What Has Led To Campground Popularity Trend?

BERLIN – The people.

That, Alan and Judi Jefferson say, is what got them hooked on camping. These days they’re regulars at campgrounds like Frontier Town and Tom’s Cove.

“Camping people are the friendliest people on earth,” Judi Jefferson said. “I may not know their names but they know us by our dog and the site we always camp.”

As plans for campgrounds at both the Bay Club and the former Pine Shore Golf course have surfaced in recent weeks, local residents have voiced numerous concerns over the projects. While they’re thinking about traffic impact and environmental damage, what many are not considering is why campgrounds like those at Castaways and Frontier Town are so popular. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), 2016 marks the eighth consecutive year of growth for the RV industry. The organization reports that nationwide the industry has an economic impact of $50 billion and contributes close to $6 billion in taxes. But just what draws people to motorhomes?

“It’s getting away from home and the same old routine,” Jefferson said, “and the camaraderie of the whole thing.”

In northern Worcester County, there are currently more than 1,600 campsites between the facilities at Assateague Island, Frontier Town, Castaways and Fort Whaley.

Frontier Town has already received approval for a 213-site expansion to its existing 580 sites and Fort Whaley is seeking approval for a 67-site expansion to go along with its 210 sites. In nearby Millsboro, the brand-new Resort at Massey’s Landing offers 286 RV sites. Castaways campground offers 394 sites off Route 611, while Assateague State Park has 312 sites and Assateague Island National Seashore offers 141.

And yet Hugh Cropper, attorney for both the owners of the Bay Club and the former Pine Shore Golf course on Route 611, says Worcester County doesn’t have enough campsites to meet demand. The Bay Club could add a potential 434 sites while the Route 611 property would add between 275 and 300.

“I think the county’s underserved,” Cropper said. “People want to come here and camp.”

Locally, he believes the popularity of the pastime started with Todd Burbage’s successful redevelopment of Castaways. Though he’d originally planned to build homes there, Burbage instead opted to invest funding to renovate the dilapidated campground and turn it into a destination.

“Castaways became a first-class campground,” Cropper said.

It proved successful enough that Sun Communities, one of the nation’s largest RV resort companies, bought it. Not long after, the company bought the Parker family’s Frontier Town campground off Route 611 and Fort Whaley campground off Route 50.

From a property owner’s point of view, Cropper says campgrounds are an attractive development option. There’s not a lot of infrastructure involved.

“If your property has the correct zoning and the ability to connect to sewer, it’s a productive use of property,” Cropper said. “It’s an inexpensive type of development. It’s not like building a Marriott.”

He believes the facilities should appeal to local government as well. In addition to bringing in revenue, Cropper says they’re not a drain on public safety and carry no impact on the county’s school system.

“People come, they stay the summer, they leave,” he said.

Campgrounds are also required to closed for five months of the year. Because they close during the winter, they don’t add to the burden on local sewer systems during the time of year when spray irrigation isn’t possible.

“In the winter when we have trouble getting rid of effluent they’re closed,” Cropper said.

Nevertheless, opponents to the two projects Cropper is working on question the traffic impact they’d have and the effect they’d have on the environment. Assateague Coastal Trust has already issued a statement against the redevelopment of Pine Shore Golf, arguing that rezoning the property doesn’t fit the county’s comprehensive plan and citing the importance of Ayres Creek.

“Ayres Creek is a tributary of Newport Bay, one of the most impaired sub-watersheds in the Coastal Bays,” the statement reads. “It is imperative our county leaders take a proactive stance in protecting the natural resources of Worcester County because without our creeks, bays open fields, clean water and clean air the economy of Worcester County would be in jeopardy.”

Neighbors of the Route 611 site also point to the county’s comprehensive plan, which was approved in 2006.

“The entire subwatershed other than its West Ocean City (northern) portion should not be further developed due to its traffic, environmental sensitivity, and high storm hazard vulnerability characteristics along with its value as a gateway to the parks,” reads the section of the county’s comprehensive plan relating to the Sinepuxent Neck and South Point area.

Local residents have also expressed worry about the crime, noise and light a campground could bring to what is now a quiet area. Jefferson says many of them may not realize how restrictive campgrounds typically are. She says they all have a variety of rules campers are expected to follow — they don’t allow things like barking dogs or unsupervised children and even have enforced “quiet time,” which she says usually starts at 10 p.m.

“There are a lot of rules that go along with camping,” she said. “The newer campgrounds are even more controlled.”

While the Jeffersons have visited just about every local campground, Frontier Town is a favorite and one they visit multiple times a year. Judi Jefferson says that while the campground is pretty full during the summer and on holiday weekends throughout the year, on regular weekends during the shoulder season it’s not usually at capacity. Nevertheless she says she’d like to have another camping option on Route 611.

“I’d like to see another campground,” she said. “It might lower prices if nothing else.”

She doesn’t see the industry tailing off any time soon. She grew up going to RV parks with her parents and has now returned to the practice with her husband. Industry leaders, too, are optimistic about the future of the business.

“Inflation and interest rates are near historic lows; a more vibrant economy has created jobs and reduced unemployment to near its lowest levels in decades; wages are finally showing signs of improvement; and household wealth has begun to accumulate toward record highs,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the RVIA in a news release on the organization’s website. “These are all working in the RV market’s favor.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.