View from space of Lake Sakakawea in western North Dakota. Photo from Wikipedia.

With the unofficial start of camping season a few months down the road, getting ready for the upcoming summer may be on the back burner for a lot of people.

But for people in the RV or camper business in North Dakota, it’s a busy time of the year. With sports shows scheduled around the state this time of year, dealers are busy — and that can translate into some good deals, according to the Bismarck Tribune.

Even with the downturn in the economy, RV dealers say business has been good, as North Dakota’s economy remains comparably strong. Nationally, participation in camping has seen a resurgence.

In 2008 there were about 300,000 more RV campers that took to the state parks and elsewhere than did in the previous year.

That trend followed in North Dakota. The state park system reported higher visitation in 2009 — a jump of 19% from the previous year.

The fact that Lake Sakakawea (the nation’s third largest man-made body of water, formed by the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River in the western part of the state) and other bodies of water near parks were recharged by spring runoff helped, but the economy and higher fuel prices have changed the way in which people vacation.

Last year, there were 1.05 million people who visited state parks in North Dakota. The number of campers also increased by 11% over the previous year.

Rod Klinner, sales manager at Capital RV, said the RV industry has been making changes as well, keeping up with the ways people are choosing to spend their leisure time.

“Our local economy isn’t as bad as it is nationally,” he said. “In fact, we have had a very good year.”

He said manufacturers have come up with a lot of new floorplans geared toward those who don’t just camp.

Statistically, 80-85% of campers do more than just camp, whether it’s fishing, hiking, biking or riding motorcycles or ATVs.

One of the new types of floorplans that has come along in recent years is the “toy hauler,” an RV that drops open in the back with room to haul a motorcycle or ATV.

“In the past few years, they’ve made a lot of little floorplan changes that just make sense,” Klinner said.

Some of those changes include kitchen areas with refrigerators, sinks and cooking areas that are accessible from the outside of the unit.

Some of the new models have outside access to the bathrooms, which also have been improved to be more fully enclosed.

For those just getting into camping, the big consideration is which type of vehicle you have for towing.

Fifth-wheel and travel trailers offer campers the option of setting up camp, then being able to drive away to do things away from the campground.

So while sales have been strong, that doesn’t mean the market is strong if you are looking for a used camper. Just the opposite is true.

Klinner said campers these days are made with more quality and value in mind and hold their resale value better than in years past.

“The used RV market is absolutely insane right now,” he said.

Tom Friedt, sales manager at Riverwood RV in Mandan, said used campers don’t stay on the lot for very long.

“Last week, we had seven trade-ins and they were gone in two days,” he said. Friedt said people have changed their philosophies when it comes to vacationing and have tended to stay closer to home in recent years.

“We’re seeing a lot more people just going to places like the Black Hills because it’s close,” he said.

For the motorcyclists or mountain bikers, the toy haulers are a perfect fit.

Another change, Friedt said, is many people using their RV for more than just a few months in the summer, often setting them up for fall hunting or even living in them while on the road working.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes. There are bigger water tanks, better insulation values; they’re just bigger and better,” he said.

Friedt said one of his customers who used to take a big trip each year opted to forego that and buy a motorhome instead.

Of course, for campers, there’s still the other end of scale, like pop-ups or the plain old-fashioned tent.

In North Dakota, there are plenty of places to explore.

“We have a hundred different floorplans on the ground right now,” Friedt said. “There is that much variety.”