The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which opened today (Feb. 8), apparently did not create as much business for campground operators as was originally thought.
While a few campgrounds were at or near capacity, others didn’t get much extra business, or actually saw a drop in camping nights because traditional travelers reportedly avoided the hassles created by increased security that included numerous road closures.
“Parks that are more than 40 or 50 miles away aren’t going to see much business from the Olympics at all,” said Darren Menlove, owner of Salt Lake City KOA/VIP and president of the Utah Campground Owners Association.
The situation was more disappointing to outlying campground operators because they expected to make up for losses experienced during the last four years while Utah closed and rebuilt 65 miles of I-15 north and south of Salt Lake City.
Menlove’s 396-site park two miles from downtown Salt Lake City was booked at nearly 100% for the games, mostly with reservations from Olympic workers.
“They will be coming and going right on through the games,” Menlove said. “Our busiest time will be right in the middle when all the ice skating will be going on. Usually, we are hibernating and repairing things this time of year. Now, it’s sort of like a normal day in July.”
At the other extreme was Mike Cappa, owner of West Wendover KOA Campground, West Wendover, Nev., about two hours east of Salt Lake City on I-80 at the Nevada/Utah border. He had 25 campsite and seven rental reservations on the books for February at his 150-site park. But Cappa’s Olympic experience has turned into a bust because all of his campsite reservations have been canceled and only one rental cabin reservation remained.
Cappa said local Olympic organizers oversold campground owners on the what to expect during the games and that security imposed after the September terrorist attacks made the situation worse.
“They made a lot of promises that haven’t been kept,” Cappa said. “But I think it deals mostly with the security emphasis after 9/11. They have enacted so much security that they have scared people away.
“In the winter time you don’t get a lot of campers, but I see probably five or six people a day,” Cappa continued. “I had one camper last night and I have one tonight. I only had seven all of last week. This is much worse than normal.”
Christa Anderson, manager of 175-site East Bay RV Park, Springville, Utah, which is seven miles from the Ice Arena where hockey will be played, has more visitors, but not as many as she hoped for earlier.
“We’ll have about 30% more business this month than normal, but that’s it,” Anderson said. “We’ll get maybe nine or 10 campers a night more than the 45 that we average in February. But we probably lost some business in January because of people staying away from the area.”
During the summer, Bruce Lloyd, owner of Cherry Hill Camping Resort, Fruit Heights, Utah, paved 50 of the 235-sites at his park 17 miles north of Sale Lake City to accommodate RVers this month, when he usually would be closed.
“We’ve never been open this late in the season, but we decided to stay open with 100 sites or so,” Lloyd said. “All we had to do was turn some water back on and make sure the showers and bathrooms had heat.”
With a seven-day minimum, Lloyd took about 80 reservations, although he said that won’t make up for the loss of business during the several years that preceded the Olympics while I-15 was being rebuilt.
“Camping has been off around here for three years,” Lloyd said.
Anderson noted that Triple A advised people to stay away from Utah last summer because of the traffic problems.
Still, Lloyd thinks the Olympics eventually will have a positive effect on Utah camping.
“With the Olympics over and all the highway construction finished, I think we will have a boom summer,” Lloyd said.
That thought is shared by Anderson. “After the Olympics, I think people who travel will understand the roads out here have been fixed up, and there are some wonderful things to see. And I expect a lot more RV traffic because people don’t want to fly anymore after September.”