When Cleyardis Yilmaz joined Thousand Trails two years ago and gained access to all of the company’s recreational vehicle resorts and campgrounds in North America, she didn’t know it would change her life.
The eighth-grade English teacher visited a campground in Orlando, Fla., in 2010, rented a cabin and discovered she enjoyed the vacation so much that she wanted to find a campground closer to her Virginia home in Lakeview, near Petersburg, the Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, reported.
She not only found Outdoor World Williamsburg, just off Interstate 64 near Colonial Williamsburg, Busch Gardens, Yorktown and Jamestown, but she also found a second home – called a “park model” cottage – that she was able to purchase.
The 28-foot-long unit sits smack dab in the middle of the RV resort, close to the indoor and outdoor pool, adult hot tub and pickleball and miniature golf courses.
Yilmaz makes the 45-minute-to-an-hour drive every weekend to visit her unit, tend to her plants on the deck and partake in the park’s amenities.
“I’m enjoying the adult lounge,” Yilmaz said recently during one of the hottest days of the summer. “I’m working on a puzzle right now.”
While these units are nothing new to the outdoor-recreation industry, more and more resorts are selling them and offering sites on their properties where people, like Yilmaz, can get away and own a second home without shelling out a lot of money.
“In the last few years, with the economy being what it is, it’s become – for Middle America – an affordable second-home option,” said David Gorin, executive director of the Virginia Campground Association (VCA).
Legally, park models are recreational vehicles, Gorin said, and always have a place in RV parks. But they mainly stay put.
Basically, they are suites of no more than 400 square feet that come in all kinds of configurations, Gorin said.
“In many parks, they are there as rental units,” Gorin said. “If you want to go to an RV park, and you don’t own an RV, you have an option of renting a cabin or park model.”
Campgrounds – from the small, independently owned ones to the biggest resort chains – are investing in park models, according to Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association’s (RPTIA) website, www.rptia.com. Roughly a third of the nation’s privately owned campgrounds now offer their guests such options as rentals, the association said.
Bill and Rachel Rhoads, owners of American Heritage RV Park outside Williamsburg, recently received the zoning OK for 85 park models.
American Heritage is buying the units for about $75,000 apiece and locating them in the RV park, Rhoads said. Seasonal rent – Memorial Day to Labor Day – will run $3,000 to 4,000 a month depending on the unit, he said.
At that price, people get a place to stay not only with electricity, running water and working toilets but also with access to the RV park’s pool, waterslide and game room.
“It’s another hospitality accommodation style other than a door-to-door motel room,” Rhoads said.
Purchase prices depend on where you put the model, whether it’s at a beach-front resort like Myrtle Beach, S.C., or on more inland properties like Williamsburg, Gorin said.
Park models typically sell for about $40,000, according to the RPTIA.
The association said campgrounds, RV parks and resorts in most states will lease sites to park-model owners at annual fees ranging from about $2,000 to $8,000 or more, depending on location.
“It’s a good lifestyle for a lot people,” Gorin said.
At Outdoor World Williamsburg, resort manager Gary Bock has seen the park models gain in popularity with the buying crowd.
Bock, who has managed the property for the past 12 years, said the campground’s owner, Equity LifeStyle Properties, started to sell the resort’s units – ranging in price from $999 to $2,499 – four years ago. Of the 40 units, about a dozen have sold. Owners are required to sign a three-year lease for the site at $2,450 a year, Bock said.
Outdoor World offers four different styles in two basic sizes – 28 or 38 feet long.
Throw out preconceived notions that these units look like the cabins of yore – with uncomfortable cots and sparse furnishings, if any.
Park models today look like small houses, some with gable roofs, others with hardwood floors, granite countertops, upscale cabinets and bay windows.
Outdoor World’s models either resemble log cabins or small trailers with vinyl siding.
They offer a living room-kitchen combination with a bedroom and a bathroom, or a bedroom, bathroom and loft. Larger models include two bedrooms and two baths.
Each has a trailer hitch, said Bock, who lives on the property in a park model. Each also is built on a trailer chassis, with axles mounted to make it a recreational vehicle, according to www.myparkmodels.com. Manufacturers are supposed to build to industry standards that cover everything from plumbing and electrical to size and structure, the site said.
But, as Gorin said, these suites at 12 feet wide are bulky and wider than most recreational vehicles, so transporting them every weekend isn’t really an option.
That’s why many folks – such as Gary and Janet Hamilton of Wilson, N.C. – choose to buy them at a resort they intend to visit over and over again.
The Hamiltons are pros at camping, starting with tents and moving up to motorhomes and finally park models.
“We come here whenever we can get here,” said Janet Hamilton.
They like being able to use the indoor pool and hot tub in the winter (Outdoor World opens only on weekends from early December to late March), and “we like the people who live here,” Gary Hamilton said.
The Hamiltons’ one-bedroom, one-loft cottage sits on the outskirts of the main camp area. Next door is a cottage owned by the couple’s daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Elton Whitley, along with their four children. They all bought their park models on the same day four years ago.
The Whitleys put hardwood floors in their unit. Janet and Gary have decorated their cottage with rustic relics, like lanterns hanging from the tall ceilings and little signs that read, “Home is where the story begins” or “Dance as if no one is watching.”
The couple also owns a park model in Lake Royale, N.C., with an enclosed porch.
“Best thing we ever did; we love it,” Janet Hamilton said.
Added Gary Hamilton: “We’re not going to go back to that other kind of camping.”