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Column overgeneralizes campgrounds

David Collins' recent opinion piece regarding the proposed RV Park/campground in Preston makes numerous generalizations about the camping industry that may require some clarification.

For years, residents of the region have clamored for the tribes to encourage taxable projects on lands outside their own that could benefit those surrounding towns' tax bases. While the Mashantuckets could probably find suitable acreage within their border for a campground of this size, they have opted to develop land within Preston, a move that they probably assumed would be a welcome influx to the town tax roll.

According to The Day (Feb 9, 2021), the three campgrounds located in Preston represent three of the top 10 taxpayers in town. In addition to the taxes paid directly by those businesses, significant additional tax income is generated through personal property tax assessments on any RV that is kept in town at a campground for the season. A typical RV worth $30,000 would pay over $500 annually in personal property tax to the town of Preston, while a luxury $300,000 motorhome that is parked on a campsite for the season would be taxed more than the average house in town.

In addition to the tax revenue, campgrounds provide local businesses with a steady stream of customers (just ask any of the pizza restaurants or hardware stores that are located near campgrounds why they need to increase staffing during the camping season).  As a business that generally attracts families, campgrounds are quite proud of their clientele. In terms of any increase in the strain on local services, a properly managed campground results in minimal calls for police and fire response. Granted, the addition of 300 campsites could cause a small increase in medical emergency related calls, as campers can suffer from heart attacks like the rest of the general public, but how is that any different than the 300-room hotel that Collins would prefer?

The concerns about traffic appear to be grossly overstated, as Collins notes "as many as 1,000 daily visitors."  Since many campers are those traveling with their children and other family members, 300 campsites with a typical "family of four" would indeed represent over 1,000 people, but this should not be confused with 1,000 vehicles. Even so, with the current vehicular traffic on Route 2, the increase that would be caused by a campground of this size is almost negligible, and far less than that would be produced by a Four Seasons hotel resort or a true commercial development that attracts customers who continually come and go throughout the course of the day.

While I do not know the Blue Water group associated with this project, one look at their portfolio of other projects shows a variety of campgrounds located in many areas that have waterfront and environmental concerns, such as Chincoteague Island, Chesapeake Bay, Lake Winnipesaukee, The Outer Banks and along the Salmon River in Maine. Avery Pond is a great little body of water, and the state boat launch allows far greater options (such as motorized boats) than the proposed campground would permit, allowing the use of kayaks and canoes, typically utilized by a small percentage of campers. However, it appears they are willing to address legitimate concerns about any impact on Avery Pond. 

For decades, campgrounds have provided folks with an opportunity to be outside with their own space. It is an experience much unlike a hotel, and in the recent age of Covid protocols, it has grown to include many more families seeking this recreational option.  Our region has over 20 campgrounds serving this growing segment of the population. Many of these parks are looking to add campsites to meet the growing demand, as well as to improve their amenities. Campgrounds are not necessarily meant to provide guests with a museum-like visit, and I find Collins statement that the proposed campground buildings are "architecturally undistinguished" to be incredibly demeaning to the entire campground business. Campers do not visit a campground to appreciate the fine architecture of their welcome center, but would much rather see money invested in amenities that their family can enjoy, such as swimming pools and volleyball courts. In addition, the characterization of a campground as "an enormous parking lot" is equally insulting. I am unaware of any parking lots that require a minimum of 2 shade trees and 7 shrubs for each parking space, as those plantings for each campsite are included in these plans.

I would invite Collins to visit any of the existing campgrounds in our region for a better understanding of what we offer, rather than disparage a proposed RV Park, and by extension, all campgrounds, as a "budget lodging project."

David Nowakowski is the owner of Sunfox Campground in Lisbon and a member of the Connecticut Campground Owners Association, Northeast Campground Association and National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.



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