Campgrounds in Rhode Island are not exactly thriving, but they’re holding their own, in large measure because of the state’s ample natural assets. But camp operators recognize that future camping success demands more than that.
“People want to be able to get out there and take all their amenities with them,” said Don Thomassen, executive director of Westwood YMCA, which operates Westwood Family Campground in Coventry.
“We’ve had a couple of campers that have their satellites for TV, and if they park in an open area, they can catch all their entertainment,” he said.
Westwood has 70 campsites and of those, 50 are for tents or trailers and 20 are group or family cabins built in the 1930s, when the facility began as a camp for boys. So “when people call about cabins, we tell them they have to bring their own bedding. Our cabins have rough wood floors and maybe a spider web or two,” Thomassen said.
Still, the national and international trend in luxury camping called “glamping,” for glamorous camping, which has spawned websites like glamping.com, is having an effect here.
“We’re thinking about replacing some of the cabins with park models,” said Thomassen. A park model is an RV that’s more of a semi-permanent mobile home. “Some of those park models are as nice as any five-star hotel. We’re also looking at yurts.”
Occupancy at the Westwood Family Campground has remained relatively steady year after year, said Thomassen, with a view based on 24 years with the facility.
“We have seasonal campers, and we’re working toward increasing our weekend campers,” he said.
For some camps, it’s the ocean, not the woods or the amenities, that is the big draw.
“We’re steps away from the beach, and we have a pretty close community of people who come back every year,” said Tony Tighe, manager of Second Beach Campground in Middletown.
Second Beach Campground has 46 campsites for RVs, with no tent camping, so most campers set up for the season, often coming in for weekends.
“We have about 60 people on a waiting list that could go 10 or 12 years out. Nobody leaves,” said Tighe, “This year we had three new people, but … some people have been coming here for more than 40 years.”
The economic impact of the camping community is visible, said Tighe.
“On Friday night, they mostly go out to eat,” said Tighe. “They often eat in Saturday night, or if it rains, so they’re out grocery shopping.”