Staying Outside the Box: Gateway Parks

October 10, 2010
Filed under RV Parks

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Campground Gateway park Zion River Resort UTJeanette Copeland-Hood and her husband, Frank, travel extensively  in their 30-foot Winnebago motorhome. But whenever they visit national parks or national forests, they stay only briefly in government-run campgrounds. “Occasionally, we’ll find (government-run) campgrounds with electrical hookups,” Copeland-Hood said, “but most of the time it’s dry camping.”

In fact, when the Hoods made their first trip to Zion National Park in October 2007, they spent just “two or three days” at the park’s Watchman Campground, then drove outside Zion to look for a privately owned park with more amenities.They found what they were looking for at Zion River Resort in Virgin, Utah.The park, located 13 miles from the national park boundary, features paved, pull-through sites; full hookups, including 50-amp electrical service and phone connections; Wi-Fi; a swimming pool and spa; restrooms with showers; laundry facilities; a game room; a playground; a convenience store; and LP-gas service.“We thought we’d stay a few days, but we ended up spending the whole winter there,” Copeland-Hood said, adding that the couple have since made Zion River Resort their winter base.Mason Walters, general manager of Zion River Resort, said it’s quite common for RVers to stay in “gateway parks” — the privately owned campgrounds and RV resorts just outside national parks and other federally protected parks and wilderness areas.

“As people upgrade and purchase larger, nicer RVs, they are less likely to stay in a national park campground,” she said, adding, “A lot of people with Trailer Life or Woodall’s campground directories will do research before they come to this area and look for parks with the highest ratings.”John Croce, managing member of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based Team Management, whose holdings include Yosemite Pines RV Resort and Family Lodging in Groveland, Calif., says the park caters to RVers who prefer to have lots of amenities while making day trips into Yosemite National Park.

Campground Gateway park kids activities

He added that national park campgrounds tend to attract “the real naturalists, the hikers and the tenters,” while the gateway parks tend to attract more RVers as well as “yuppie campers” who like to stay in park models or yurts. Allison Kelly, owner of the 180-site Hadley’s Point Campground in Bar Harbor, Maine, sees a similar phenomenon. She said most people who camp inside Acadia National Park are tent campers, while RVers are more likely to stay in privately owned campgrounds outside the park.“A lot of people are looking for amenities,” she said, adding that her park features hot showers and flush toilets; a heated swimming pool; and full hookups.

Most National Park Service campgrounds provide RV parking, tent pads, restrooms and water. However, some also provide dump stations as well as electrical hookups, said Jane Moore, a Park Service spokeswoman.Some national park campgrounds are planning to make upgrades, but the decision to do so is typically made locally by individual park superintendents and is based on their general management plan, she said.The same differences can also be found when comparing state park campgrounds with privately run campgrounds.Mountain Glen RV Park in Pikeville, Tenn., for instance, receives much of its business from RVers heading to Fall Creek Falls State Park, which is 15 minutes away.

The state park has a campground and lodging facilities, and while improvements are being made to the park, many of its campsites cannot accommodate today’s larger rigs, said Mountain Glen RV Park owner Joyce Randall. She added that her park gets a lot of spillover business from campers who can’t find a space at the state park as well as RVers who prefer to stay in private campgrounds with more amenities.

Of course, even more rustic camping is available at campgrounds provided by the U.S. Forest Service, which has no plans to offer electricity at its campgrounds, according to spokesman Joe Walsh.“There is a place for both types of campgrounds,” Walsh said, referring to no-frills government-run parks and private campgrounds with hookups and other amenities.He said the federal government provides rustic campgrounds in an effort to help campers get more in tune with nature and to invite them and their families to explore America’s scenic wonders.Statistics indicate RVers do use both kinds of campgrounds.

A 2005 survey by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association and other travel industry groups found that RVers spend nearly six in 10 nights at privately owned campgrounds, RV parks and resorts and three in 10 nights at government-run campgrounds. They tend to spend the remaining time at retail parking lots and other locations.Max Hammer, co-owner with his wife, Cindy, of Beaver Lake Campground in Custer, S.D., sees evidence of growing public interest in parks with a wide variety of amenities even as they visit national parks and other scenic lands. His park, located less than 30 minutes from Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave national parks, was packed during the summer, even though there are numerous Forest Service campgrounds in the area.“We’re full all the time,” Hammer said, noting that guests stay at his family-friendly park because of the amenities, which include full hookups, including cable TV; two side-by-side, solar-heated swimming pools; a dog park; a playground with 16 activities; and a 360-foot-long water-slide.So why have a water-slide in an area where most RVers are coming to see Mount Rushmore and other national parks? Easy question, Hammer tells MotorHome. “It fills campsites,” he said.

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