Traditionally, Labor Day weekend is the last hurrah of summer, one last chance to get outside for a cookout, or take off on a vacation, or just simply relax and enjoy the company of your friends and family.
Or, if you’re a camper, a chance to do all of the above.
And if this weekend follows the national trend this past summer, public and private campgrounds across the state will be filled to capacity as Michiganders try to take advantage of the last three-day weekend before school starts.
At Oakland County’s Groveland and Addison Oaks campgrounds, reservable sites were booked, and walk-in sites were expected to be full, too, said campground supervisor Boyd Brokenshaw.
“Traditionally, we have filled up in the past. It’s just a matter of when the campers decide to come out.”
Brokenshaw said Oakland County’s two public campgrounds are up 4 percent over last year.
“The weather’s been beautiful and that’s helped the campers want to come out and see all that we have to offer,” he said.
Statewide, public and private campgrounds report similar numbers.
“We’re seeing capacity crowds that we haven’t seen since the ’80s. We’re having a banner year,” said the Michigan DNR’s Harold Herta, who runs the resources management section of the Parks and Recreation Division. “As of early July, ‘camp-nights’ were up 17 percent from last year — and last year was up from the previous year. We haven’t seen a million camp-nights since 2005. I think we’ll break a million by late August.”
Tracie Fisher, director of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds, said her members stated they “are up quite nicely in the southern section of lower Michigan” with northern lower Michigan campground owners “generally (holding) the same as last year.”
Likewise, RV dealers said they have enjoyed a double-digit hike in sales compared to a year ago.
“The first six months of 2012 show the sale of towable RVs — travel trailers, fifth wheel travel trailers and folding tent trailers — up 23 percent and motor homes up 7 percent,” said Bill Sheffer, director of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds. “I would have to say that the affordability of the product as well as the RVing experience — along with the ease of traveling with family — are the biggest factors to the continuing popularity of the RV lifestyle here in Michigan.”
Larry See of A & S RV Center in Auburn Hills said July was the highest volume month in company history, and August is looking just as good.
“We were up 54 percent in July over a year ago, and August looks like it’ll be about 50 percent,” See said.
“Year-to-date, through July we’re up 24 percent.”
Vicky Pokas, owner of Vicars Trailer Sales in Taylor, said business has been up nearly 23 percent over last year.
“I believe the reason is because the banks are loosening up now and willing to lend money at lower interest rates, and because the people are more willing to spend money,” she said.
Pokas said sales of towable RVs are doing much better than motor homes. Families, especially young families, are purchasing lightweight campers that can more easily be towed by small SUVs and even some minivans.
Dennis Anderson of General RV, which has several locations in Oakland County and Southeast Michigan, as well as Salt Lake City, Chicago, Florida and Ohio, said nationwide their business also has seen a “dramatic increase” in sales. As with the others, towable campers and travel trailers are leading the way at General RV, but that’s always been true, he said.
“Frankly, we’re seeing an increase not from retirees, but from families who are seeing RVing as a family-friendly affordable way to travel and vacation,” Anderson said. “And we’re blessed here in Michigan in that there’s all kinds of places we can go and camp that are not too far away.”
Kevin Broom of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association said: “Because of the recession, there’s been a few changes in how people want to spend their time away from work and when they’re on vacation.
“They’re placing a greater emphasis on connecting with their family and with the outdoors.”
And, also because of the recession, Broom said families are operating on a budget and not as willing to put things on credit. Fortunately, the price of travel trailers has remained mostly steady and the cost of owning an RV is “lower than some people might think.”
One recent study suggested that for a family of four, RVing costs as much as 69 percent less than other types of vacations.
“People have this impression that RVing is owning those $500,000 rock star buses,” Broom said. “But, in actuality, 90 percent of the RVs sold are travel trailers and the average price is in the $30,000 range.”
Nationally, the RV market strengthened in the first half of 2012 with total RV wholesale shipments reaching 154,988 units through June, an increase of 7.6 percent over 2011, according to RVIA’s June 2012 survey of manufacturers.