The limited availability of financing continues to constrain the growth of the recreational park trailer industry.

But several Elkhart County manufacturers say their year-to-date sales are ahead of last year’s figures and most are confident that the worst of the recession is behind them, according to a news release.

“The campground industry’s continued demand for park models that they can use as rental units is really helping us this year,” said Bill Garpow, executive director of the Newnan, Ga.-based Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), which is having its quarterly board meeting today (May 4) at the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind.

Independently owned as operated campgrounds as well as parks affiliated with the major campground chains, such as Kampgrounds of America (KOA) and Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts are fueling much of the park model demand, Garpow said.

But even government-run parks are starting to invest in park models because they’ve seen the success that private campgrounds have had with rental units that can accommodate people who don’t have a tent or RV.

“Park models are a neat way to introduce people to camping who might not otherwise find their way into a campground,” Garpow said.

Most manufacturers across Elkhart County, for their part, are confident the worst of the recession is behind them.

“We’re clearly up off the bottom,” said Tim Howard, president and CEO of the Breckenridge Division of Damon Corp., a Thor company in Nappanee. “Our business is up 15% from last year.”

He added that consumer interest in park models is stronger this year than last year.

Curt Yoder, vice president of Kropf Industries Inc. in Goshen, said his company’s business has been good despite tight financing. “Our business has been quite good. We’ve been going full bore all year,” he said, adding that he is also seeing strong demand from Canada, which is driven in part by the strengthening Canadian dollar.

“Our Canadian business has been good, but they’re still fighting some of the same issues we are with the lack of available financing,” he said.

Jim Foltz, general manager of Forest River Inc.’s park trailer division in Elkhart, said he is seeing strong sales this year. “It’s much better than last year,” he said. “I look for it to stay steady this year.”

Dave Burroughs, national sales manager for Woodland Park Inc. in Middlebury, said his business has been “decent” this year.

“It has definitely not come back to the levels of 2006, 2007 or 2008, but it’s starting to come around,” he said. “Retail traffic is starting to pick up. We still have a lot of hurdles to jump over before people are going to spend their money as freely as they did in previous years, but I do believe there is some optimism out there.”

Other Elkhart County park trailer manufacturers aren’t convinced the worst is behind us, particularly with gas prices exceeding $4 a gallon.

“If it costs $30 more per week to fill a tank, that’s $120 per month that a customer no longer has in disposable income,” said John Soard, general manager of Fairmont Park Trailers in Nappanee.

Still, Soard expects his company’s sales to be at least on par with last year’s figures.

Tyler Steele, vice president of Canterbury RV in Goshen, also expects his 2011 sales to match last year’s figures, but financing remains tight. “Retail financing continues to be an issue,” he said. “The low end product is selling better than the mid-range, while the high end products are usually cash deals.”

In their board meeting today, RPTIA manufacturers plan to discuss ways to improve park model sales through more diversified marketing efforts that include social media outreach as well as the association’s efforts to share intelligence on promising financing sources with its members.

RPTIA is also working to persuade the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to recognize a federal building code standard for park trailers that would supercede state and local codes, the idea being to establish a uniform code that would apply to all park trailer manufacturers.