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Record fuel prices not stopping RV trips

Category: Fuel Prices
Source: Pensacola News Journal
Publish Date: Friday, May 2, 2008
Summary: Despite soaring fuel prices, local recreational-vehicle enthusiasts say they'll continue to travel this spring and summer. The photos from the road trip, however, may reveal places a little closer to home.

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Despite soaring fuel prices, local recreational-vehicle enthusiasts say they'll continue to travel this spring and summer. The photos from the road trip, however, may reveal places a little closer to home.

Some RV travelers are vowing not to park their rigs despite fuel prices that now hover above $3.50 a gallon — and above $4 a gallon for diesel-fueled vehicles.

"If you play, you gotta pay," said James Powell, 65, a Milton resident who travels in a 40-foot diesel freightliner-style coach.

Powell, a retired Milton fire captain, travels regularly throughout the Southeast. He says higher fuel prices won't keep him off the road, but his trips won't be as far as in years past.

"It's affected our plans a little bit," he said. "I'll probably go no farther than Tennessee or Texas."

Even local campsites say fuel prices aren't affecting the number of visitors renting spaces.

Lake Stone, a popular recreation park in Century, was reopened in November 2006 after being closed because of Hurricane Ivan damage two years earlier.

The campground grossed more than $7,800 in March from campsite and pavilion rentals — the second best March on record since the county began tracking revenue in 1996.

"From what we've gathered, Lake Stone is a good getaway for folks in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties," said Michael Rhodes, Escambia County Recreation Division manager. "Instead of going seven or eight hours away, they're driving a couple of hours."

At least one regional RV event has been affected by higher fuel prices.

Sandy Wyatt owns the Chumuckla Farmers' Opry in Santa Rosa County, which has RV campsites. In April, the Newmar Kountry Klub state motor home rally took place at the opry.

Based on the turnout two years ago for the same event, Wyatt anticipated at least 100 motor homes from across the Southeast. Only 48 rigs attended.

"One guy said it best," Wyatt mused. " 'It cost $250 to attend the event, and $1,500 in diesel to get to it.' "

Pam Hassell, state director of the Newmar Kountry Klub, said many Florida travelers are staying closer to home and waiting later in the summer to take trips.

"People are just waiting to see what happens with fuel prices," said Hassell, a Destin resident.

Mark Carpenter, president of Carpenter's Campers, a 44-year-old family business in Pensacola, says industry trends have shifted slightly, but people are still shopping.

"Traditionally, diesel has outsold gas," Carpenter said. "Now we're seeing the trend another way."

While Carpenter pointed out that the economy is on everyone's mind, people are still buying everything from pop-up campers to fifth wheels to 45-foot luxury motor coaches.

"You're not going to take the weekends from the American people," he said. "That's what we work all week for."

Pensacola residents Nancy and Doug Halford travel several times a month in a diesel-fueled 40-foot motor home coach.

They travel relatively short distances — places such as Destin and Fort Myers — but don't shy away from longer trips to far off locales such as Nova Scotia.

"It's a special way to travel," Nancy Halford said. "It's like taking your condo with you."

Retail boating struggling

While RV drivers and businesses alike remain optimistic during this fuel crunch, retail boating businesses say they're struggling.

"As far as I know, all the marine businesses are off," said Bob Rizzuti, owner of Emerald Coast Marine on Saufley Field Road. "We're talking in the range of 40 to 60 percent off."

Rizzuti has been in business since 1973. He sells everything from small aluminum boats to 24-foot SeaSwirl Strippers. However, because of harsh economic times, soaring fuel prices and stricter fishing laws, Rizzuti is considering selling only used vessels.

"We used to do about $4 million in sales a year for about 10 years," he said. "Now we're down to $1.5 to $2 million," he said. "It's strictly 100 percent survival right now."

Gulf Breeze resident Bill Eveleth owns an 18-foot Scout fishing boat and launches it on area waterways.

He said there is a relationship between the cost of gas and the amount of time his 115-horsepower engine runs. On a recent trip he calculated that he spent nearly $80 on a 75-mile trip.

"I'm more conscious of leaving the motor running," he said. "But gas prices haven't deterred my boating habits."

Today, nearly 8 million U.S. households own at least one RV-- a 15 percent increase over the past four years and a 58 percent rise since 1980, according to a study commissioned by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. The national trade association represents more than 550 manufacturers and suppliers producing about 98 percent of all RVs manufactured in the United States.



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