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For many, fuel costs put hitch in RV plans

Source: Tribune-Review
Publish Date: Sunday, June 22, 2008
Summary: Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. Skyrocketing prices for gasoline and diesel fuel, which runs about $5 per gallon, are forcing some who own recreational vehicles to change vacation plans. Many say they won't give up RV vacations, they will travel fewer miles and save money in other ways.

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A.J. Panian

Jun. 22, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- Marty and Lynne Holdren's dream is running out of gas.

"We've worked all our lives, and all we wanted was to take one year to tour the country together," said Lynne Holdren, 61.

Last October, the Las Vegas couple began traveling more than 8,000 miles up and down the Pacific Coast, across the country to the Bible Belt, through the Mid-Atlantic Region and into Westmoreland County aboard their 32-foot motor home.

"We're going to have to cut our trip short," said Marty Holdren, 57, while resting outside their temporary home on wheels, parked at the Madison Kampground of America off Route 70.

The Holdrens have spent about $40,000, mostly on regular unleaded gasoline for the vehicle's 10-cylinder engine, campground rentals and food.

At $4 a gallon, Holdren pays $400 to fill up. The motor home gets about 10 miles per gallon.

"We tried to budget high for this trip, but it's just gotten ridiculous anymore. These prices are like some kind of bad joke," Marty Holdren said.

Sales of recreational vehicles are declining from a 25-year high of 390,500 sold in 2006, according to a study by Richard Curtin, director of Consumer Surveys at the University of Michigan.

Sales dropped to 353,000 last year and are expected to hit 300,000 this year, a decline of 15 percent, according to the study commissioned by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

Skyrocketing prices for gasoline and diesel fuel, which runs about $5 per gallon, are forcing some who own recreational vehicles to scale back vacation plans. Some are just parking them at permanent sites or finding ways to satisfy their wanderlust.

In a recent survey of 368 RV owners in the United States, 64 percent said fuel prices will keep them closer to home.

"People are definitely finding ways to travel fewer miles," said association spokesman Kevin Broom.

For the past three years, Jim and Cindy Fletcher attended high school graduations for their grandchildren in Squirrel Hill by traveling from their home in Green Valley, Ariz., in their 38-foot, diesel-powered 2002 Winnebago Ultimate Advantage.

Along the way, the couple stays at campgrounds in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois and Ohio.

"You can just tell by taking a good look around, the campgrounds are becoming more and more vacant," said Jim Fletcher, 69.

So much so that Bill Jones, owner of the Madison KOA, has ordered two more cabins to accommodate an influx of campers without RVs.

"Driving down Route 70 alone, it's obvious that there's less campers on the road than there used to be," Jones said.

To get around fuel costs, more people are buying permanent sites for pull-along campers and motor homes, said Paul T. Willis, a salesman at the Valero Century RV dealership, just north of Delmont along Route 66.

He's selling about 50 RVs each month at the 13-acre lot, Willis said.

"The industry is definitely in a slowdown in some states," Willis said. "Here, you have a lot of retirees who have stable financial standing."

The biggest factor affecting RV sales, Broom said, is the lack of available credit and declining home values that prevent seniors from selling their homes to buy RVs.

At L&M Campgrounds in Penn Run, Indiana County, Raymond and Sarah Douds pay about $600 a year to park their 28-foot, towable camper.

"We got tired of hauling it around with the wear and tear," said Raymond Douds, 76, of Derry Township.

Retirees Dee and Denny Beck of Allegheny Township recently took an eight-week trip to California in their 40-foot, diesel-fueled Coachman.

To cut costs, the Becks rarely ate out, used park-for-free spaces offered by national chain stores, and avoided filling their 100-gallon gas tank in Pennsylvania. RV campground discount groups such as Passport America helped to save on rental fees at some facilities.

"With the way taxes are in this state, there is a 10- to 30-cent savings per gallon in West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia," Denny Beck said. "You've got to do your research. There's always a way to get by with what you have."

Bob Patterson of Mercer County, who recently purchased a 40-foot mobile home, learned how to cut costs at an RV rally in Florida.

"You can maximize fuel mileage and minimize tire wear by simply having your unit weighed regularly," Patterson said.

RV owners dodge some costs by forsaking hotels and restaurants.

That means RV owners "still get a bigger bang for their buck," said Richard Coon, president of the recreation vehicle association.

According to Curtin's study, campground bookings are up 5 percent to 15 percent nationwide over last year, with most reservations made within the vacationer's home state. Campgrounds are adding more amenities, such as swimming pools, to become destination sites.

Some state parks, such as Raccoon Creek in Hookstown, Beaver County, are getting more bookings. In the first two weeks of the camping season, Raccoon Creek had 100 more reservations than last year, said Deanna Schall, assistant park manager.

Despite high fuel costs, there will always be diehards like motor home owner Michael Krehnovi of Economy, Beaver County.

"If gas was $10 a gallon, I'd still camp," Krehnovi said. "It's a lifestyle worth hanging onto."

Newstex ID: KRTB-0312-26148684

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