Bob Ashley

Business is still slow at Baton Rouge KOA in Denham Springs, La., following the BP oil spill that kept visitors away in droves during the summer.

“A little bit of that is the economy, but the oil spill is to blame, too,” confides Ted Bacot, owner for 40 years of the 110-site park on 13 acres. ”We are a transient park, and people are not traveling to Florida. It doesn’t seem like they are moving like they were before.”

Bacot’s winter reservations are off about 25%. ”It’s going to be a long time before we see business like we did a couple of years ago,” he said. “And we’re going to have to do more to get the same dollar we did before.”

Bacot has actively pursued business. On Friday nights, for instance, he started to bring in music and entertainment with invitations extended to neighborhood people. ”You’ve got to find a way to make it,” Bacot said. ”I’m in this thing to win. I don’t know how to lose.”

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Stephen Douglas and his wife, Allyson, owners of Magnolia RV Park in Magnolia Spring, Ala., have put on hold plans to expand the 40-site park that opened in 2006.

While the BP oil spill affected business to some extent during the summer, the economy is more of a problem today, he said.

”Did the oil spill affect us?” Steven Douglas asked. “Probably so. Have I noticed it? No. ‘We are getting the same return customers we had last year. We’re not full, but we weren’t full last year either.”

The oil spill ”devastated” Gulf Shores and Orange Beach 10 miles south and directly on the Gulf of Mexico, Douglas reported. ”Our park is popular with retirees and they don’t go to the beach a lot,” he said. ”They stay locally and they do their shopping locally.”

Douglas sells sites at the park and then, by agreement, rents them to RVers when the owners aren’t present. Seventeen sites remain unsold from his original development and when the local economy recovers, Douglas’ plan is to duplicate the existing park on an adjacent parcel of land.

”The boxes are in, but the pads aren’t poured yet,” he said. ”If the economy will jump back up and get jobs and businesses going again, it won’t take much to get the next phase up and running.”

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Grassy Key RV Park and Resort, located some 60 miles north of Key West, Fla., lost a few customers during the summer due to the oil spill. Yet ”business has been excellent,” said Wendy Murphy, who manages the 38-site park with her husband, Jack.

”We had a few cancellations because of it,” said Murphy, “but there wasn’t any oil on our beaches. ‘People would read articles about the potential for the oil spill to come around the Keys and you couldn’t talk them out of it. The impact of the calls that you didn’t get from people who might have come down here is hard to know.”

The park. situated on three acres on the Gulf side of Grassy Key, was completely refurbished before the 2009 winter season. ”Every piece of rock and landscaping is new along with utilities,” she said.

Grassy Key has no restrooms nor showers but provides full sewer hookups and 30- and 50-amp electric service. Interior roads are black granite and the RV sites are white rock. ”It looks pretty cool, actually,” she said.

She expects to be 95% full for most of the winter with daily, weekly and seasonal RVers. ”We’ll take whatever we can get,” she said. ”We have a lot of Floridians who come down here, but we also get people from as far away as Alaska and California.”

With a dozen waterfront sites, Grassy Key also has a dock that will accommodate about 20 boats, depending on their size.

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Business has already started to pick up for the winter season at Emerald Beach RV Park on the Intercostal Waterway in Navarre, Fla.

”Our winter season guests have started to arrive and we already have a lot of activities going on – bingo, coffee and donuts, pot luck dinners and doggie parades,” said Margie Shelton, manager of the 76-site park located a mile and a half from the Gulf of Mexico.

All things considered, this winter should be better than last for Emerald Beach. ”The oil spill affected us to the extent that we had a good number of cancellations,” she said, “but it won’t affect our winter people at all.”

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Change – for the positive – has been occurring over the last year at 142-site Santa Maria RV Park in Gautier, Miss., five miles from the Gulf.

In the last year, the park – about 20 miles east of Biloxi – has added a swimming pool, fitness room and new laundry and shower facilities. And the park has raised it’s visibility with a new website plus billboards and increased directory advertising.

There’s also a pond within the park for fishing, and Santa Maria owns a small dock and boat ramp with access to the Pascagoula River.

”We’ve gone through a lot of changes and we’ve made a lot of progress,” said Park Manager Wendy Edson.

In the past, Santa Maria RV Park, with 30 riverfront sites on the Pascagoula, has been a haven for workers at nearby Chevron and Gulf oil refineries. Business was not affected by the BP oil spill, but the park is trying to appeal more to traditional RVers. ”Most of our customers are contract workers who are coming and going,” Edson said. ”Now that we are advertising, we are getting people calling for reservations.”