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At home on wheels

Source: The Decatur Daily
Publish Date: Monday, July 13, 2009
Summary: With more baby boomers reaching retirement age, the recreational vehicle community predicts an increase in full-time campers, translating to more money for campgrounds.

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Catherine Godbey

Jul. 13, 2009 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- Kathie Hardin proudly conducted a tour of her home, highlighting the retractable flat-screen television, granite countertops, cedar-lined closets and electric fireplace -- all on wheels.

On July 29, 2008, Kenneth and Kathie Hardin sold their stationary home and moved into a recreational vehicle, permanently. The camping world refers to the Hardins as "full-timers," a population growing throughout the nation.

"Our families thought we were crazy," Kathie Hardin said. "We traded a 47,000-square-foot home for a 400-square-foot home. But the only thing we regret is that we didn't do this sooner."

Adventure, freedom and an opportunity to see the country motivated the Hardins to buck the societal norm of living in one place for the road-warrior lifestyle.

Enjoying freedom

"We have the freedom to see what we want to see and get to know the people in our country," Kathie Hardin said.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association estimates 8.2 million households in America own a recreational vehicle. Of those, about 10 percent live exclusively from their RVs, according to the Good Sam Club, an organization of RV owners.

With more baby boomers reaching retirement age, the recreational vehicle community predicts an increase in full-time campers, translating to more money for campgrounds.

Point Mallard, like other campgrounds across the nation, is reaping the financial benefits.

During the past four years, revenue generated at the campground increased by $352,000 and gross profits rose by $209,400. Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Dunlap attributed the boost to a change in reservation policies, which combines first-come, first-served with reservations, allowing campers to stay for extended periods.

Bringing in more revenue benefits the park and the city, said Roger Hill, who has been living at the campground with his wife, Anita, since 2006.

"Yes, they stay at the campground, but they have to shop, buy supplies, gas, groceries and clothes," Hill said. "All of that is going to the city."

The upward trend continued through May 2009, when the campground registered a revenue increase of $23,000 compared to the same period last year. The campground's monthly rate is $400, which includes electric, water, sewer and garbage service.

"We've seen a big increase in the number of campers staying from March to September. And in the winter, about 10 years ago we were lucky to have 10 to 15 campers. Now we get about 50," said Point Mallard Park Superintendent Barry Smith. "There are as many as 40 campers staying year-round."

The Alabama State Parks system also responded to the full-time status demand and allowed extended stays at Lake Guntersville State Park and Wind Creek State Park. Requests from campers spurred the change.


For the Hills, the increasing presence of full-time and seasonal campers fuels the neighborhood atmosphere, an atmosphere absent from their former communities.

"We have good friends here. We have a lot in common," said Roger Hill. "There is one thing about campers, if you have a problem with anything, they'll come out and help."

The Hardins agreed.

"We know more of the people here than we did at our old house, where we lived for 15 years," said Kenneth Hardin. "It is like a family."

The modern-day pioneers congregate around their modern-day covered wagons to celebrate holidays and share stories of the road, which include supposedly forgotten reservation papers.

"On the first trip we took after selling our house, I had printed out all of the reservation papers for the campsite," Anita Hill said. "On our way up, I had a bad feeling, like I forgot something, and said, 'Oh no, I left the papers at home.' "

"I turned to her and said your home is behind you," said Roger Hill, finishing the story.

The Hardins and Hills advised individuals considering full-timing to downsize, getting rid of most of their belongings. They also warned of limited space.

"I don't miss the stuff, but I do miss the space," said Kathie Hardin, who travels with Kenneth in a 38-foot-long RV, considered one of the longer recreational vehicles on the market.

Both couples said they would make the same decision to become full-timers if given the opportunity again.

"I don't ever want to live in a house again. It's too much of a hassle," said Anita Hill. "As long as I can walk up the steps into this RV, this is where I'll be."

Tips from full-timers

Full-time campers Kenneth and Kathie Hardin and Roger and Anita Hill offered advice for individuals considering a full-time status.

--Take practice trips before putting a house on the market.

--Examine and research the different recreational vehicles.

"They are not created equally, and only a few are built specifically with a residency style for full-timers," Kenneth Hardin said.

--Get rid of belongings. In recreational vehicles space is not available for extra items.

--Law requires every citizen to have a permanent address. A permanent address is needed to secure a post office box. Organizations like the Good Sam Club offer permanent addresses to full-timers. If clients register with one of the club's offices, they are required to serve on juries and register for a license and license plate from the office's city.

Catherine Godbey

Newstex ID: KRTB-0047-36428345

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