Friday, March 1, 2013

Ready for Camping?

I’m returning to Lock 30 Woodlands this afternoon after having spent a week in February at the National School for RV Parks and Campground Management, where I teach guest relations classes. Most of our attendees are eager managers and owners who appreciate the friends they make at their campgrounds and while they take their businesses seriously, they do not take themselves seriously.

 I’ve been a teacher for maybe a dozen years now. I can’t help but notice the quality of adults who value the experience of improving their businesses for their guests. Less and less of a “let’s police customers” to more of a “welcome to my home” mentality. 

It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to own campgrounds and camping businesses. No teeth to drill, no bad news to deliver, little anxiety—unless there’s an emergency.  People usually walk in the door and eventually are happy to find our slices of paradise in the woods! But as I reminded my students, I often forget how much work goes into loading the car or camper and getting on the road. I forget that whatever I pay to drive my car, someone driving a 32 foot travel trailer pays more. If I’m lost and exhausted looking for a parking place, they’re more tired, dodging other drivers and knowing they can’t just “back up” or do a U-turn in the middle of a four lane highway. It’s no wonder they’re tired when they arrive.

I’m going to pledge more patience for these weary travelers who are trying to find Lock 30 Woodlands. Glad our huge sign can be seen for a half mile down the road and that it’s well-lit, but as the days grow longer and with more hours of day light, hopefully people will arrive before dark.  Just as the name implies, there’s lots of trees.

It’s small observations such as these that I’m going to remember when I consider that for many, finding Lock 30 Woodlands is still work. We’re going to try to make it easier, so that when they arrive, they’re ready to hit the ground running.

After all, there’s lots of fun to be had—and never enough time in which to play! Setting up in a campground is serious business. But after you are relaxed in your home away from home, it’s all downhill.

Karen Brucoli Anesi

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Tent Campers Extraordinaire

In some parts of the country there’s a silent debate, almost a stratification among campers and campground owners that occasionally puts tent campers in a second class citizen category. Maybe a better description would be to say that some RVers and campground owners have a prejudice against folks who arrive packing tents.

I’ll leave it up to them to cite their negative experiences, what has driven the opinions that form that prejudice, short of saying that a single bad experience with a group of campers unfortunately can shape how we size up our guests. That prejudice gets in the way of recognizing a great opportunity.

If you associate tent camping with alcohol abuse, then address the behavior, separating it from the fact that the alcohol abuser is camping in a tent. The tent isn’t responsible for the behavior, the camper is.

If you associate tent camping with a camper “hard on the restrooms” then examine the cost to your facilities and your infrastructure and charge accordingly.

If you associate tent camping with a population that spends less and is rough around the edges, then check your assumptions.

Let’s look at all three of these widely held assumptions. If our younger populations of campers are tent campers and some are using camping as an opportunity to get drunk in the woods, then we can look at how to manage that specific behavior. You can prohibit alcohol consumption across the board. You can isolate “partiers” to an area where they will not impact others. And finally you can adopt and enforce policies somewhere in-between. Alcohol abuse happens in RVs, too.

I’ve heard it said that tent campers “will not pay enough” to cover the costs of keeping restrooms up to speed. If we’re talking about normal restroom use, there’s no doubt that a high tent population will trigger increased costs, both in products and labor. But ask your tent campers and read what they say online about campgrounds who keep facilities clean and well-maintained. Most will pay a couple extra dollars a night for the benefits. Our jobs are to adequately staff and supply this need, no differently than we’d stock the candy on the shelves of our campground store.

Let’s talk more about that store. It does not take long to figure out that tent campers are buying ice and replenishing supplies probably at a greater rate than many RVers, because they do not have the space appliance conveniences or storage capacity that RVers have.

First-time owner statistics from the Recreation Vehicle Industry of America (RVIA) indicate that families graduate or “step up” from tent camping to the use of hard-sided units. We hear it from families all the time at Lock 30 Woodlands: “Next year we’ll be buying our first RV. Can’t wait to return.”

Are there special challenges to this population that differentiate their needs from those of RVers? Yes.

If a storm is on the horizon and it becomes necessary to isolate and protect family pets, tents may not offer the security some dogs need. Inclement weather is always a threat to camper comfort, when it’s tough to stay dry. Such things as fire rings for cooking become an absolute necessity. Where and how tenters wash dishes and clean fish can become concerns. Campground owners will want to carry inventory in their stores that cater to this target market’s needs. Most of these tent camper needs can be addressed with relatively little expense.

This week‘s iffy weather did not discourage a couple dozen Toyota Territory Off-Roaders Association (TTORA) members from joining us for the fourth straight year. They enjoy area trails minutes away from the campground, then retreat to a carpeted clubhouse, a game of pool, hot showers and talk around the campfire at night.

We look forward to their return each year. These young men are the definition of responsible campers who are a pleasure to serve.

There are more tenters out there who are looking for clean, wholesome campgrounds where they can pitch their tents and camp in comfort. Let’s welcome them.

Karen Brucoli Anesi
Lock 30 Woodlands

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Economical Travel With Pets

As families plan summer vacations, pets ought to be on the radar screen in the early stages, while there’s time to consider the costs, benefits and alternatives. If you are reading this blog, I’ll assume you are a pet owner. Unless this is your first vacation, you’ve either had to leave the dog at home with a dog sitter, kennel the dog in a boarding facility or take the pet with you.

Camping with your pet is often the most economical choice, but not always. While cost should not drive the decision whether your dog travels with you, for many families, the additional cost of pet care can be the vacation deal breaker.

So what are the real costs? First of all, the campground may charge a pet fee or impose certain restrictions on breeds and sizes of dogs. The time to find out is before you make your reservation. Make no assumptions and ask questions about pet policies and management expectations.

Before travelling with any pet—especially when leaving your home jurisdiction-- a trip to the vet may be in order. Wherever dogs gather, kennel cough is a possibility. A bordetella inoculation is a good idea. Dogs that have not been tested for heartworm may need to be tested and then placed on proper preventative medication. If you are living in the far northern parts of the United States, heartworm may not be a problem. But where mosquitoes are plentiful, heartworm is epidemic. If your dog contracts heartworm, the prolonged care and cost of treatment can be quite expensive. Better to be safe than sorry.

Proof of rabies inoculation is required at most campgrounds. If you have not kept good records, costs can be incurred reproducing and assembling records.

Most families who travel with pets would have it no other way. Leaving them would not seem like a vacation. But just as no two dogs are alike, no prescription for canine campground happiness holds true for all dogs. It’s probably a good idea to take your dog on a brief camping trip closer to home to learn how he reacts to kids, other pets, or strange surroundings, before embarking on a cross-country adventure. Some dogs who may not be bothered by thunder and lightning, will be fearful of inclement weather when their home is the family RV. If you have to camp with an unhappy pet, the whole family could end up unhappy.

The bottom line is to treat your pet like a family member. Crating a dog for many hours, leaving him alone in an RV while the family is off sightseeing or stressing the pet in any fashion, means stress for all. Most campers say dogs add fun and appreciation to camping trips because of their natural love for the outdoors and that the costs are small, compared to the benefits.

Karen Brucoli Anesi,

Lock 30 Woodlands

Thursday, April 14, 2011

So You’re The Group Leader?

Do you like herding cats? Making camping arrangements for a group without first getting consensus or at least a flexible game plan will make herding cats feel like sand box play.
Whether you are a wagon master making reservations for thirty friends or a grandma making arrangements for three families, the challenges are familiar and often similar. The bottom line is you are responsible for keeping everyone happy. That starts with making the campground experience satisfying for all, never mind the differences in individual wants, needs and expectations.

Here’s an easy strategy, six tips for making your job easier.

1. Know the physical and social needs of your group. That’s a tall order, but if you have a group member who needs 50 amp service for a 34 foot motor home, don’t expect that camper to be happy in a campground that offers only 30 amp service in 30 foot long sites. Likewise, families who camp with pets expect their pets to be accommodated.

2. Know the campground where you intend to camp. The best way to know the campground is to pay a camping visit in which you use all of the amenities of the facility. When that’s not possible, a day visit in which the leader checks out the facility is a decent substitute.

3. Share the campground’s website address, brochures, policies and rules in advance. The more information campers have in advance—the more secure they’ll feel that you’ve made a good choice for them.

4. Be clear on financial obligations and cancellation policies. Some campgrounds require a group deposit. Others have cancellation policies that could cost campers if they make changes to their reservation. Save time and embarrassment by letting your group know when and how discounts are applied. A quick way to burn bridges for future reservations is to have an individual member of your group insist on special pricing or discounting that may not have been agreed upon for the group.

5. Have a spread sheet or draft summary of camper names and phone numbers at the time the group reservation is made. Yes, this list is going to change. But having the details at your finger tip helps you identify issues in advance. Perhaps two campers need to be placed in adjacent sites. That’s information the reservation clerk needs early on, before sites are assigned.

6. Name a back-up in the event you cannot be a spokesperson for the group. Share the information with an assistant so that if you are not available by telephone, a responsible person can make decisions or relay information to group members.

7. Contact group members by phone, newsletter or email to resolve questions or concerns prior to check-in. No one likes unpleasant surprises. Driving directions, possible additional costs and especially changes from initial arrangements should be communicated by the group leader to assure a uniform message. When all members of the group are on the same page, it’s a lot easier to herd the cats!

A big thank you to all wagon masters, group leaders, grandmas and “outdoor recreation” coordinators. Many of us would not take the time to smell the roses were it not for you herding us round the campfire.

Karen Brucoli Anesi,

Lock 30 Woodlands RV Campground Resort

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How and When To Select A Campground For Extended Stay

Are you thinking about parking your recreational vehicle for the season and becoming a “permanent” or extended-stay camper? Selecting the right campground is about matching your needs with a community of similar-minded people who value the things you value.

In a country that boasts thousands of campgrounds, there’s one that’s the right fit for just about every camping style. You can save time and money by doing your homework before going online or jumping in the car. Ask yourself these questions:

How does my family like to spend their free time? What do they enjoy most?

If your family would rather hike, fish or explore the forest, a campground with a crafts center and game room may not be a necessity. Look for what honestly matters to you. Camping is about enjoying your recreational time and recharging your batteries. The most popular campground in your neighborhood might not be the place to hang your hat for the summer Look instead to where you’d choose to “build” a second home.

What will it “cost” me to camp?

Decide what you are willing to spend in time and effort as well as dollars. Some campgrounds will require you to mow and trim your site every weekend, or volunteer to lead the charge in campground- sponsored activities. Others will charge you for special events, recreation or services. Some require no upkeep of site. Most charge additional fees for drop-in guests or exact penalties for late payment of fees. The bottom line is that seasonal stay camping is usually value camping that offers 24 hour recreation for less than you pay to take the kids to the movies. But it’s not a value if you drop by your camper only once a month to maintain the recreational vehicle. Read your lease carefully. Know what your responsibilities will be and what you can expect from the campground. If you’re not certain, ask.

How do I know if a campground is the right fit for my family?

Start by doing all the research you can about the campground’s history, policies and regulations. Drop by for a visit. If clean restrooms matter, the time to check them is during or after a busy weekend. If friendly personnel and campground security is important, stop at the front desk and measure how you, a stranger, are treated. Secure a day pass to walk through the property and ask seasonal campers what’s good and what’s not about the campground. Remember, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so ask questions and listen carefully. Check out ratings and read what guests have to say. You might take some opinions with a grain of salt, but you should still honor your hunches by checking things out for yourself. Finally, when looking at policies and rules, ask yourself honestly: if these were applied to my family, would I willingly comply? Rules are not just for others, but for you, too.

What’s the biggest advantage of becoming a seasonal, or extended stay camper?

Other than saying seasonal camping is excellent economic value, campers will tell you that life-long friendships are formed when families take the time to sit around the campfire and relax in the presence of folks who enjoy similar lifestyle choices. Cooking together, lounging by the pool, walking pets and even gathering kindling in the woods bonds us to each other, especially when you have the same camping neighbors week after week. Not hassling with packing and unpacking, not stressing over weekend traffic or the uncertainty of learning the ropes in a new setting are often mentioned by moms and dads who want to maximize their free time by returning to a camp site “ready to use” whenever a free day or two becomes available.

Seasonal, extended stay camping is not for everyone. But during tough economic times, it’s an especially good value.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Into Camping Without Breaking The Bank

Whether it comes in like a lamb or a lion, the weather in March, on average stinks. That’s OK, because we’ve had more than a few 60- degree, sunny days this month. Enough that the phone is ringing with plenty of April camping requests.

The first thing callers say is “Oh—I didn’t expect you to pick up the phone.” Then there’s usually a degree of surprise that we’re open year-round, followed by a second surprise: the best rates and often the best time to camp is during shoulder seasons and mid-week.

Think you can’t camp in April? Think again.

For the third year in a row we’ll host a gang of great guys from the Toyota Territory Off-Road Association. They’ll take advantage of area trails by day and sit around a bonfire most nights when they’re not playing pool in our carpeted clubhouse. One night they’ll have a big feast in the pavilion, using our commercial grill for a man meal in the woods.

The TTORA group camps in tents, but RVers, too, know that the fish are biting, the daffodils are blooming and the fresh air is a welcome blast of what’s to come as the green awakens in the woods. In April, while nights are still cool, sleep is of the deep quality that only gets interrupted by the smell of bacon cooking on an open fire.

We’ll give each camper a free night to encourage them to check in on Thursday, rather than Friday. During shoulder seasons we can afford to toss out perks for extended stays. They appreciate that and we’re delighted we can offer even more camping value for the dollar.

If there’s a theme for this year, its how can we help our campers save money in shoulder seasons, yet not cut the corners on their experience. We know that the weather can be iffy, but campers know they can always pick up a morning cup of free hot coffee and some sass at our front desk.

Some days we’ll have a fire going in our clubhouse. The free books will be stacked high in the bookcase. What can beat curling up on the couch with a paperback and staring out the picture window at a blanket of stars? One hour from Pittsburgh and two from Cleveland, yet worlds away from congestion, where all that you see and all the fragrances that surround you are a reminder that yes, it’s indeed a wonderful world.

How much time does it take to recharge your batteries and where do you go for a quick “fix?”

If you are like me, it only takes 48 to 72 hour in the woods to add a month of smiles. I have to admit that I’m not relaxed enough to toss my cell phone aside, but I can tell you this much: in light of listening to CNN up to 15 hours each day and being reminded of tensions in far corners of the world, I embrace the forced isolation for all it’s worth.

My “group therapy” might be with the early return of the robins or the crocus and grape hyacinths pushing their way to the surface. Just thawing out a container of frozen chili and eating it out of a throwaway container, sitting on a tree stump in a pair of baggy jeans, well, that’s what charges my batteries for not much more than what I’d spend taking my family to see a movie on a big screen in a multi-plex theater. Need I say more?

So, you’re not yet convinced that camping is a value experience? You’re not an April eager- to- be- in- the- woods type? Consider our other value option: mid week camping.

It matters not what time of year, if you avoid holiday weeks and can tear away from the workplace between Sunday and Wednesday nights, your family can save up to 45%. Check out our rates on and do the math.

Not only will you have the advantage the wide open park offers, but you can jump on the pedal cars without a wait, stretch out on a raft in the pool, grab a cue stick to play pool or pick out your favorite tunes on the juke box and know there’s not a crowd behind you. Go ahead, sing in the showers and shout at the top of your lungs.

Just don’t do it after 10pm or you’ll be in hot water. You see, we can save you money, but we won’t run interference if you break the rules. :=)

Have fun in 2011. Get to know your family. Take a short drive down the road, save fuel costs and do your own group therapy in a safe, comfortable retreat right in your own backyard, yet worlds away from city congestion and workplace stress.

Karen and the Lock 30 Woodlands Crew

Monday, March 14, 2011

What To Do When Fuel Prices Are High?

Camping families know there are years when they see the country and there are years when they explore their own backyards. Never have staycations looked more attractive

Lock 30 Woodlands, located one hour from Pittsburgh and two from Cleveland, is gearing up for changes in camping styles as gas prices top $4/gallon. Recent years of economic decline has had a silver lining for our small business. We’ve been introduced to many first- time camping families who have been resourceful in their search for affordable, wholesome family entertainment.

The Outdoor Recreation Association says there are now more campers than soccer players in the United States. That comes as no surprise for us because camping is easy on the toddlers and the grandparents, too, as long as families are realistic in their planning and expectations.

Where do smart families start when it comes to saving money while camping?

1. Consider off-season, off-weekend pricing if your work schedule permits. Many campgrounds are deeply discounted if you camp between Sunday and Wednesdays. Families save upwards of 40% and they have wide open site selection, not to mention easy use of amenities. If you are not using the swimming pool, but like to fish, the weeks prior to Memorial Day and after Labor Day can offer ideal pricing and recreation tailored to filling these less occupied weeks.

2. Park it where you’ll use it. If you visit your favorite campground three or more times a season, consider why you keep returning. It may be the year to seek seasonal/permanent membership. Haul it once, stock it for the summer and return to the woods without factoring in high fuel costs.

3. Set a summer outdoor education goal and measure your progress. Have you been putting off learning about the hardwoods, flora and fauna of your region, identifying the wildflowers and wild mushrooms that grow under the pines? Use a library card to access book resources or stop at a used book store or thrift shop. You can tuck a reference book in the corner of your car’s trunk and have instant “edutainment” and an outdoor learning lab for learners of all ages. Offer incentives for families being “on the move.” Hiking is good for the heart –literally and figuratively.

4. Plan, plan, plan. Teachers will tell you which parents give children decision making responsibility during summer months. What better way to save money than to have your pre-teen make a packing list, a meal plan and associated grocery list. Teach organization where there are real world consequences, then reward kids with the money you saved because you remembered to pack the pancake syrup.

5. Look for fuel saver specials. Some campgrounds offer discounted packages for campers returning two weekends in a row. Many have safe weekday storage and incentives NOT to haul goodies home on Sunday afternoon. Check now, as often these specials are first come, first serve and dependent on storage space available.

6. Think of hidden vacation costs that camping vacations avoid. Have you checked into the cost of kenneling a pet lately? Keep them with you and not only will they be happier, you will, too.

7. Let the campground reservation folks know your wants and needs. If you tell whomever answers the phone that you are seeking inexpensive quality entertainment for your family, then not only can they tell you when the campground’s free fire truck rides are offered, but they might point you toward charming local festivals, celebrations and local attractions within minutes of the campground. Build a full vacation experience by being aware of “out of the tent” opportunities.

8. Summer birthday? In this day of over-the-top birthday celebrations, consider how you can make a lifelong magical memory by taking two or three of the birthday boy or girl’s best friends camping. Rather than 4 hours of noise, sugar and stressful planning, invite partiers to a camping overnight. You’ll get to know them and they’ll get introduced to a wholesome alternative.

As we prepare to launch into another peak season, come back to this blog often. Every week we’ll take one of these money saving ideas and show you how to make the most of high fuel prices.

Happy camping,

Karen and the Lock 30 Woodlands Crew