Membership Campgrounds

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Why "Membership Campgrounds"?

by Bob (Ram) Muessig

     Ever think about owning a campground? Think about this: 8 million RVs on the road today; 12 million more expected by the end of the decade (statistics from RVIA 1994). Imagine! Twenty million RVs rumbling across the country...trains having to wait at RV crossings...MIND-boggling! Campgrounds abound across the continent - some franchises, like KOA; some affiliates of one group or another, such as Coast-to-Coast, RPI, or Leisure Time; some offering discounts to members of, for example, Good Sam; some privately owned; some federally owned or operated. The baby-boomers (those born in 1946 or after) are entering the RV market the way they entered every other market - in unheard-of numbers - and will keep on coming for the next four decades. You can bet your bottom dollar that places to park all those RVs "is gonna get scarce, folks". It follows that membership parks are going to get real popular in the future, and you can take that to the bank! want to find out WHY membership camping is such a good deal? Alright, let’s compare types of camping and crunch a few numbers. First, we have boondocking. Dry camping out in the middle of wherever with NO facilities, NO amenities, NO security, NO nuttin’ other words, you’re on your own...completely! Many times, space to park is unavailable (somebody got there first), or undesirable (dusty, dirty logging road near a scum-covered pond with mosquitoes the size of small planes). You can’t make reservations (nobody to take ‘em) and you can’t stay much more than a week or two in your RV ‘cause you’ve got to dump those holding tanks sooner or later.

     "Well, I don’t like being around a bunch of people." you say. That’s funny...the crooks waiting to break into your RV say the same thing. They don’t like people either, for people can be witnesses to their crimes. Sitting in your RV with a loaded shotgun across your lap for security reasons is no way to enjoy the vacation with the family.

     "But boondocking is an adventure!" Uh-huh. Finding a safe, quiet place to park your RV or pitch your tent is the REAL adventure and, after you’ve spent 2 out of your 3 weeks vacation finding that perfect spot, there’s not much time to enjoy it. Well, there’s always next year. But, like I said, you can’t reserve that spot and chances are real good that, by next year, several hundred other people will have found it as well.

     "I don’t NEED facilities!" Oh...yeah...RIGHT! Just how long DO you wear those clothes before you burn ‘em? And, just how big ARE your holding tanks, anyway? When you gotta dump, you GOTTA dump, and that means a trip back to civilization and someone grabs your spot while you’re gone. Bummer!

     Please...don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that boondocking is not safe or fun. Some of the best experiences can be had out in the "sticks", and those experiences are best when they are spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment, and one-time-only, for they will become long-remembered, fond memories. Those will be the stories you can pass down to the grand-kids.

     Now, let’s look at what boondocking may actually cost. We’ll use figures obtained from state and federal campgrounds as a starting point. On the average, the cost to pitch a tent or park an RV is around $4 to $8 per night. That’s with a "Golden Age Passport", which means that your cost has been discounted by 50%. Just to be fair, let’s split the difference and call it $6 per night. Now that seems like a pretty good price, doesn’t it? Let’s find out.

     If you camp for 30 nights, you’ll spend $180. For that $180, you get: NO security, NO amenities, NO facilities, and, in all likelyhood, very little room for your rig. A great majority of these campgrounds were built quite a few years ago, when RVs were only as wide as a large car and 20 feet long. Now, however, these RVs may be up to 45 feet in length and, with slide-out rooms, over 12 feet wide. These older campgrounds simply can’t accommodate them. I don’t know about you, but I’m not about to start clearing trees or brush just to park the RV. I DO enjoy roughing it, but I like to do so a little more smoothly. If you camp for 6 months, you’ll spend $1095 with the same NO goodies. If you’re full-timing it (camping or living in your rig year-round) you’ll spend $2190 per year. Over a 10-year period, the cost comes down to a mere $21,900...for NOTHING except the space to camp! That’s boondocking...pretty inexpensive, isn’t it...or IS it? YOU decide. It’s your money we’re talking about here.

     We’ve thus far discovered that we can get absolutely nothing for our dollars except insect bites, sore muscles, calluses, rough hands, and dry skin with this type of camping regimen. Let’s take a look at some other forms of camping which might offer just a little bit more for our money.

     There are many public campgrounds (privately or company-owned and operated) which do offer some amenities and facilities, like showers and restrooms...maybe even a laundry. The average cost per night will be around $20 to $30 but, once again, we’ll split the difference and agree on $25 per night. You won’t find much in the way of 24-hour security, however, for that would make the cost(s) even greater. Gotta pay those guards’ wages, y’know.

     Camp for 30 Nights         $ 750

     Camp for 6 Months          $4562.50

     Camp for 1 Year             $9125 (full-timing)

     Over our 10-year period, the costs round out to a whopping $91,250! Spen-DEE! Darn right. I know some folks who have never made that much in 10 years. Bear in mind that there are some campgrounds in the country which charge much more than what we’re using for our estimates (Is that what’s known as "highway robbery"?).

     Finally, there’s "Membership Camping". One corporation (Sorry, I’m not mentioning any names.) sells memberships for about 5 Grand PLUS $240 +/- for yearly dues PLUS $4 per night for camping fees (IF you’re not camping at your HOME PARK where you bought your membership in the first place). At your home park, you may stay for 2 weeks, then you must leave for a week before you can come back. Oh...almost forgot! One OTHER little detail. You can’t stay in any other affiliated park within 125 miles of your home park, either. There’s a HINT here, in case you haven’t guessed. Go to some park away from where you like to spend time and buy a membership there. Then go camp where you like. For instance, if you love the coast, buy your membership in...say, Colorado...then camp at the coast in ALL the affiliated parks. If you like the mountains, buy in Kansas, then go camping in the mountains. OK...what about cost? Heah come de NUMBAHS...


     ANNUAL DUES                      $ 240

     CAMPING FEES                    $ 4 (Camping away from your home park)

     Camp for 30 Nights                 $ 120

     Camp for 6 Months                 $ 730

     Camp for 1 Year                     $1460

     Once again, over our same 10-year period you may have spent: $5000 initially, $2400 in annual dues, and perhaps as much as $14,600 in camping fees, for a TOTAL COST of approximately $22,000! Well now...looks like THIS system of membership camping is a wee bit less than you’d pay at some of those privately-owned campgrounds, doesn’t it? the tune of over 65 Grand! You may not believe it, but that IS close to what you would save if you belonged to this type of system and did NOT spend time in those other parks. "Where do I sign...where do I sign?" you ask. Don’t get in such a rush. We’re not DONE yet.

     Another membership system offers the following WITH 24-hour security, ALL the amenities, ALL the facilities, pools, hot-tubs, outings, tours and excursions, activities, you-name-it:

     Several MEMBERSHIP OPTIONS ranging in price from under $800 to just under $2500 and various levels of dues which may be based on just how much camping you do. Camping fees range from a little over $200 to just under $1100 annually, and YOU get to choose the rate that fits your camping style. However, we’re going to use the HIGHEST figures available to determine the total cost(s) involved.


     ANNUAL DUES                        $1095

     CAMPING FEES                       $ 0

     Camp for 30 Nights                     $ 0

     Camp for 6 Months                     $ 0

     Camp for 1 Year                        $ 0

     Cost for 1st Year                       $3590

     Cost for 5 Years                        $7970

     Cost for 10 Years                     $13,445

     This figure, $13,445, represents the amount of money you will have spent, including your initial membership cost PLUS all camping fees (Annual Dues), over our 10-year period. When you break it all down, the total cost per night of camping is a measly $3.68! Cheaper than boondocking. Many members of this particular system virtually LIVE in the system, traveling from campground to campground, 2 weeks here, 2 weeks there, and so on. What about that "125 mile away-from-your-home park" restriction? Well, what about it? With THIS system, there is NO 125 mile restriction. Stay 2 weeks in one park, then move into the one on the other side of town or whatever. AND, you have the option of making reservations as much as 90 to 120 days in advance, all from your touch-tone phone 22 hours a day. This option allows you greater freedom for travel, for you already have in mind where you want to stay and when, so you can plan your trip more efficiently and enjoy it. After all, that’s the name of the whole game...enjoyment.

     If you don’t have your own RV (maybe you sold it for some reason or another), you may still avail yourself of this system’s rental units. Some parks have trailers with 1 or 2 bedrooms, some have cottages, and still others have "Yurts" (a kind of dome-shaped tent), which are equipped with kitchens, appliances, etc., everything you could want to make your stay pleasant and care-free. The prices may vary a bit from park to park, but they’re all much less expensive than a night at the Holiday Inn or, for that matter, Motel 6.

     One thing I HAVEN’T memtioned: Resale memberships in various systems. Some of the prices I’ve quoted are now, quite probably, a little out of date, but these prices were accurate as of 1993. Memberships are now being re-sold due to folks getting to the point where age or medical reasons prevent them from traveling as much as they used to, and they are putting their memberships on the market as "re-sales". These re-sales often sell for less than "new memberships" and, as a result, their value is even greater. But, to find these values, it takes some shopping around. Most systems have these re-sales available and some brokerage firms do, too. But, be careful. Be sure there are no hidden costs, such as unpaid dues, high transfer fees, or unusually high sales commissions. Also, be certain that whoever you make your purchase from can give you a current PUBLIC REPORT regarding the particular system you are considering. If they can’t, or if they are unwilling to provide you with one, better look a little further. Knowing what you will be getting into BEFORE you buy will save you a great many headaches later on.

     Mm-HMMM! Looks like you’ve saved more than $8500 over the other membership camping system(s) for our 10-year period and that ain’t bad. So. What’s holding you back? Check out these various systems today! makes yer choices and you spends yer bucks. If you don’t, your kids’ll spend it FOR you. Why do you suppose that there are so many bumper stickers proclaiming "We’re spending our children’s inheritance."? ...uh-huh...

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