SPRINGFIELD, Mass.: The changing face of the camping business in the Northeast was evident to those attending the 42nd annual Northeast Conference on Camping, held Mar. 16-18 at Springfield’s Sheraton Hotel and nearby at the spacious and newly remodeled MassMutual Convention Center.
For one thing, seasonal camping is on the rise in the Northeast, and the high cost of fuel may be the reason, say campground owners and operators in attendance at the conference, sponsored by the Northeast Campground Association (NCA). This, on its face, means that fewer campers are leaving the East Coast for short-term camping vacations in other regions of the country.
“In speaking with other directors, we find that early reservations are mixed: some up, some down and some even,” said Noelani DeRossett, region 9 director for the Campground Owners of New York (CONY), the largest bloc in the 1,196-member NCA. “But they all say that more campers are looking for seasonal sites, and this part of our business is up.”
Jay Otto, executive director of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association (NJCOA), agreed. “With the rain over the last few summers and more people deciding not to travel so far, there has been a bigger demand for seasonal sites for the whole year,” said Otto, adding that he and others have found that campground owners are allotting an increased number of sites for seasonal campers choosing campgrounds as vacation destinations. This, in turn, has cut the number of sites available to traveling campers who may discover a shortage of sites this summer.
Also impacting the Northeast’s campground business is the fact that the number of available northeastern campground sites has generally decreased in recent years, as several large campgrounds were purchased and converted to condos and other non-camping-related uses, such as housing, Otto noted. In New Jersey, for example, no new public campgrounds have opened up in the last 25 years. During that time, however, as many as 20 parks have closed. “Our inventory is decreasing,” he said, “which makes those that are open even busier.”
Meanwhile, lucrative offers from real estate investment trusts such as Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc. and Morgan Investments are changing the shape of campground ownership in the Northeast, state directors said. Each firm has acquired sizable parks in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts within the past year.
The three-day conference, drawing more than 600 campground owners and staff, including 40 first-time registrants, featured 24 seminars on a broad range of topics, a vendor trade show; industry marketing updates, scholarship announcements, regulatory and legislative reports, a benefit auction, awards luncheon and several crackerbarrel sessions — open discussion periods — for park-operating attendees.