Janesville79.6°

Gas prices don't force RV'ers to break camp

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Mike DuPre'
July 14, 2008
— Curtis and Ashley Woodard of Janesville are second-generation RV'ers, and they're raising their kids to enjoy the freedom of recreational vehicles and joys of camping.

"If it was my daughter's choice, we'd sleep in the camper instead of the house," Curtis said of 6-year-old Makenziey


Steve Lunde and his fiancée, Dawn Perdue, of Orfordville also have an RV fan in the family.


Lauren Lunde, 9, said she loves RV'ing "because you get to meet a lot of new people."


Lauren, who will be a fourth-grader at Janesville's Kennedy Elementary School, already has two pen pals she met in RV campgrounds.


Although it sounds counterintuitive in the era of $4-a-gallon gasoline, taking vacations in vehicles or trailers towed by vehicles getting seven to 13 miles per gallon appears more popular than ever.


"Our (rental) bookings are solid through Labor Day," said Mark Finnegan, who with his brother, John, owns Finnegans' RV Center in South Beloit, Ill.


Unlike Janesville RV Center on Highway 14, Finnegans' rents—as well as sells—RVs.


"This has been a really outstanding summer for the rental business," Mark said.


The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association touts that rentals and campground bookings are up this year. The reason is that RV'ers take their housing and cooking with them, so that even with high gas prices, they save money on lodging and meals, the association says.


"It's still a very reasonable vacation compared to hotel rooms. You can cook and sleep in your own place," said J.R. Tofte, owner of Janesville RV Center.


Travel trailers range in price from $10,000 to $40,000 while the bigger, heavier fifth-wheel trailers sell for $20,000 to $85,000, Tofte said.


Interest on loans to buy travel trailers is tax-deductible because they are considered second homes, he added.


Tofte doesn't rent trailers or sell new self-powered motor homes, but he said he's received many inquiries about rentals this year.


The Woodards just returned from a week in Tennessee in their 29-foot travel trailer.


Pegging the vacation's cost at $2,000, Curtis estimated his family would have spent $3,000 if they had stayed in motels and eaten at restaurants.


"And you can take all the kids' stuff with you. It's pretty much home away from home," Curtis said.


"The kids enjoy it. You get to meet a lot of different people," Ashley said. "It gives you more freedom. The rules aren't as strict as at a hotel, especially with kids."


A good share of Tofte's customers are parking their trailers at campgrounds for most or all of the summer this year to avoid high fuel prices, he said.


The Lunde household isn't parked at Hidden Valley Campground in Newville, but it will spend a good part of the summer and fall there.


Last weekend, they were starting a week at Hidden Valley after spending a week in La Crosse. Being close to Orfordville allowed them to get home to do laundry and mow the lawn, Lunde said.


Lunde, a GM employee, and Perdue, a teacher in Brodhead, also set up long weekends throughout the vacation season.


"We can do this more often than staying in motels," Lunde said. "And we can take the dogs."


He estimated they camp 15 to 20 times a year. "I didn't buy this thing to let it sit," he said.


They travel with a 30-foot fifth-wheel towed by a diesel-powered pickup. Even with diesel costing almost $5 a gallon, it's economical, Lunde said, because he gets much better fuel economy—11 to 13 miles per gallon—of a gas-powered truck towing a trailer.


Woodard said he averaged seven to eight mpg with his gas-powered pickup.


Lunde moved up to a fifth-wheel from a travel trailer, and he's eyeing a motor home.


When Lauren was 2, the family was camping in a tent at Yellowstone Lake.


"My back hurt. It was raining," Lunde said to illustrate why he moved up to a trailer.


CAMPGROUND STAYS BUSY ALL SUMMER

Jim and Marcia Kersten built Hidden Valley Campground on Highway 59 from scratch 15 years ago.


Business is up this year, they said.


In years past, most campers would come for Fridays and Saturdays, Marcia said. "Now they're staying Sunday and Monday, or they're staying the week."


"We're full almost every weekend," Jim said.


He hasn't been tracking the percentage of campers who rent their trailers or motor homes, but he has seen a lot of them this summer.


And a lot more Wisconsin folks are staying at Hidden Valley, probably to keep travel costs down.


"An hour and half or two hours is as far as they want to go," Marcia said. "We're a little different in this area because we're just over the state line. People (from Illinois) want to camp, but they don't want to go to Wisconsin Dells or farther north to Minocqua or Hudson."


Hidden Valley sets aside 100 of its 232 stalls for seasonal campers who can stay from the last week in April to the third week of October.


"We're full every year," Jim said of the seasonal spots.


The campground has a waiting list of more than 100 names for the seasonal spots, Marcia said. "I think it will get worse with the gas prices."



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