. With the right business strategy, a properly designed and managed RV park can be the source of a significant new revenue potential for local businesses. One would think in this age of scarce resources for local governments there would be a far higher state of awareness of such potential options.
In some cases a privately owned RV park may already be available. But usually that’s not the case. Moreover, because county (and other local) governments often own real estate at a carrying cost well below market value, it has the option of designing an attractive RV park with large and widely separated sites -- something that’s highly valued by RVers, and seldom found even in the best of privately owned RV parks. In our view the failure of county and other local governmental units to both see and evaluate this economic potential is resulting in an amazing loss of economic opportunity to the local communities that are impacted by this lack of vision.
Caution: It’s not a Slam Dunk
While there are an incredible number of “lost opportunities” out there, waking up to the potential for RV park development is only Step One in the process. Surely not every vacant parcel is a suitable candidate for development as an RV park -- though that conclusion surely cannot be reached without first being alert to that possibility. RV parks always have issues relating to to a variety of factors, including seasonality, location, recreational opportunities in the surrounding area, and topographical considerations. And it would be unrealistic to expect a county government to be skilled in making such an evaluation. Typically this will require pursuing the opinion of an expert qualified to evaluate the business potential, as well as assist with the park design and management. There are a few such qualified individuals out there, and we have indicated one source of that consulting expertise elsewhere at this site. The initial contact and general consultation should cost nothing; and any fee commitment should only be incurred where further evaluation appears justified.
There are numerous considerations known to experts about the feasibility of building an RV park on vacant property owned by a local government. From our perspective, among the most significant would be the potential to attract large numbers of RVers for the economic benefit of the local community. The benefit is not only in the fees generated by RV guests, but by their economic interaction with the surrounding community. These folks purchase fuel, groceries and supplies; and they thoroughly enjoy dining out at the local restaurants, and participating in local attractions and events.
This outcome is optimally achieved with a park that will attract RVers willing to pay a daily rate associated with spacious RV accommodation that is usually only found at thoughtfully designed parks on public lands. In virtually all cases the facility should be designed for short-term stays; and neither invite nor permit the property to be used for quasi-residential purposes. Unfortunately this mistake has happened all to often -- even though it’s easily avoidable with a properly designed management scheme.
If it Appears we Lament...
That’s probably an accurate assessment. We could name countless locations where we have seen potentially outstanding opportunities lie dormant. Dormant either because the local government officials were oblivious to the options for development; or in some cases despite the needed recognition the inexcusable lack of motivation to move such a project forward for a careful and objective investigation. There is much more that we could add to this short article. But the thought of going further into specifics for the benefit of so many ears that are turned the other way simply does not justify doing so here. Should there be county or local governments that genuinely want to consider possible next steps, we would be more than happy to point out a few logical first steps.