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The Dallas Morning News Ray Sasser column As fuel costs rise, campers refuse to fold their tents

Category: UNSPECIFIED
Source: The Dallas Morning News
Publish Date: Thursday, June 26, 2008
Summary: Whether they choose campgrounds close to home, spend more time per outing and make fewer trips, or decide on a more creative option, outdoors families are not allowing fuel costs to keep them home.

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Ray Sasser

Jun. 26, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- High fuel costs are not slowing visitation at Texas State Parks. Parks Division director Walt Dabney said park revenues are up from this time last year, and parks located near metropolitan areas are particularly popular.

Visitation at Cedar Hill SP, just south of Dallas, has risen 7.1 percent, and Ray Roberts SP, north of Denton, has experienced a 4.5 percent rise in park use. During the Memorial Day weekend, state parks had 7,369 camping reservations, up 22 percent from the same period in 2007.

"When you look at the records," Dabney said, "it seems that people are staying closer to home or they're traveling to a destination and staying there for longer periods. Canoe and kayak rentals are on the rise, probably because they don't use any gasoline.

"The bottom line is that you can have a great time in parks pretty inexpensively. Bring your bikes, canoes, kayaks and hiking shoes. Fishing is free in state parks. There's no license required. The $60 state park annual pass is a better investment than ever before, which park visitors obviously recognize. Sales of the annual pass are up 3,000 from this time last year."

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department operates more than 120 parks and historic sites scattered throughout the state. At least a dozen are within a two-hour drive of Dallas. State park information is available at www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

Texas also has hundreds of private campgrounds and recreational vehicle resorts. Their business is likewise booming, according to the Texas Association of Campground Owners.

Visitations to TACO's Web site have increased by more than 50 percent this quarter alone. Officials say that indicates that potential visitors are researching what each campground has to offer before committing to a destination.

RV sales are down, but RV owners know from experience that self-contained travel is a bargain compared with airfares, hotels and restaurants. Anyone who's towed an RV or other heavy load also knows that fuel economy suffers.

A towing vehicle that gets 18 miles per gallon while cruising at highway speeds may drop below 10 mpg with an RV in tow. That's why visitors to public or private campgrounds are doing a better job of maximizing their travel dollars.

Using the Internet or printed information, they research campgrounds and choose those that most closely suit their needs. They may also pick a camping spot that's located near other attractions that interest them, then make daytrips from the campsite.

For sure, they'll save fuel by dedicating vacation time to one weeklong camping trip, rather than spending the same amount of time outdoors stretched over three weekends with three round trips.

Some private campgrounds offer secure storage areas where an RV may be parked from one weekend to the next.

Others will allow visitors to lease an RV site and leave a trailer or motor home set up. Lease fees are expensive, typically $2,000 to $8,000 annually. For visitors who don't have their own RVs, about 25 percent of private campgrounds offer park model rental units, some of which are for sale.

Whether they choose campgrounds close to home, spend more time per outing and make fewer trips, or decide on a more creative option, outdoors families are not allowing fuel costs to keep them home.

Newstex ID: KRTB-0046-26245133


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