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Sue Bray

Sue Bray

Editor’s Note: This column was written by Sue Bray who is well known in the RV community, primarily due to her work as executive director of the Good Sam Club. In 2009, she was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame. When she retired in 2012, she started her own consulting business; visit www.suebray.com.

Like many other RVers, we took a break from self-isolating during the season of COVID this summer, hitting the road to enjoy a month-long trip reexploring the beautiful sights of Colorado. Along the way, we visited with some of the managers and owners of the Colorado campgrounds where we stayed, just to see how they had experienced their summer of COVID.  

As always, meeting these hard-working individuals and hearing their stories was an absolute delight. Their comments are totally anecdotal and by no means a scientific survey, but give a great insight into their experiences of summer, 2020.

Echo Basin Ranch RV Resort

Tom Carr, along with his father and stepmother, bought Echo Basin Ranch in Mancos four years ago. Originally part of a large ranch, the park was developed as a Boy Scout Camp, and in addition to the 80 RV sites still includes some large cabins and banquet facilities. 

 “In April, we experienced many cancels.  People who had prior reservations from last year for 2020 were pushing them off until next year,” saID Tom. “But since the end of May, it’s been non-stop. In fact, our RV business has been busier than prior years, although we have not had as much cabin business.”  He is also seeing a lot of his guests staying longer, and many are working from their rigs.

Carr also noted that their group events, like family reunions, have been off this year, as people are pushing them off until a later date. The park offers a beautiful outdoor wedding venue complete with catering, and the wedding bookings have also been off for 2020, although 2021 bookings are looking very positive.

Dolores River Campground

Just a few miles away, Billy and Lainey Beyhan own Dolores River Campground, which they purchased in 2013, when they decided to leave their corporate careers behind them. Located right on the river, they offer 80 RV sites, tent camping, plus stays in a variety of cabins from basic camping with no amenities to full service, Conestoga wagons, two yurts and even a vintage 1953 Airstream trailer.

“In March through April, reservations came to a total halt, and people were canceling like crazy,” says Lainey. “Everything completely stopped.  But that quickly changed. During the first couple of weeks in May, we realized it was going to be a busy summer, and compared to past years, we’re up 10 to 15%.”

She continues, “Our cabins are always busy.  We have always had a strict cleaning protocol with the cabins, and we’re continuing to keep everything up beyond our customers’ expectations.”

The Beyhans’ have noticed markable differences in their guests this year. “There are many new campers. These are people who have never been in an RV before, who have never tent camped or been in a campground. Billy was over at one guest’s site five times showing them how to connect up their RV. It’s a whole different type of clientele.”

River Run RV Resort

Further north, in Granby, River Run RV Resort, part of Sun Communities Inc. is in its second year of operation and is still building and completing its landscaping.  With 400-plus sites, 83 cabins, eight Airstreams, seven Conestoga wagons and 36 villas for sale, it’s quite a change from the family-owned parks we had previously stayed in. Amenities abound – including a restaurant, tavern, a small bowling alley, golf putting green, an arcade, three playgrounds, yoga lawn, two dog parks, a gym, general store, pools, private lakes, hot tubs, golf cart and kayak rentals, and more.  Of course, due to COVID, many of these extras were not available this summer.

We met with Gerald Isaacs, the assistant general manager of the park. Both the pandemic and the major snow last winter delayed construction this year, plus the closure of nearby Rocky Mountain National Park affected business early in the season.  However, Isaacs believes that the resort’s main attraction is the many amenities it offers, and that they have overcome the many obstacles they’ve had to face earlier in the season.

“We have to abide by the state restrictions, then the county’s and also the Sun policies,” he says. “Even if Colorado opens up, we need to go by the Sun rules. We are restricting our pool to 50 people. They get tickets in advance for a one-hour slot. Our hot tubs are closed. Our restaurants are operating at 50% capacity for indoor seating. In each building, masks are required.  We’ve closed our fitness center. Our playgrounds are limited to a maximum of 10 people. We are using only the two farthest lanes in our bowling alley. We’ve just recently opened our arcade and we’re cleaning it two to three times a day.”

To compensate for these inconveniences, River Run is offering all current guests 25% off on future stays this year. On weekends, they often provide live music and burgers at their pool.

“COVID has made us cut back and slowed us down a bit,” says Gerald.  “It’s actually given us a chance to breathe and to learn.”  

Dakota Ridge RV Park

Closer to Denver, Dakota Ridge Campground is part of RV Inn, a company that owns three campgrounds in Colorado. Cyd Vagher is the manager.

“Spring reservations were very slow, with a lot more cancels than last year,” she says. “We are seeing a lot of last-minute reservations and are filling up although we are still a little behind last year.”

She is also seeing a lot of first time RVers, as well as full-timers. The park chose not to open their pool and hot tub because of the cleaning protocol requirements, and most of their guests have been very understanding about it.  

The park also has a dump station that is available to the public.  “Many of the people who stop by to dump have no idea how to use a dump station, and need to ask for help,” she says.  

Middlefork RV Park 

At nearly 10,000 feet, family-owned Middlefork RV Park is located in the small town of Fairplay and despite an average annual snowfall of 84 inches, remains open year-round. Markham Fish is the resident manager and literally Johnny on the spot, as he singlehandedly takes care of the park.

“The first six weeks of the pandemic were dismal, as people could leave, but I couldn’t allow new people into the park. We had low occupancy for six weeks, and I had somebody here who wouldn’t leave and was unwilling to pay. After the lockdown was lifted, it’s been surprisingly busy. Camping during COVID is one of the absolutely safest things for people to do,” he says.

Since then, he’s been dealing with various regulations and mitigating the park’s liability with a lot of signage. “We have the bathhouse open. I spray with Lysol and Microban, and wipe down all the surfaces, faucets, toilets and doorknobs two to three times a day,” he continues.  “It’s a lot of extra work.”

Historically, the park operated more as a hotel. 50% of the park’s guests used to be overnight, but Markham says that is now down to about 15% as people are staying longer and many are requesting monthly stays. He is seeing more full-timers and believes more people are moving into their RVs in order to travel and work. He too sees a lot more first-time RVers, many of whom need additional help with their rigs. In fact, during our conversation, a guest came to the office and asked if the park could provide a sewer hose as his RV did not seem to have one. Markham suggested he look in his back bumper. Sure enough, it was there.

Back in Dolores, Lainey Beyhan summed up her summer by saying, “99.9% of our guests are comfortable with RV travel. They’re not questioning what we’re doing or how we’re sanitizing. People who are here are happy to get out of their house and get out and about. They realize they can social distance at an RV park and they feel safe.”