The RV Industry Association supports increased investment in campgrounds on public lands as well as the establishment of partnerships between experienced campground operators and the federal government, where appropriate, as an entrepreneurial mechanism for addressing campground modernization on public lands.
The bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), passed in 2020, is a historic first step towards achieving this goal. There is broad support across the political spectrum to fix the vital infrastructure on federal lands. Fixing our iconic parks and campgrounds is a smart investment—for every dollar Congress invests in our national parks $10 is returned to the U.S. economy.
As a record number of Americans continue to flock to the RV industry, there is a well-established need for campground modernization and expansion to address outdated federal campground infrastructure. Decades of neglect on federal lands have led to crumbling roads and bridges, deferred maintenance, and limited camping availability—limiting access and decreasing safety for RVers and other visitors.
Ideally, the federal government would address the entire $19 billion maintenance backlog, but this is neither a realistic nor a practical solution. GAOA, however, has brought us significantly closer to the goal of addressing this critical maintenance, investing up to $9.5 billion of nontaxpayer funds to address infrastructure needs within the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal agencies. The new law will also fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and provide $900 million per year in investment in the public lands, state parks, and trails that are the backbone of the outdoor recreation economy.
The RV industry applauds Congress for taking a historic first step towards addressing this backlog and encourages policymakers to prioritize much-needed investments in campground modernization and expansion.
Inventory and Access
Despite the unprecedented growth in RV sales and ownership, RV stays at National Park Service campgrounds drastically declined from more than 4 million overnights in the 1980s to about 2.5 million overnights currently. The lack of ample and adequate RV campsites on federal lands is a significant reason for the sharp decline in RVers staying in national park campgrounds. The modernization and rehabilitation of federal campgrounds will address this issue and increase access to these public lands for RVers.
In a recent survey of more than 2,000 RV owners, 98 percent of RVers believe the national park campgrounds need to be repaired, updated, reopened, expanded, and/or modernized. The most desired improvements were longer and wider sites, additional RV hookups, improvement of the day-to-day upkeep of campgrounds, and more RV-friendly campsites.
The RV Industry Association supports the National Park Service’s Second Century Campground Strategy and encourages all federal agencies to develop a comprehensive campground strategy to ensure federal campgrounds are safe, accessible, and adequate for current and future generations of RVers.
Broadband coverage of major federal front country sites and key road corridors is needed to supply visitors with much-needed cell and internet service. As a record number of Americans continue to visit our national parks and work and learn remotely in RVs, this advanced service will supply visitors with reliable connectivity and access to safety features like weather alerts and the ability to contact emergency services. Increased broadband coverage will also improve the consumer experience by allowing enhancements such as online reservations and rentals.
The RV Industry Association supports increased broadband coverage of all major federal front country sites, campgrounds, and key road corridors.
The demographics of the next generation of campers, which includes a younger, more diverse population, are creating a shift in expectations and uses of RV campgrounds. Research shows a growing number of consumers who enjoy outdoor recreation also want modern, full-service amenities and the ability to share resources. They prefer to use digital means to access reservations, schedule activities, obtain equipment, as well as share their experiences with friends and loved ones. There should also be a focus on promoting sustainability and limiting environmental impact when modernizing and expanding campgrounds.
Federal campgrounds must meet these expectations and become a more vibrant source of relevant outdoor recreation experiences for current and future generations to enjoy and protect.
While modernization is vitally important, campground fees in national parks should remain reasonable and competitive so all Americans can enjoy our shared iconic lands. Additional services and amenities can simply be offered à la carte to meet the needs of current and next-generation campers and RVers while keeping costs down for all Americans. The partnerships the RV industry supports operate under strict agreements and contracts with the National Park Service and other federal land agencies. The National Park Service is involved in the fee process, guided by a law requiring comparability in pricing to state parks and similar private accommodations so gateway communities are not negatively impacted.
Economic Development & Rural Prosperity
Fixing our national park and gateway community infrastructure is a good economic investment for our country generally, but these investments are also a proven way to grow rural prosperity. Many rural communities act as gateways to public lands, and the opportunities outdoor recreation creates on these public lands bring jobs, tourism, and commerce into rural areas.
In 2019, park visitors spent more than $21 billion in towns and cities near park sites, generating more than 340,500 jobs and providing a total boost of $41.7 billion to the national economy. This economic impact created by outdoor recreation and RVers in gateway communities helps to revitalize rural America. Balancing the potential for outdoor recreation with respect for the local community can lead to fruitful partnerships and opportunities for all stakeholders.
Additionally, it has been shown that for every dollar Congress invests in the National Park Service, $10 is returned to the U.S. economy, directly benefiting the nation’s rural areas and gateway communities.
The Partnership Solution
Bringing public lands infrastructure into the 21st century will require robust and creative collaboration across the public and private sectors. When partnerships between private industry, such as experienced campground operators, and the federal government are discussed, there can be confusion about whether this model would lead to the “privatization” of federal lands. It does not. These partnerships are not privatization—the RV industry does not support the privatization or selling of federal campgrounds. What these partnerships do allow is for campground improvements and modernization to be made with private investment and volunteer services—without draining federal resources that are thin or not available.
These partnerships are a sensible, proven way to bring public land infrastructure into the 21st century, ensuring the federal government remains the owner of all public lands and preserving access and enjoyment of federal campgrounds for current and future generations of RVers to come. They are based on a model that has successfully worked on federal lands for decades and offer the best approach to effectively striking the necessary balance between achieving conservation needs and improving the experience for an ever-changing consumer.
The RV industry supports partnerships between experienced campground operators and the federal government where appropriate, as these partnerships recognize that private capital and industry expertise can augment public investment and strengthen the management of major infrastructure projects.
The RV Industry Association supports increased investment in campgrounds on public lands as well as the establishment of partnerships between experienced campground operators and the federal government, where necessary, as an entrepreneurial mechanism for addressing campground modernization on public lands.