Wednesday, July 09, 2008

RVing close to home

As July Fourth weekend approached, the White family packed their RV with camping gear and loaded up the coolers to head out on their big summer vacation: a whopping 13 miles from their home near Mount Sterling to the Cataloochee Valley campground.

It was the epitome of staying close to home, a trend that has been catching on this year given the high price of gas. Betty and Wayne White used to take their kids to Myrtle Beach, but this year opted for camping practically in their own backyard.

The RV culture — which is a significant part of the WNC tourist business — has been particularly hard hit by the gas prices. Some retirees who toodle around the country in their RVs have been grounded by the cost of fuel, with some of the largest motor homes sucking down diesel at the rate of 8 miles to the gallon.

“I think we have reached a tipping point. There was a time when gas to get to some place was cheaper than staying some place. Now it’s not,”Jann Spalding, a campground host at Great Outdoor RV Resort in Franklin said. “It’s killing them.”

Robbie Burnette of Canton, a regular at the Cataloochee Valley campground, said it has seemed emptier this year.

“I think it’s been slower than usual,” he said. Burnette used to tow his camper to Cades Cove on the Tennessee side of the Smokies, “but the price of fuel has changed that,” he said. Burnette has joined the growing ranks of those staying close to home.

Zina Rumfelt, the campground host at Franklin RV Park and Campground, has also noticed people aren’t traveling as far afield.

“Most of our guests have been what I would call locals, from Northern Georgia or Upstate South Carolina and even parts of this region,” Rumfelt said.
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