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Yellowstone RV park full despite rising fuel costs

Category: RV Parks
Source: Associated Press
Publish Date: Monday, September 8, 2008
Summary: RV and campground trade associations say 2008 appears to be just as busy as previous years, though with some variations that could be attributable to fuel prices.

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Yellowstone RV park full despite rising fuel costs

By The Associated Press

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - In the heart of the park here on a recent warm day, the spaces at Fishing Bridge Recreational Vehicle Park were jammed full with RVs and camping equipment.

The RV site, situated in a quiet pine forest, was "full," according to a sign at the registration office. All 358 spaces were taken.

Despite high fuel prices and a sputtering economy that have hurt RV sales and caused many people to put the brakes on vacation plans, there have been plenty of the lumbering, gas-guzzling rigs looking for a spot to temporarily set down roots this year.

At the Fishing Bridge RV Park, Leyman Williams lounged alone in the sun on a folding chair outside his 39-foot motor home.
"If you want to stay out here and do this, you just suck it up and go," Williams said.

The Williamses live year-round in their motor home, which has all the comforts of a traditional home - running water, refrigerator, kitchen, private bathroom and bed space for up to six people.

But the huge recreational vehicle gets only about 10.5 miles to the gallon, and with diesel prices above $4 a gallon much of this summer, filling up the 90-gallon tank means shelling out around $400 in one visit to the pump.

"I learned to drive a little slower," William said, noting the RV gets better highway mileage at around 60 mph.

More than 1.1 million RVs visited National Park Service campgrounds through the first seven months of this year, according to preliminary NPS figures.

The numbers are down about 6 percent from the same period last year, but Park Service spokesman Jeffrey Olson said they are still strong numbers, noting that July and August are the busiest months for RV camping in national parks and many campers are out during the fall.

RV and campground trade associations say 2008 appears to be just as busy as previous years, though with some variations that could be attributable to fuel prices.

"Most (RV) parks are reporting attendance levels the same as last year, or a little better than last year," said Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, which represents 8,500 commercially owned sites in the United States.

A survey earlier this year by the Virginia-based Recreation Vehicle Industry Association found that high fuel prices weren't stopping RV travelers, but in some cases were prompting shorter trips that stay closer to home, said Kevin Broom, spokesman for the 550-member association.

Perhaps more importantly, the association expects a 14 percent decline in this year's RV sales. That comes on top of a 9.5 percent drop last year.

Broom said the same economic forces plaguing the housing market affect RV sales. Manufacturers have responded with new designs over the last several years to emphasize fuel efficiency. The large, luxurious RVs get as few as 6 miles to the gallon, while the smaller ones can get up to 18, he said.

But while people are buying fewer RVs, more people are renting them, Broom said. On average, RV rentals cost about $1,500 a week, he said. Gasoline and other expenses add about $500 more a week.

Even with the higher fuel prices, Broom maintains RVs are still an economical way to vacation because RV users save money on the motel and restaurant bills that are part of traveling by airline or car.

"The savings overwhelm any fuel cost increases, especially when you can adjust by instead of, say, taking a 1,000-mile trip, you take a 100-mile trip," Broom said.

Profaizer said some RV vacationers decided to compromise on their vacations by parking their RVs for the summer at a close-to-home commercial campground, and then visiting the campground on weekends.

"People are somehow adjusting their lives, not that it's not a hardship for a lot of people to have to pay more for gas and everything," she said. "But it's still important for them to get away and enjoy themselves."

For the Williamses, that means making their drives a little slower - fuel efficiency decreases at higher speeds - bypassing engine-straining mountains and staying longer at the places they visit. They also tow along their small sport utility vehicle, which gets close to 30 miles to the gallon, and use it to get around the area they are staying.

"That's why I say we stay parked more, and use the little vehicle to go out," Williams said.

Williams said any mileage lost in towing the vehicle is exceeded by the savings from not having to drive the RV short distances to the grocery store or to see area attractions.

One family at the Yellowstone RV park wasn't complaining about the fuel prices.

Bernhard Zobeli and Andrea Muller, who live near Zurich, Switzerland, were traveling the United States and Canada this summer in an RV with no qualms about filling up.

Zobeli said fuel in Europe costs about two times more than U.S. gas. Another plus, he said, was the weak U.S. dollar much of this summer, which made travel to the U.S. much cheaper for foreigners.

Travel officials say signs point to an increasing number of foreign visitors to the United States this summer, but the Commerce Department's seasonal numbers are not yet available.

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