Editor’s Note: The following story was broadcast over WUWM, the National Public Radio station in Milwaukee. Click here to listen to the auto tape of the following report by reporter Bob Bach.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is soliciting public comment through July 6 about how the state could enhance outdoor recreation. According to the agency, several activities are becoming more popular, including camping in RVs. The state already plans to upgrade electrical service at hundreds of campsites starting this fall, because fewer than 30 percent have adequate hook-ups.
Several RV dealers say sales of recreational vehicles have also been climbing, a possible sign of economic recovery.
Tim Wegge is giving me a tour.
“We can go inside and see what this looks like. A lot space, lot of room,” Wegge says.
Tim Wegge is showing me a Class A motorhome. These are the big ones – the size of a Greyhound bus. It’s parked at his Burlington RV Superstore alongside I-94. My first glance inside locks in on wood paneling and carpeted floor. Tinted glass windows block heat from the summer sun. The price for a new unit is a hefty $250,000. Wegge admits these luxury units you drive from place to place are not big sellers right now.
“You’ve got a segment of the market – older, retirees, and this economy has scared these older people into just taking what they have and holding it tight. They’ve got a wait and see attitude,” Wegge says.
On the other hand, sales of RV trailers – the kind travelers pull, not drive, are humming. Wegge says more people are looking for an affordable alternative to pricey hotels.
“We saw a tremendous downturn in 2008, 2009, Things stabilized in 2010, 2011. And, now we’re seeing some nice growth, particularly in the towable market,” Wegge says.
In Menomonee Falls, Gary Roskopf of Roskopf’s RV has been experiencing the same: increased customer interest in “towables.” They include everything from lightweight “pop-up” campers to heavy duty “fifth-wheels.” Those come in a range of sizes.
“This is the Summerland trailer by Springdale. It’s a mid-size trailer, it’s 28 feet long. You might say to me, ‘that looks kind of big,’ but in today’s day and age, this would be mid-sized – queen bed in the front, double bed in the back with a bunk on the top. This will sleep a good seven, eight people in it and pricewise, you’re going to be under $18,000 brand new,” Roskopf says.
Roskopf says other popular RVs are those with showers, air conditioning and one or more, “slide-outs.”
“The side of the trailer expands. It’s a box area that expands into the trailer for travel and expands out of the trailer when you get to the site. It really has changed this industry,” Roskopf says.
Todd Hill and his family from Ixonia are sizing up a unit at Roskopf’s.
“We’ve been camping for many, many years and we’re looking for something that has slideouts on it, to add a little extra room in the kids bedroom and then have the couch and dinette and stuff open up in the kitchen so you can walk around through there a little bit more,” Hill says.
I ask him what his kids think of the new unit.
He says, “They’re all for it. They kind of walk all over each other sometimes when they’re in the rooms.”
Repeat customers – those who trade up are important to dealer Gary Roskopf. He says some customers intend to park their RVs at a permanent site, while others will tow them to national and state parks.
Wisconsin wants to capitalize on the growing demand for all types of campsites. In addition to adding electric hookups, the DNR’s Dan Schuler says the state recently opened a new campground at Harrington Beach State Park. That’s 45 minutes north of Milwaukee for interested campers.
“They’re staying closer to home a little bit, I think from an affordability standpoint. But, I also think it’s somewhat time constraints. We’re not seeing an uptick in the week long or two week long vacations. But, we absolutely have seen an uptick in two to three day stays, particularly in the fall season,” Schuler says.
The DNR estimates there are roughly 18 million potential campers in Wisconsin and adjacent states. If fuel prices remain stable and consumer confidence grows, local RV dealers expect more to opt for towing an RV to their outdoor getaway.