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Most campgrounds in Florida and across the Southeast are open for business, although many are involved in cleanup activities after enduring four hurricanes – Bonnie, Charley, Frances and Ivan – between mid-August and mid-September.
However, the disruption of phone lines by Hurricane Ivan prevented campground industry officials from fully assessing the scope of physical damage to private parks in Northern Florida and Alabama.
“A lot of parks were closed down for a week or so due to a loss of power or water,” said Bobby Cornwell, interim president of the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (Florida ARVC), which represents parks in Florida and Alabama.
Several campgrounds contacted by RVBusiness.com reported sizeable financial losses, either as a result of physical damage from the storms or indirectly as a result of negative media coverage that has kept many campgrounds empty or below their normal occupancy levels since the middle of August.
“(Hurricane) Charley wiped us out pretty good,” said Jeff Palonen, who recently took over as manager of the 125-site Lake Whippoorwill KOA, some 25 miles east of Orlando, Fla. “We were closed almost one month. We lost probably close to 75% of our trees – big pines.”
KOA spokesman Mike Gast said three KOAs were temporarily closed in Florida because of Hurricane Ivan, with the KOA in Pensacola being among the hardest hit, having suffered the loss of seven cabins.
But while national media attention has focused on hurricane activity in Florida, some of the hardest hit campgrounds were actually in North Carolina, including River Creek Campground in Rutherfordton, which was completely submerged in floodwaters by Hurricane Frances.
“Most of the structures and the land owned by (campground owners) C.J. and Jeanne Sands were damaged or lost,” according to the Daily Courier in Forest City, N.C.
Many parks, however, endured the storms with relatively light damage to their facilities. Tom Tibbitts, owner of the 200-space Ocean Grove RV Resort in St. Augustine Beach, Fla. considers himself lucky, having sustained less than $10,000 worth of physical damage at his park.
“We lost 300 to 500 feet of fence. We lost part of the roof on our maintenance building and we lost two swimming pool pumps that were struck by lightning,” he said.
The bigger impact, he said, was the absence of campers during the first two weeks of September, which resulted in $20,000 in lost revenue. The resort would normally be filled to capacity over Labor Day weekend, with occupancies running around 50% thereafter, he said. But because of the storm activity, the campground was deserted.
Other park operators said they got through the storms with relatively little cleanup. “We got lucky here at Deer Haven RV Park in Panama City,” said park representative Steve Staton in an e-mail message. “(We) still have power and damage was just small limbs and leaves. Just a big mess to clean up.”
Laurie Petty, whose family owns the Stagecoach RV Park in St. Augustine, said the park sustained only minor damage from Hurricane Frances with a few fallen trees and lots of debris, including some shingles from a bathhouse.
“We were without phone and electricity for four days,” she said. “Prior to the power outage, we were very busy with campers coming in from areas such as Melbourne, Vero Beach, Juno Beach. Everyone was very anxious during the storm, but all were quite friendly. Most wanted to be close to I-95 so they could get back home quickly after the storm passed.”