COLCHESTER -- Each summer, Wildcats, Prowlers and Bobcats lurk in a park just off Bay Road in Colchester. The names don't refer to local wildlife, but to the Recreational Vehicles parked at 265 sites in Lone Pines Campground. These motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers can cost upwards of $100,000 each. Gas mileage is a dismal 7 to 15 miles per gallon while driving or towing one of these babies; even the Hummer H3 can get about 20.
With gas prices higher than in recent memory -- oil is at $60 a barrel and rising -- and turmoil in the Middle East, you'd think RVs might be an endangered species. But you'd be wrong. Lone Pine gift store manager Jonica King says business is "better than last year."
Jason Aldous, director of communication for Vermont's Department of Tourism and Marketing, isn't surprised. He concedes, "If anybody is going to be conscious of gas mileage, it's going to be somebody who's driving a vehicle that gets 7 miles per gallon." That said, at least in the United States, "Historically speaking, there's absolutely no correlation between rising gas prices and travel," Aldous states. He cites statistics from the RV Association of America that suggest only 4 percent of RV users plan to curb their vehicles this year. For them, camping is a kind of lifestyle, and gas prices don't seem to matter -- a good thing for Vermont campgrounds. Aldous estimates that RVs account for 50 to 80 percent of their business.
Peter Beauregard, of Ehler's RV in Essex, confirms a slight decline in his retail business of high-end and midline motorized RVs -- some of the least fuel-efficient vehicles on the road. "Most people are still traveling," he reports. Franklin Bushwack, for example, president of the National Camping Travelers Association. His Masonic family camping club will be holding its annual rally this weekend at the Champlain Valley Exposition. Towing his 32-foot fifth wheel Country Star up from Pennsylvania for the event, he'll get between 10 and 13 mpg.
Bushwack expects 300 "rigs" from as far away as Louisiana, Texas and California. "When you want to go camping," he says, "sometimes you've got to bite the bullet."
To make it more palatable, Beauregard suspects some local RVers may stay closer to home -- "in Vermont, or northern New England, instead of going to Niagara Falls or the Finger Lakes or farther." Marilyn and Richard Almeida of Essex Center are content to play bingo and enjoy Christmas in July at Lone Pine. Sitting under the extended awning of their Bobcat travel trailer one recent Sunday night, they say they camp mainly in Vermont. Their grandson, 9-year-old Justin Prairie, says he likes to swim in the pool and sit in the air-conditioned trailer.
His mother, Michele Prairie, notes that their "neighbors" last weekend came all the way from South Dakota in a big rig. She says the gas prices probably don't matter much to them. "If they can afford a big rig like that, they've got the money to buy gas." But, she adds, maybe they're cutting costs in other ways. "I think they just don't spend as much when they get there."