The RV park and campground industry in Texas was both victim and savior during Hurricane Ike, which decimated the Texas Gulf Coast over the weekend.
“We probably have 20 parks in the Gulf Coast region that have been destroyed or badly damaged. We have not been able to reach any of them,” Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), told RVBusiness late Monday (Sept. 15).
“It was such a huge storm that major damage was unavoidable,” he said. “We were pretty well prepared for not losing life but there is no way to avoid property damage. The good news is we have really great folks banding together and really helping each other out.”
Schaeffer said dozens of private and public parks and campgrounds inland, from Mission north to Denton, provided shelter for thousands of storm evacuees. “The majority of parks within 100 miles of Houston are full with evacuees,” he said.
“It’s been quite the time the last three weeks, starting with Gustav (over the Labor Day weekend) which we kind of dodged a bullet on and offered some good evacuee assistance to folks from Louisiana. But this deal here is not good.”
Parks with damage range from 60 miles south of Galveston northward to Beaumont near the Louisiana state line, he said.
Schaeffer said he was talking on the phone with a park owner in Beaumont when winds measured at 100 mph struck, felling a tree, which then cut a fifth-wheel in half. He fears the worst for parks in and near Galveston, where the storm made landfall on Saturday packing 110 mph winds and spawning heavy flooding.
“I have talked with several parks in the greater Houston area. Half are without power. The other half got power on today. Those with power are completely full,” he said. “We have a lot of parks that have worked with the evacuees to help ease their pain as much as possible. The biggest problem is how long will it be before folks can get back home to see what they have left.”
Many campgrounds began the first of last week canceling weekend reservations in anticipation the storm would be devastating. Then, by mid-week as warnings of the storm grew, potential evacuees began to book the available spaces, managers explained.
Prior to the storm, TACO sent out an e-mail blast and posted on its website all the private parks offering shelter and discounts to evacuees. Schaeffer followed up with a news release that Texas media picked up, further alerting the RVing public.
The storm did provide some moving human interest stories. The following are comments from park managers to RVBusiness and contents of e-mails Schaeffer received from park managers since last Friday:
• “A few of our customers have lost everything they have and don’t know when they will go back,” said David Rowley, owner/manager of the 117-site Pecan Park in San Marcos, Texas, which quickly filled up with evacuees as early as last Thursday. “Lots of folks we know are really in a bad way. They’re here in their travel trailers and have what’s in them, but it’s a fraction of what they owned.” Rowley was looking to provide temporary employment to a Galveston man who has no job to go back to and his wife who fled the storm with little clothing. Rowley also noted that some of the coastal evacuees from Hurricane Gustav were still in his park when their homes were again hit, this time by Ike.
• Approximately 100 families from Houston, Galveston, Texas City and Alvin sought refuge in the Leisure Camp Resort, a Good Sam park in Fentress, Texas. “A lot of people who were evacuated during Hurricane Rita (in 2005) came back to us,” said manager Kathy Lopatowski. Others saw her park on the Internet or her billboard along the highway and “dropped in,” she said. She called the evacuation process orderly and people remained calm during their stay but were eager to head back home as early as Monday.
• Mission Bell-Tradewinds RV Resort in Mission hosted 28 evacuees from Houston, Galveston, Corpus Christi and South Padre Island. “After their long drive, our friendly residents put together a potluck for them so they would have a hot meal. Our residents have also kept the evacuees busy with pool parties and afternoon socials,” said park owner Christina Knoles. “Residents drove the evacuees to restaurants and stores so they did not have to rent cars or move their units. We really have a great bunch of residents. They really went out of their way to help these evacuees and make them feel welcome and secure.” The park was just recovering from damage caused July 23 by hurricane Dolly, the strongest storm to hit the U.S. since 2005.
• “Our park is full of people fleeing the storms and flood. There are a lot of sad stories out there,” reported the management of Oakwood Park RV Resort in Fredericksburg. ”We did a big pot luck for everyone last night and heard a lot of heartbreaking stories. We are starting a food drive for the victims today.”
• Texarkana KOA hosted about 40 Ike evacuees, the same number that stayed there during Gustav, reported Jerry Bergman, while Admiralty RV Resort in San Antonio on Saturday sheltered 357 evacuees and 300 pets in 76 rigs.
• Miller Creek RV Resort in Johnson City sheltered “a large number of hurricane evacuees,” said Debbie Orozco, camp host. “We have RVers, people staying in tents and the cabins. We are far enough west that we haven’t experienced any winds. Unfortunately, we haven’t received any rain either, which we really need — our little creek is dry. We have been giving all evacuees a 15% discount.”
TACO’s Lone Star Fund and ARVC’s Disaster Relief Fund are available to help parks recover from the damage, Schaeffer noted.