Tourists visiting Montana campgrounds and RV parks spent $40.5 million for overnight stays in 2003, according to the Billings (Mont.) Gazette, which cited preliminary estimates of nonresidential travel from the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.
Although Montana residents don’t mind dragging a small fifth-wheeler up a narrow mountain road, more affluent, often older, travelers driving motorhomes from 40 to 45 feet long are choosing campgrounds where they can hook up the satellite television or research their next stop on the Internet, the newspaper reported.
“They want big sites. They want cable TV, telephone and Internet access,” said Marvin Linde, who operates the Billings KOA Kampground on Garden Avenue with his wife, Carol, and son, Dave. “People want everything they’ve got at home with them.”
They also want well-groomed, attractive settings, both of which Billings’ two major campgrounds, KOA and Yellowstone River Campgrounds, provide at their side-by-side locations on the banks of the Yellowstone.
The campground industry is making the adjustment. KOA in Billings, for instance, offers 20 patio sites for the very discriminating traveler, according to the Gazette. Twelve of those sites are “pull-through” sites designed so drivers can drive in and out without having to back up their big rigs.
Amenities include a paved patio, barbecue grill, porch swing, cable TV, on-site Internet-telephone service and front and rear sewer dumps.
Some sites are 100 feet long, to accommodate the ever-increasing size of RVs. Dave Linde said some RVs arriving these days are 40 to 45 feet long and are pulling other vehicles. That can mean a total length of 60 to 75 feet, he said.
A variety of campsites for travelers from tent sites to those with basic electric and water hookups also are available for the more traditional customers. Nightly rates for RV campsites at the Billings KOA range from $20 to $39, according to the 2004 Kampgrounds of America Directory.
John Voorhis, who is planning an RV park in conjunction with a destination outdoor resort 7 1/2 miles east of Pompeys Pillar, thinks the market for RV vacations is strong enough to have invested the last four years trying to put his project together. He hopes to be ready with 100 sites, including 60 large, fully equipped RV parking spots, some as big as a half-acre, by 2005.
For the last 10 years, he has owned the Spotted Ass Ranch, where he hopes to install his resort. A 1997 survey showed that 1 million nonresident drivers passed through the ranch, which is bisected by Interstate 94.
“Twenty percent of them would have been likely candidates to stop and do something,” he said.
Voorhis plans to produce a complete package in which his will be a destination resort as well as a place where locals can get away in the outdoors for a day or a weekend.
He already has some aspects of his plan in operation on the 200 acres he owns along the Yellowstone. Pheasant hunting, training for hunting dogs, shooting, barbecues, parties, fishing and paintball are some of the activities now available.
The key to all this is convenience, Voorish said. A lot of people long for an outdoor experience, but, once they get in the RV, they don’t know where to haul off the interstate and into the Wild West without trespassing on someone’s private property.
He wants to make it easy to drop in at the Spotted Ass Ranch and RV Park and have just about any outdoor activity imaginable available – nothing too strenuous, of course, but enough to feel at one with nature for a while.
“A lot of people live their whole lives without leaving the pavement,” he said.