Thomas and Nancy Smith have put more than 150,000 miles on their RV in four years. The Smiths said Monday (June 23) they have decided to stay at the KOA in Topeka, Kan., because of high fuel prices.
“It stops you, and you don’t get to travel around like you want to,” Nancy Smith said.
They are part of a trend of RV users who are staying closer to home because of high fuel prices, according to the Topeka Capital Journal.
When the Smiths go somewhere, they drive a Ford F-350 truck, which gets 10 mpg on a good day. When pulling their RV, they get close to 8 mpg. When driving into the wind or up a hill, however, 3 mpg is the norm. The low gas mileage forces the Smiths to spend hundreds of dollars on gasoline to go somewhere.
Four years ago, the Smiths could buy fuel for $1.69 per gallon. Their last fill up was $3.75 per gallon. “The fuel prices pretty much shut us down,” Thomas Smith said.
Shane Ott, president and chief operating officer with Kampgrounds of America Inc., said KOA had its best year in its 46-year history last year, but revenues were off 4% to 5% so far this year because of bad weather, high fuel prices and the economy. He said large campgrounds in Las Vegas and the Florida Keys are seeing more of an impact from high fuel prices.
He said 9,000 to 11,000 Baby Boomers are retiring daily, and many of them enjoy camping.
“RVers are staying closer to home,” said Ott, a Topeka native who graduated from Washburn Rural High School in 1983 and rose through the ranks to become president of Billings, Mont.-based KOA Inc.
KOA has more than 450 locations and 1,000 employees, including 85 in its headquarters in Billings.
Ott was in town Monday to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a rededicated KOA campground. Charlie Reaser, owner of Capital City RV Park, converted the RV park to a KOA campground on May 15. The park has 49 acres, with 65 full-service hookup sites, Wi-Fi, three ponds and a barn with pool table.
Reaser said occupancy at the RV park is 66%. He said he expects a higher level of nightly travelers as a result of joining KOA as a franchisee.
Sharon George said she and her husband sold their farm house in Chanute 100 miles to the south because it was costing them $1,500 per month to live there. They moved to the KOA campground in Topeka, where they pay $300 per month for lot rental, plus electricity. Her husband works in Topeka.
Sharon George said she and her husband are saving $1,000 per month living at KOA.
“It turned out to be like a gigantic camping trip with my family,” she said. “And I can’t beat the prices. I love it.”
She said that when they were living in Chanute, they were paying too much money to commute to work. High fuel prices were “devastating,” she said. But living in the campground, she said, they have a lot more disposable income.
She said they don’t travel with their fifth-wheel because fuel prices are too high.
“Fuel prices don’t allow you to do much of anything,” she said.