I recently came across this news item from The Sacramento Bee, by way of the Associated Press:
Yosemite battling pest problem: Ticket-scalpers
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) — Yosemite National Park has a pest problem: Ticket scalpers who are selling the limited camping reservations at exorbitant prices.
Spokesman Scott Gediman tells the Sacramento Bee that park officials are becoming more aggressive as they try to curb scalpers.
The nation’s third-most visited park has only 900 reserved campsites available at any given time. They go for $20 a night but scalpers advertising on Craigslist are offering them for $100 or more — sometimes for hundreds of dollars.
They’re also selling permits to climb Half Dome, which the park essentially issues for free.
Gediman says it appears that some scalpers may have devised ways of jumping the reservation queue, possibly through automated computer programs that can instantly snag cancellations.
My only experience with ticket scalpers is at sporting events, where it always seems to be the same guys selling tickets at the same venues, regardless of the game or event taking place. Occasionally I’ll sell or buy an extra ticket, but never more than for face value.
I have no experience with this campsite ticket scalping, and was wondering if anyone else does.
In addition, what are your thoughts on this?
This obviously sounds like its something much bigger than someone selling an unused campsite. And I certainly don’t like that someone can apparently “jump the reservation queue.” That needs to be corrected – fast.
Would you ever buy a campsite from a scalper? Would you pay more than face value for it?
I don’t think I would. For something as big as camping in Yosemite (or any other popular National Park), it would be such a big vacation that planning for it would start months in advance. That planning would include securing our campsite. If, for whatever reason, we don’t get a campsite, then I think we would pick another destination.
But, like I said, I’m curious what others have to say about this.
From the companion blog: Since we’re on the topic of National Parks, I have a post about the 2011 Yellowstone CycleFest, taking place July 23-30 at Yellowstone National Park. In addition to daily road biking, CycleFest will offer a host of exciting activities including trail walking, horseback riding, rafting, mountain biking, canoeing, gondola riding and something called “water cycling.”
Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.
In a press release issued the same day as a meeting to determine their fate, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has announced that the department wants to close 23 under-performing state forest campgrounds in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.
There are 145 state forest campgrounds in Michigan.
The proposed closures are due to — what else — budget cuts. The state’s Forest Recreation Program has seen a 63-percent decrease in funding in the last three years.
According to the release, the order to close the 23 campgrounds will be submitted as a proposal at today’s Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) meeting in Lansing, and will be eligible for action by DNR Director Rodney Stokes at the NRC’s May 12 meeting in Flint. If approved at the May meeting, the closures would be effective on May 19, 2011. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. today; the State Forest Campground closures is scheduled to be presented at 3 p.m. today.
Mary Dettloff, a spokswoman for the Michigan DNR, told me that state officials were very judicious when selecting which state forest campgrounds should close. Only the ones which were least used were targeted, and she said another criteria was whether other state forest campgrounds were nearby, thus offering campers a viable option.
These parks were so under-used, Dettloff said there’s no chance the state forest campgrounds which are to remain open, as well as the state park campgrounds, would be over-used. The 23 state forest campgrounds slated for closure represent a total of just 298 campsites.
“These state forest campgrounds were developed in the 1920s and 30s,” she said. “Their original purpose was to be a firebreak. But once the land was cleared they became good for camping and people were going their with their tents. But camping habits have changed. These are rustic sites with pit toilets and hand-pumps for water. People now want to be in their pop-ups or motor homes. They want to have amenities, like a pool or a playground, so they either go to our state parks, private parks or some even choose to go to national parks and forests.”
It is very important to note that we’re talking about state forest campgrounds and not state parks. State forest campgrounds are rustic sites with fewer amenities than a state park. They are unstaffed and provide a more rustic, tent camping experience. Every state forest campground is located on a river or lake, and more than 60 campgrounds have nearby pathways for non-motorized trail recreation, such as hiking, biking, horseback riding and nature observation. Accommodations range from five to 50 campsites, with group sites available. All campgrounds have vault toilets and potable water from hand pumps. Some sites are so remote they can only be accessed by a hike through woods or paddling down a river.
General Fund support for state forest recreation programs, such as the state forest campgrounds, has been reduced every year since 2009, when $72,200 was cut. In 2010, $24,100 was cut from the program, and in Fiscal Year 2011, the program is targeted for a $314,700 General Fund reduction.
“While revenue has remained even in the last decade, due to camping fee increases in 2002 and in 2007, state forest campground fees are now at the high end of the market at $15 a night per individual site,” said Cara Boucher, assistant chief of the DNR’s Forest Management Division. “Meanwhile, the number of registrations and campers has steadily dropped over the same period. Given the long-term trend of declining use and the inability to raise camp fee revenues, the only way to absorb the current cut in General Fund support is to close some campgrounds.”
To address the reduced camping demand and insufficient funding to maintain all state forest campgrounds, the DNR will close underutilized campgrounds, Boucher said.
“We will preserve the campgrounds that perform well, and provide a diverse selection for the campers,” Boucher said. “The campgrounds targeted for closure are under-performing and close to other state forest campgrounds, so we can still provide camping opportunities in those areas.”
Currently, the highest-performing state forest campground generates more than $40,000 a year annually in revenue, while the lowest-performing generates just over $300 a year.
The campgrounds targeted for closure are:
— Beaufort and Big Lake state forest campgrounds – Baraga County
— Black Lake Trail Camp – Cheboygan County
— Lime Island State Forest Campground and Cabins and Munuscong River State Forest Campground – Chippewa County
— Manistee River Bridge State Forest Campground – Crawford County
— Deer Lake State Forest Campground – Iron County
— Bray Creek State Forest Campground – Lake County
— Blind Sucker #1, High Bridge, Holland Lake, Natalie and Reed & Green Bridge state forest campgrounds – Luce County
— Black River State Forest Campground – Mackinac County
— Little Wolf Lake State Forest Campground – Montmorency County
— McCollum Lake State Forest Campground – Oscoda County
— Pigeon Bridge and Round Lake state forest campgrounds – Otsego County
— Canoe Lake, Cusino Lake, Mead Creek and South Gemini Lake state forest campgrounds – Schoolcraft County
— Long Lake State Forest Campground – Wexford County
Dettloff said these campgrounds would be permanently closed. However if a local township or county is interested in keeping them open, the DNR would be willing to partner with the municipality in order to make that happen.
To read the informational memo on the state forest campground closures provided to the NRC at the April 7 meeting, go to the NRC’s website at www.michigan.gov/nrc and click on Agendas and Minutes to find the April 7 agenda. To read the memo, click on the box for the order on page two of the agenda.
I admit that I have never camped in a state forest campground, and I understand the state must make budget cuts because the revenue simply is not available. But that doesn’t mean I have to like this. I also question the timing of this release, and the cynic in me insists that budget cuts are not equitable among every state department.
Is this the first step down a slippery slope? Are more recreational opportunities going to be eliminated? Will user fees be increased so dramatically that the cost will be out of reach for many of us?
Ironically, at this very same meeting we are supposed to hear an update on the state’s Recreation Passport program. Instead of spending $24 for an annual motor vehicle permit or boating access permit, Michigan residents are now being asked to support the Recreation Passport with an optional $10 fee when renewing their vehicle registration with the Secretary of State. If only 1 out of every 4 motorists voluntarily choose to purchase a Recreation Passport, $18 million will be generated, which would be $7 million more than the previous system. (Read more about the Recreation passport in a previous post.)
Dettloff said officials will announce at today’s meeting that the Recreation Passport is falling short of its goal of 25 percent participation. She said 20 percent — 1 in 5 people — are buying the $10 Recreation Passport. One reason for this is the fact that there has been no paid advertising campaign to support it — they don’t have the money, Dettloff said. They are hoping social media and word-of-mouth will help spread the news.
So here’s one person spreading the news: Michiganders, buy the Recreation Passport and get your friends and family and co-workers to do the same.
The future of our recreational opportunities, literally, hangs in the balance.
From the companion blog: My posts on the companion blog include one on white nose syndrome being detected in some bats in Ohio; and family fun things to do and see in Pittsburgh.
Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.
UPDATE: I recently came across this excellent article by Marianne Lavelle for National Geographic News. Lavelle does a good job of explaining the history of gas gouging, and the reasons for it. In a nutshell, the lack of U.S. refineries means a handful of people/businesses can control the prices. I encourage you to read this article.
The cost of gas at stations near my home are typically about 15-25 cents cheaper per gallon than those around my in-laws. So, of course, every time I fill up I call my father-in-law to gloat.
But the price of gasoline is getting crazy, even around me. This morning it topped $3.50 per gallon. I realize it’s more expensive in other areas, but – as they say – it’s all relative. What’s worse, “experts” say the cost will only climb higher as the summer driving season approaches, turmoil in oil-producing countries escalates and any number of other reasons these people usually roll out at times like these.
Regardless of the reasons why they’re on the way up, the price of gas is serious business for RVers. For most of us, this can’t help but affect our travel plans this summer.
As for my family, we’ll either be heading out to campgrounds closer to home, or not camping as much as we’d like, or a combination of the both. Other circumstances will factor in for us – two kids are going to camp for a week or two, and the third will likely be playing baseball well into July – but the fact remains gas prices will be putting a serious dent into our RVing plans.
In January of this year, when gas was $3.10 per gallon, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) issued a press release putting a positive spin on how the cost of gas affects RVing. Excerpts of that release follow:
• RV travel is a great value. The PKF Vacation Cost comparison study showed that a family of four can save 26-to-71 percent on vacation costs depending on the type of trip and type of RV used. More than 80 percent of RV owners say their RV vacations cost less than other forms of vacation.
• While fuel prices remain well below their pre-recession high, prices are 36 cents per gallon higher than they were a year ago. When fuel prices rise, RVers adjust by traveling to destinations closer to home or driving fewer miles, according to surveys of RV owners conducted by RVIA and CVENT, a leading provider of online surveys and research technology.
• More than 80% of RVers say their RV vacations cost less than other forms of vacation, even when fuel prices rise.
• To save on fuel, RVers typically spend more time enjoying the campground experience and less time on the road. More than 16,000 campgrounds nationwide give RVers the flexibility to save fuel and cut costs by staying closer to home. Whether they travel five miles or 500, they can still enjoy a great outdoor experience.
• Fuel prices would need to more than triple from their current level to make RVing more expensive for a family of four than other forms of travel, according to PKF Consulting. PKF’s spring 2008 vacation cost comparison study shows that RV trips remain the most affordable way for a family to travel because of the significant savings on air, hotel and restaurant costs, which continue to rise.
• Fluctuating fuel prices affect the cost of all modes of travel and transportation. Airfares and hotel rates rise rapidly when fuel costs increase.
• Many RV owners surveyed take additional measures to reduce fuel consumption through simple steps like driving 55 instead of 65 miles per hour, packing lighter to reduce weight in the RV, and turning off home utilities to save energy when traveling. RVers travel at a leisurely pace with no tight schedules for flights, hotels or restaurants.
It’s hard to argue with several of those points, especially that the high price of gas also affects all other modes of transportation. Airlines are raising their ticket prices nearly everyday, and tacking on fees – carry-on baggage, really? – at a ridiculous rate.
About the only thing that isn’t going up is my salary, and that’s why our camping this summer will be less than what we had hoped. I suspect I am not alone. Sure, there’s going to be a certain segment of RVers who will continue on as they always have, but for the majority of us camping is one line item that gets cut when it comes time to balance the family budget.
How is the cost of gas affecting your plans this summer?
From the companion blog: Ohio recently improved its online travel site, making it easier to use and the search results better as well. Similarly, Indiana Department of Natural Resources also improved its online campground reservation system. I also have a number of other posts about events, festivals and other information about travel destinations.
Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.
Thought I might pass along this bit of good news.
The 45th Annual Detroit Camper & RV Show experienced its best show in 10 years. The show, which ran from Feb. 16-20 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, recorded 18,400 attendees — a 12 percent increase from the 2010 show. The show was sponsored by the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC).
Saturday alone saw over 9,000 attendees, making it the busiest day in MARVAC RV show history. According to Bill Sheffer, director of MARVAC, show visitors lined up on Saturday before the show opened, with strong ticket sales continuing all day.
I was able to attend the show on its opening day – more later on why I wasn’t able to go other days – and personally saw a ton of people going in and out of the 280 RVs on display. I was also able to talk to several of the RV dealers both that day and more recently, after the show was over and they had time to recuperate. Many reported customers looking for smaller, lightweight and more fuel-efficient RVs.
“Buyers are back,” said Victoria Rokas of Vicars Trailer Sales in Taylor. “Customers were upbeat, positive and confident about purchasing an RV as they look for more value for their dollar.”
“Overwhelming” was the word used by another dealer, Tim O’Brien of Circle ‘K’ RV in Lapeer. “All our salespeople were so busy.”
O’Brien said the record number of people attending the show – and willing to do more than just kick the tires – is a sure sign that the economy is improving. And that’s saying something, because southeast Michigan has been one of the hardest hit regions in the entire country during this past (current?) recession.
“I call it ‘frugal fatigue’,” O’Brien said. “People have been frugal for so long that they’re tired of it. They’re ready to get out and start looking at things, and – I know I’m biased here – but RVing is one of the most affordable ways to travel and spend recreation time. Dollar for dollar, RVs offer the most bang for your buck.”
Larry See, of A&S RV Center in Auburn Hills, said he, too, was very busy during the show. That opening day I tried talking with him at length, but he understandably was needing to excuse himself as people constantly wanted him to talk about the Keystone Raptor Velocity 5th Wheel and its “rear porch” feature (which is pictured at left).
According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, RVs are now attracting young buyers between the ages of 18 and 34. In fact, the fastest growing group of RV buyers falls in this age demographic, although buyers between the ages of 35 and 54 remain the largest segment of RV owners.
MARVAC’s Sheffer noted the same trend at the Detroit Camper & RV Show, saying “show attendees varied in age, but large numbers of families with young children were prevalent throughout the day.”
As I said, I was able to attend the first day of the show, and Sheffer told me then that a banking official had casually mentioned his bank was offering nearly $100 million in financing to RV buyers, nearly double from the previous year. Sheffer added that within several minutes of the show’s opening, one dealer was already closing on sales to a handful of customers.
My thoughts on the show? It was bittersweet. It was great, but I was only able to go for a few hours of the first day. I had planned on going every day, but life got in the way.
If you want to read more about my experiences at the show, you can read the post from my companion blog here. In it, I talk more about the Raptor Velocity as well as the Fleetwood Terra and its Hide-A-Loft feature and the brand new Holiday Rambler Trip motor home.
From the companion blog: It’s been a while since I’ve posted at RV.net, so I must have about 30-40 posts on my companion blog. Most of them are about great specials and events at popular travel destinations, including St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago and in Saugatuck, Michigan, Newsbits from the Illinois DNR, and the Ohio DNR offering big discounts at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park.
When we travel in our Airstream (thoroughly documented on LongLongHoneymoon.com), we often reference the philosophy of “less is more.” You know, sometimes bigger is not necessarily better. Indeed, one reason we camp is to purposefully experience a simpler life.
Here’s an unlikely “less is more” tale that’s somewhat documented in our Christmas card video.
Best $10 we spent this year? Our Christmas tree, a real one that was among the neglected leftovers on the lot.
Just a few days ago, we were going through the season as usual, but for whatever reason had not put up a tree.
In years past, we’ve gotten some pretty large trees into our house. That history was part of the problem.
Large trees are quite lovely, but they are a bear to purchase, move, and decorate. It’s an intimidating task that wipes out much of your day. We’ve still got deep scratches on our back door from the gigantic tree we wrestled into the house a few years ago.
So this year we had been negligent on the tree trimming front. We were playing Christmas carols and putting up other decorations in our house. But NO tree! Sure, we were enjoying the season, but it felt like something was missing.
One morning it dawned on me: less is more! Our Christmas tree doesn’t need to be a redwood. My favorite Christmas cartoon is the classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in which our befuddled hero takes home a neglected little tree and shows it some love. Why couldn’t we do the same?
And so we did. Since we were late to go Christmas tree shopping, almost all of the trees were gone. Our chosen $10 tree was literally among the final two trees on the lot. It’s a size I would deem “comfy” – it meets the Goldilocks criteria of being not too large, and not too small. It’s just right.
Getting it home was a breeze! I was able to lift the tree by myself and set it in the bed of our truck. I carried it inside the house by myself too. (A few years ago, just lifting our gargantuan tree was a two-man job.)
Since our tree is on the small side, we found a nice place for it in a highly visible part of our living room. A larger tree wouldn’t fit into this spot.
Once we got the tree positioned inside, we had a wonderful time sipping egg nog and decorating. Of course Kristy takes the lead on the tree trimming, while I spearhead the egg nog effort. (Seasoned with a healthy dash of Maker’s Mark and nutmeg.)
Decorating the tree required no ladders or other gymnastics. It was a cinch. It was especially a cinch for me, since I mainly just watched Kristy work her magic with twinkling lights and golden ornaments.
In the days since we brought home our little “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree,” we’ve gotten an ENORMOUS amount of enjoyment from it. Not only is the tree pretty to view, it’s served as a daily reminder of the season, and made our home feel more complete.
Our smallish tree brought us a great deal of fun and satisfaction, never once feeling like a chore. Just another example of “less is more” in action.
From our family to yours…
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!
Sean & Kristy
Here — in no particular order (or rhyme or reason) — is a somewhat decent holiday gift guide for RVers, starting with three new products from the Fastway company:
Fastway Flip automatic jack foot
The new Fastway Flip automatic jack foot adds 6 inches to your jack instantly, and flips up and down automatically as you retract or extend the jack. The Flip jack foot eliminates the hassles of storing and stacking wood blocks, or finding a place to store a removable extension. The Flip jack foot puts itself away each time you use it. No springs, cables, or pins are required. The Flip jack foot installs easily using pilot holes in the foot as a guide; then a single bolt (supplied) mounts the Flip to the bottom of the jack. The Fastway Flip jack foot fits most tongue jacks round or square, with models to fit 2-inch and 2 1/4-inch jacks. Maximum tongue weight rating is 1,400 lbs. and designed for use on horse, RV, cargo, boat, and utility trailers. For more information call (877) 523-9103 or visit www.FastwayTrailer.com.
Fastway ONEstep tandem axle wheel chock
The Fastway ONEstep is the fastest and easiest tandem axle wheel chock. The ONEstep wheel chock eliminates common chocking hassles like ratcheting, pinched fingers, bending or kneeling down, splintery wood chunks, and stuck wedges pinched by trailer movement. The ONEstep chock sets quickly in place by simply stepping down on the scissor arms, and removes easily by pulling up on the cable handle, even when wedges have been pinched under a tire. The ONEstep chock is adjustable from 16 inches to 24 inches to fit most tandem axle trailers. It works great with horse, RV, boat, cargo, utility, and farm trailers. An XL model that reaches up to 30 inches is also available for trailers with “wide track” type axle systems. The ONEstep is made from solid steel wedges and arms, with zinc plate and powder coat finishes helping it look great for years. For more information, call (877) 523-9103 or visit www.FastwayTrailer.com.
Fastway Zip breakaway cable
The Fastway Zip is the new, fast and easy way to protect your breakaway cable. With the Fastway Zip there are no frayed ends or cables dragging on the ground. The unique coiled cable of the Zip easily stretches to your tow vehicle and clips right on with the included carabiner. There is no looping over and around the trailer tongue to keep the cable out of the way. It is faster and easier to use than the standard breakaway cable. The Zip quickly replaces your current breakaway system with its coated high-strength coiled cable, split ring, and easy to use carabiner. The Fastway Zip breakaway cable is available in 4-foot and 6-foot cable lengths, and is offered as a universal replacement cable only, or a complete set with a cable and switch. For more information, call 877-523-9103 or visit www.FastwayTrailer.com.
For those who want a microwave when camping, but not anything larger than necessary, the iWavecube measures just one-cubic-foot — plus it has all the electronic controls and safety features you would expect, and it plugs in anyplace that has a standard outlet. It’s quiet, super-energy-efficient, and measures just 10 inches by 10.5 inches by 12 inches — weighing only 12 lbs. It features a built-in carry handle and view-through door. The product is available in red, black, and silver. Perfect for a dorm room, camping trip or just at the office. For seeing the different ways campers are using their iWavecube check out this link.
The Perfect CampfireGrill
I have the Perfect CampfireGrill original grill and I have given them as presents. I love mine and recommend them to anyone who cooks over a campfire. The Perfect CampfireGrill original grill ($60), launched in 2005, continues to be popular for its large 20-by-25 inch grilling surface that can easily hold 24 strip steaks, 70 hot dogs or 30 large burgers. The Rebel ($40) fits easily into bicycle and motorcycle saddlebags. It can be used over the campfire or as a charcoal grill where campfires are not permitted. At 10-by-12 inches, The Perfect CampfireGrill Rebel is the smallest of The Perfect CampfireGrill products. The Explorer ($30) with its folding legs can be set up at any campsite on the beach, in rocky terrain or at a conventional campsite. The grill provides 12-by-18 inches of grilling surface. When its legs are folded, its 1 1/2 inch thickness makes it easy to transport in most backpacks and gear bags. The Pioneer ($40) provides a circular 18-inch diameter grilling surface that is perfect for weekend getaways and family outings. It is easily packed into smaller vehicles. For more information, go to www.campfiregrill.com.
REI Camp Mini Kitchen
Stow your cooking and dining essentials in the REI Camp Mini Kitchen ($69.93 on sale) so you’re always ready to hit the road! Staying organized in camp helps keep the fun factor high. Features include: Aluminum roll-top table holds most 2-burner camp stoves or other gear up to 60 lbs.; Ripstop polyester storage compartment provides dedicated spaces for a 2-burner stove, fuel bottles, plates, utensils, spices, wet sponges and more; Frame has integrated carry handles. Note: the photo at right shows items not included. For more information, visit: www.rei.com/product/798433
RV Handbook, 4th Edition
Completely Updated – the New RV Handbook, 4th Edition ($29.95) is a 299-page How-To Guide with handy checklists, helpful photos and easy-to-follow charts all designed to keep you on the road and enjoying your RV. This 4th edition of The RV Handbook from Trailer Life Books is known as the “RVer’s bible” for the RV road warrior; it’s a “no-fluff” comprehensive guide for both novice and seasoned RVers. Packed with checklists; photos; schematics and charts, as well as plenty of sound, user-friendly technical advice. Features hundreds of proven RV tips, tricks and techniques to save you time, money and maybe even your sanity! You simply won’t find this level of detail covered in any other RV book. If you are looking for a complete resource that answers all your RV-related questions, the latest edition of The RV Handbook from Trailer Life Books is exactly what you are looking for. Click here for more information.
Although this product is marketed toward kids who can use them after gym class at school, I think these would be a great addition to anyone’s RV. QwikShower Wipes – from a company that calls itself My Kids Stink, LLC — are large, moist, single-use disposable cloths with a subtle scent and economical price point. QwikShower Wipes are appealing for many reasons:
• Convenient. Each wipe is individually wrapped for portability and to ensure it never dries out.
• Effective. With a large 10-inch by 12-inch dimension and a resilient cloth-like material, QwikShower Wipes are big and study enough to clean the entire body, also leaving a slight fresh scent behind.
• Green. Environmentally friendly, QwikShower Wipes are non-aerosol and emit zero fluorocarbon emissions unlike popular body sprays. This also ensures the scent won’t invade the personal space of others or overwhelm the small space of a camper.
• Economical. Starting at just 49 cents each coupled with the company’s free shipping policy, QwikShower Wipes are very affordable.
• Versatile. QwikShower Wipes are great for use after sports practices and games, a day at the beach, or an impromptu restaurant outing with the family. Also a stellar solution for adults, the wipes are perfectly suited for boaters, campers and fitness enthusiasts. They are also a must for emergency preparedness kits in the event of water outages.
For more information about QwikShower Wipes visit www.QwikShower.com.
State Parks gift cards
Quite frankly, a state parks gift card or gift certificate is just about the perfect gift to give an RVer. A State Parks gift card is an appealing choice for anyone who likes to play outdoors or unwind in comfort. Gift cards can be redeemed for camping, getaway rentals, cottage rentals or overnight stays in state park campgrounds, and some are good for use at state park lodges. Many states allow them to be used used at State Parks’ public courses, boat rentals at some state park marinas, or for food and merchandise purchases.
“Drives of a Lifetime” from National Geographic
Fall vacations conjure up images of cozy fireplaces, mugs of warm apple cider and drives through gorgeous foliage, rich with the changing colors of the season. National Geographic provides details of hundreds of scenic fall drives and more in “DRIVES OF A LIFETIME: Where to Go, Why to Go, When to Go” ($40 hardcover). Following on the success of National Geographic Traveler magazine’s popular Drives of a Lifetime series, this sumptuously illustrated gift book will appeal to all who have a yen for the open road and for every magnificent sight along the way. Click here for the Amazon.com page for this book.
Duraflame Gold Firelog
Sick of the high cost of firewood? Sick of buying firewood at some campgrounds that’s little more than bark? How about trying the Duraflame Gold firelog for your next campfire. Packaged in chic gold and black, the Gold firelog is ideal for a great weekend fire, and burns longer with brighter with larger flames. The Duraflame Gold firelog is the first 7-pound firelog that burns for over four hours without tending, and is made from 100 percent renewable resources and burns 80 percent cleaner than wood. Available in a four-log pack for a suggested retail price of $24.99 or sold as a single log for $5-6/log. For more information visit www.duraflame.com.
“Winnebago Man” documentary on DVD
The outrageously funny, critically-acclaimed documentary “Winnebago Man” ($29.95) is available on DVD by Kino International. Following its much-publicized U.S. theatrical release in over 100 markets, as well as Jack Rebney’s national television debut as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the DVD is one of the most talked-about documentaries of the year. Click here for the Amazon.com page for this DVD.
Bananagrams ($14.95) is a fast and fun anagram game that drives players bananas! Requiring no pencil, paper or board, Bananagrams comes in a small portable banana shaped pouch and is perfect fun for kids from 7 – 97 years-old, at home or on the go. Bananagrams is available online as a free Facebook Application and on the iPad, iPhone and iTouch as well as in a series of books. Bananagrams recently launched in Spanish, French, Norwegian and German as well as in a larger version – DOUBLE Bananagrams, the big banana for the larger bunch (for 16+ players).
Cascade Sleeping Bag from Peak Camping
I’m not one for mummy-style sleeping bags, but for those who are then jump in and snuggle up for a long rest with this best-selling High Peak USA Cascade Sleeping Bag. With a temperature rating of +20, -5, and -15 degrees F (ladies bag is available in +20 and -5), you can be assured a restful sleep outdoors even during the most frigid nights. The Thermolite Quallo insulation is a special fiber technology that promotes warmth and easy packing and maintains resilience and high loft. The Cascade also features an insulated chest collar to keep cold air from sneaking in. The shell is made of 310T/210T nylon. Dimensions: 31 inches by 79 inches by 21 inches (footbox).
“Along Interstate-75″ book
Since 1992, Dave Hunter (and his wife and travel partner, Kathy) have acquired hundreds of friends and travel industry contacts along the I-75 corridor, who share their “local knowledge” of roadside secrets, local restaurants and ways to save money. “Along Interstate-75″ is published by Mile Oak Publishing, Inc. and is available in bookstores, at AAA in OH, by phone at 800-431-1579, online and at www.i75online.com. Useful travel information to help anyone driving this popular interstate from Detroit to the Florida border and back.
So there you have it. Granted, it’s not the most comprehensive list in the world, but these are things I’ve come across that I thought might catch your eye as well.
From the personal blog: I continue to post information on great getaways to many popular Midwest destinations, including Traverse City’s Winter Wow!fest, as well as great tips on how to protect yourself from the cold. Another pretty cool post was the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds recent announcement of the 32 campgrounds and RV parks that received an ‘A’ grade.
As if we RVers needed any more fuel for our pro-RV fire, here’s a “Top 10 Reasons I’d Rather RV than Fly” list. (With my comments thrown in here and there.)
Note: I came across this great list – slightly modified for RVers – from Dave Hunter, author of “Along Interstate-75,” an award-winning book which helps people enjoy driving this major freeway between the Midwest and the Georgia/Florida border.
1. Before you get into your RV, you don’t have to wait in long lines or wait for your seat row to be called for boarding. (Although I’m tempted to try this with the family next time we go camping.)
2. No embarrassing X-ray or pat down. (Tempted to try this, too.)
3. Your luggage always arrives at the same time you do and never costs extra. (Luggage? What’s luggage?)
4. No need to arrive at your RV two hours ahead of departure time – it will wait for you.
5. You can bring as many bottles of water into the RV as you wish.
6. The bathroom in your RV, or the restrooms at roadside rest areas, do not have line-ups in the aisle.
7. The air you breath is “family” — you know how healthy they are. (Granted, this may or may not be a positive.)
8. No need to surrender your favorite knitting needles or other sharp objects.
9. Stiff legs? No need to wait until you arrive — you are 2 feet off the ground and can stop for exercise whenever you want.
10. And there’s no need to rent a car when you arrive – you are already sitting in the vehicle of your choice, with no insurance waivers to sign!
A quick side note: My parents are about to fly to New York City to visit my brother and his family. When pricing airfare, ticket prices were $2,500 each (not including taxes, fees and luggage). They switched their schedule from Wednesday-Sunday to Sunday-Wednesday and the prices dropped to less than $500 each.
Obligatory “About the Author” information:
Since 1992, Dave Hunter (and his wife and travel partner, Kathy) have acquired hundreds of friends and travel industry contacts along the I-75 corridor, who share their “local knowledge” of roadside secrets, local restaurants and ways to save money. “Along Interstate-75″ is published by Mile Oak Publishing, Inc. and is available in bookstores, at AAA in OH, by phone at 800-431-1579, online and at www.i75online.com.
From the personal blog: I recently posted some great information for traveling to southern Indiana for the holidays, and I continue to add many more regional travel ideas as I come across them.
UPDATE: I have also posted on my personal blog about our recent trip to New York City, where we saw the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (cross that one off the bucket list) as well as my brother’s Broadway debut! (We drove there, by the way.) Click here to read all about it.
Two RV shows in the next few weeks will be an interesting study on whether we can truly believe the recent reports that the RV industry is on the rebound.
The State of Michigan is betting the future of its state parks on the willingness of its residents to fork out $10 a year. The $10 will buy each resident a Recreation Passport, and the program is Michigan’s solution for funding our favorite recreation destinations. It begins October 1, 2010.
Instead of spending $24 for an annual motor vehicle permit or boating access permit, Michigan residents will now be asked to support the Recreation Passport with an optional $10 fee when renewing their vehicle registration with the Secretary of State. The license plate renewal sticker received from the Secretary of State will have a designation that indicates the Recreation Passport payment. If an individual purchases their Recreation Passport fee at the park, the park will provide an identifying sticker.
Camping fees will remain the same. Also, out-of-state visitors will still pay the $8 daily, or $29 annual fee for park and/or boating access site entrance. Michigan residents entering a park without the Recreation Passport designation could face a $100 fine.
The current system brings in $11 million. But state officials estimate that if just 25 percent of state residents pay the $10 Recreation Passport, $18 million is generated. If there’s 50 percent participation, $36 million is generated; $55 million for 75 percent participation and $72 million if every resident motorist buys the Recreation Passport.
But, for the plan to work, people have to choose to pay the $10. So the state is about to embark on a whirlwind tour – in an RV no less – to convince its residents the $10 is money well spent.
This will not be an easy thing to do. Not the RV tour, that’s easy. Also easy will be getting us campers to fork out the $10. I’d much rather pay the $10 annual fee than the $24 annual permit.
The hard part will be getting the people who never use the parks and recreation areas to pay the $10. Convincing people to dig deeper into their wallets will be a tough sell. State officials are hoping these people will be willing to support their parks, even if they don’t use them. I hope they will, but I’m very skeptical. How many local millages were successful this past election? Not many.
Regardless, the state can’t afford for the Recreation Passport to fail. That’s why the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) is launching the “Road to Recreation” RV tour, a three-month tour of Michigan’s festivals, concerts and best destinations.
At the heart of the tour is a 32-foot recreational vehicle completely wrapped with inspiring images of wildlife, beaches, outdoor activities and smiling faces, thanks to the financial support of Merrell, a Michigan-based shoe and apparel company, and General RV, a Michigan-based dealer of recreational vehicles. The RV will make stops along the tour to share information about the Recreation Passport.
Anyone meeting the RV can try their hand at bean bag toss and ladder golf, as well as enter to win one of three prime camping sites being given away for the July 4, 2011, weekend: Ludington State Park, Tahquamenon Falls State Park or P.H. Hoeft State Park. Plus, freebies from Merrell and General RV will be given to anyone who stops by.
Husband-and-wife team of 43 years, Eliot and Naomi Haycock – residents of Chassell in the Upper Peninsula – volunteered to drive the RV. A retired state employee, Eliot and his wife, Naomi, said they are up for the adventure. Both are longtime park enthusiasts, having camped in many state and national parks over the last 30 years.
“I think it’s been 30 years,” said Eliot. “We’ve been (camping) so long, we’ve kind of lost track.” The two have been campground hosts for the past five years at Fort Wilkins State Park in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
“We love Michigan and, as campground hosts, have been able to help share our love for camping” said Eliot. “We love to travel and we love Michigan state parks, and we thought this would be fun to try something different for the summer.”
The Haycocks are responsible for getting the RV to each event during the three-month tour. Once on site, it will be staffed by local DNRE employees who will be on hand to explain the Recreation Passport and how it will benefit Michigan in many different ways.
I sincerely hope the Haycocks and this campaign are successful. As much, I hope every Michigander who enjoys our state parks, campgrounds and recreation areas will get behind this new program. But I’m preaching to the choir here; we need to enlist our families and friends to support the Recreation Passport as well.
To find out where the Road to Recreation tour is headed, visit the DNRE Facebook page at www.facebook.com/midnr. For more information about the Recreation Passport, visit www.michigan.gov/recreationpassport.
A while back I posted a press release from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources shifting all of its campground reservations to the Internet. Several people commented on this post, basically taking exception to the state parks contracting with third party vendors and passing the costs onto us.
I promised a follow-up, and here it is.
(Note: You can read my Illinois DNR post and the comments by clicking here.)
In a nutshell: State park systems are losing money and staff; contracting campground reservation systems with third-party vendors are paid for by campground users; the two primary vendors are both owned by the same parent company.
That’s the overview; the details are best explained by how one state — Ohio — went about it.
The Ohio State Park system is the third most visited park system in the nation, with over 50 million “visitor occasions” annually. Visitor occasions are essentially anytime anyone uses a state park. For Ohio, this includes day users and overnight stays at nearly 10,000 campsites in 57 campgrounds; 1,025 miles of shoreline, 80 public beaches and 188 boat ramps; 36 nature/visitor centers; 183 playgrounds and 6 golf courses; 394 individual trails totaling 1,167 miles; 518 cottages and 9 resort lodges. In 2009, people camped at an Ohio State Park a total of 582,000 nights.
John Hunter, Acting Chief of ODNR’s Parks & Recreation Division, said Ohio began exploring using a reservation program in 2003. Prior to that, cottage reservations were done with pen and paper at each facility, and there simply was no reservation system in place for campgrounds. It was all first-come, first-served as people showed up at the parks.
When they first started exploring reservation systems, Hunter said they quickly discovered they needed one specific to camping. Reservation systems for other industries, such as hotels and airlines, didn’t translate to the unique needs of camping, he said. With that in mind, they discovered they had two options when it came to a camping-specific reservation system: One, they purchase a company’s pre-packaged system and manage it in-house; Two, they contract with a third-party vendor that would manage its own system, but customized to Ohio’s specifications.
The negative to option one was that purchasing and managing a system was estimated at about $9 million — which due to enormous budget cuts over the years Ohio’s Parks & Rec Division didn’t have. Also, Parks & Rec staff, which already had seen its numbers reduced by 45 percent in the last dozen years or so, made it clear they were neither willing nor able to take on the additional responsibilities of managing such a system.
So, Ohio decided to contract with a third-party vendor. At that time in 2003, two such vendors existed: InfoSpherix Inc. and its software product, Reserve World; and a company known as IAC with its software product, ReserveAmerica.
Quick aside: This is a bit complicated, but in 2009 The Active Network company purchased ReserveAmerica from IAC, and InfoSpherix is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Active Network. As Hunter said, Reserve World and ReserveAmerica may be two different software products, but they are managed by the same people.
According to company information, 12 states use Reserve World: Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.
According to company information, 23 states use ReserveAmerica: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. In addition, the U.S. National Parks and Forests also use ReserveAmerica.
Both products are also used by private campgrounds (i.e. KOA uses ReserveAmerica).
Also, for the sake of understanding, I will simply refer to each entity as Reserve World and ReserveAmerica.
Back to Ohio.
In 2003, after Ohio determined it would go with a third-party vendor for its new reservation system, Reserve World and ReserveAmerica both submitted proposals. Hunter said Reserve World put together a better package more suited to what Ohio was requesting. Specifically, Ohio was wanting a point-of-sale component that would allow all sales transactions — campsite/cottage rentals, greens fees, boat rentals and docking fees, etc.— to be made under the same centralized electronic system.
The main components of Reserve World’s system for Ohio included:
• Central Reservation System accessible via a Call Center, the Internet and On-Site at each Park Facility
• Point-of-Sale Transactions
• Real Time Activity (the campsite is reserved as soon as the transaction takes place)
• Data Management
• All Hardware (Computers) and Training
The system was great, but as Hunter quickly admitted, paying for it was a whole other matter.
“What we had to figure out was how would we get this program in place, but pass the cost onto the customer,” Hunter said, adding that they realized this fee would not be popular. However, he said the key to “selling this” to the general public was that the financial burden of the new system was not being placed upon them, but with users. Even then, he added, users also were given the option of not having to pay the fee.
“We gave them an option that if you don’t want to pay a fee, then you don’t have to make a reservation,” Hunter said. “But if you want that privilege of reserving the exact site you want on the exact dates you want it, then you have to pay the reservation fee. That settled the public to a great degree and sort of calmed the issue.”
A four-year contract was negotiated in which Reserve World was paid via a reservation fee, which is now $8.25. In addition to the reservation fee, Hunter said Reserve World receives a “much smaller amount” from each campsite/cottage overnight fee. The reason for this additional money is somewhat complicated, but it boils down to this: Reserve World needed to be paid for providing the point-of-sale component. At first glance it would seem logical that a nominal fee would be added to each transaction. The problem was at that time Hunter said no one knew how many point-of-sale transactions took place, but the number of camping/cottage overnight stays was more exact so the cost was factored into that figure.
After a year of development and training, the system went live in December of 2004. The same Reserve World system has been in use ever since. Reserve World won the contract a second time when it was up for bid recently, and an Ohio Campers Rewards component — basically a frequency discount program — was added to the system.
Externally, the overwhelming benefit to the public is the convenience of being able to reserve a specific campsite or cottage at a specific park for a specific date.
Internally, Hunter said the benefits are: there is no cost to the Ohio state parks system; the cost is not a burden on taxpayers who do not use the facilities; revenue transactions are centralized, electronic and immediate; data is collected and managed for marketing and other purposes; the system provides the ability to disperse information to a wide audience (such as a water advisory or Emerald Ash Borer information to campers coming from infected areas).
In Ohio and other states, Reserve World and ReserveAmerica make their money via the reservation fee. This fee varies slightly from state to state. Although some — Indiana and Pennsylvania among them — do not charge a reservation fee, Hunter said “I guarantee you those states bury the cost in their camping fee.”
Bottom line: As always, it comes down to money. To offer a reservation service, but faced with declining budgets and staff, many state park systems contract with third-party vendors and pass the costs along to users.
My opinion is this: Online reservations are a convenience I would not want to do without, and the campsite descriptions are very valuable. Yes, I think we pay too many taxes and government waste is rampant and criminal, but I choose to accept the reservation fee as part of camping.