Welcome, But A Bit Unexpected from the 9th Circuit

This is welcome news for those of us who do business on US Forest Service lands, but pretty surprising coming from the 9th Circuit:

Judges aren't professional land managers.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged as much July 2, after spending the past few years micromanaging the Forest Service in a series of court decisions that forest industry groups called "increasingly aberrant."

In a landmark ruling July 2, the Ninth acknowledged that it erred in its interpretation of a key environmental law and botched Mineral County's post-burn case.

"We misconstrued what the NFMA (National Forest Management Act) requires of the Forest Service," a panel of 11 judges admitted in a ruling released July 2. "We made three key errors in [the post-burn case]...Today, we correct those errors."

The ruling in "Lands Council v. McNair," involving an Idaho project, overturned a 2-1 decision from 2005 in "Ecology Center v. Austin." McNair and Austin are the forest supervisors for the Idaho Panhandle and Lolo national forests, respectively.

The dramatic ruling concluded by suggesting that the Ninth should weigh other public interests in the future, not just claims of potential environmental damage.

"Though preserving environmental resources is certainly in the public’s interest, the [Idaho Panhandle] Project benefits the public’s interest in a variety of other ways," the ruling stated. "According to the Forest Service, the Project will decrease the risk of catastrophic fire, insect infestation, and disease, and further the public’s interest in aiding the struggling local economy and preventing job loss."

The US Forest Service's mission is a mixed bag, requiring it to balance mining, timber harvesting, recreation, and environmental preservation on its lands.  Such a mixed mission is virtually doomed to failure in today's political climate.  This virtually impossible balancing act has been made more difficult with the recent explosion of lawsuits from environmental groups all attempting to narrow the USFS mission to preservation alone, to the exclusion of other missions.  The 9th Circuit has to date been a leading facilitator of this process of placing preservation ahead of all other goals, in direct contradiction of the will of Congress in any number of pieces of legislation.

Posted on July 9, 2008 at 10:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

How to Keep State Parks Open in California

Letter I sent to Governor Schwartzenegger in response to his plan to close a number of California State Parks due to budget problems:

I know many people are probably contacting you to oppose proposed closures of state parks to help meet budget targets. My message is a bit different: Closing these parks is totally unnecessary. 

I own and manage one of the larger concessionaires in the California State Park (CSP) system. We are the concessionaire at Clear Lake and Burney Falls. At Burney Falls, for example, we have invested over a million dollars of our money in a public-private partnership with the state to revamp to the park. We also operate parks for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, Arizona State Parks, Texas State Parks, and other public authorities.

Traditionally, CSP has engaged concessionaires to run stores and marinas within parks, but not to run entire parks. However, in many other states, our company runs entire parks and campgrounds for other government authorities, and does so to the highest quality standards. 

So, I can say with confidence that many of the California State Parks proposed for closure would be entirely viable as private concessions. For example, we operate the store and marina at Clear Lake State Park but could easily run the entire park and make money doing so, while also paying rent to the state for the privilege.

I know that there are some employees of the CSP system that oppose such arrangements with private companies out of fears for their job security. But it would be a shame to close parks entirely when an opportunity exists to keep them open to the public, and improve the state budget picture in doing so. 

Even if California decides to keep these parks open, I would encourage you to have your staff investigate the possibility of expanding private operation of state parks. CSP already has one of the best and most capable concession management programs in the country, a success you should seek to build on. The infrastructure is already there in CSP to solicit bids for these projects and ensure that management of them meets the state's quality and customer service standards.

Even though everything I said here is true, it probably is a non-starter because most state organizations are dead set against such private management.  They would rather close services to the public than establish the precedent of private management. 

Besides, the whole parks closure may well be a bluff.  Unlike private company budget discussions, where it is expected that managers offer up their marginal projects for cuts, the public sector works just opposite:  Politicians propose their most popular areas of spending (parks, emergency services) for cuts in a game of chicken to try to avoid budget cuts altogether.  As I wrote here:

Imagine that you are in a budget meeting at your company.  You and a number of other department heads have been called together to make spending cuts due to a cyclical downturn in revenue.  In your department, you have maybe 20 projects being worked on by 10 people, all (both people and projects) of varying quality.   So the boss says "We have to cut 5%, what can you do?"  What do you think her reaction would be if you said "well, the first thing I would have to cut is my best project and I would lay off the best employee in my department". 

If this response seems nuts to you, why do we let politicians get away with this ALL THE TIME?  Every time that politicians are fighting against budget cuts or for a tax increase, they always threaten that the most critical possible services will be cut.  Its always emergency workers that are going to be cut or the Washington Monument that is going to be closed.  Its never the egg license program that has to be cut.

Update: Here is the form letter the governor's office sent out in response to my letter:

A weakened national economy and auto-pilot state spending has created a projected budget shortfall of $14.5 billion for fiscal year 2008-09. Although state government revenues this coming year are actually forecast to hold steady, the problem is that every year automatic spending formulas increase expenditures.  Left unchecked, next year's budget would need to grow by 7.3-percent, which is $7.6 billion; even booming economies can't meet that kind of increase.  To immediately combat this crisis, the Governor has proposed a 10-percent reduction in nearly every General Fund program from their projected 2008-09 funding levels.  While these reductions are unquestionably painful and challenging, this across-the-board approach is designed to protect essential services by spreading reductions as evenly as possible.

To achieve this difficult reduction, State Parks will be reducing both its permanent and seasonal workforce.  As a result, 48 park units will be closed or partially closed to the public and placed in caretaker status.  By closing parks and eliminating positions, remaining resources can be consolidated and shifted to other parks to provide for services necessary to keep those parks open and operating.  While 48 parks are affected by closures, 230 parks-or 83% of the system-will remain open.

We must reform our state budget process.  Government cannot continue to put people through the binge and purge of our budget process that has now led to park closures.  That's why the Governor has proposed a Budget Stabilization Act.  Under the Governor's plan, when revenues grow, Sacramento would not be able to spend all the money.  Instead, we would set a portion aside in a Revenue Stabilization Fund to stabilize the budget in down years.  If a deficit develops during the year, instead of waiting to accumulate billions of dollars of debt, the Governor's plan would automatically trigger lower funding levels already agreed upon by the Legislature.  Had this system been in place the past decade, we would not be facing a $14.5 billion deficit. 

As Governor Schwarzenegger works with his partners in the Legislature, he will keep your concerns in mind.  With your help, we will turn today's temporary problem into a permanent victory for the people of California.

Posted on February 1, 2008 at 12:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Campground Bleg

Sorry, this is work-related, but we are considering bidding on the management of campgrounds on Lake Merwin, Yale Lake, and Swift Reservoir near Mt. St. Helens in WA.  Since these facilities are under a lot of snow, I won't be able to get a good feel for them.  Anyone out there familiar with these facilities?  If so, I would love an email or comment post about them, good or bad.

Posted on January 8, 2008 at 02:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

People Without a Country

I have written a number of times about the growing ranks of RVers who have completely abandoned a permanent address and spend their entire life on the road.  I know these folks because I hire about 400 of them every summer to run our campgrounds and recreational facilities.  It is a fascinating subculture, that in some ways mirrors the habits of a great nomadic tribe that roams all over the country but comes together in a few camps to meet and interact in the winter (e.g. Colorado River between Yuma and Quartzite).  The numbers are large:

The Census says more than 105,000 Americans live full-time in RVs, boats or vans, though one RV group says the number is more like half a million. Because of their nomadic ways, pinning down their number with any certainty is difficult.

The AP has an article about how difficult it is becoming for some of these folks to vote, since a number of states are beginning to require a permanent physical address  (most of these folks have PO Boxes run by companies that forward their mail).

A total of 286 people who live full-time in their recreational vehicles were dropped from the voter rolls in one Tennessee county over the past two years because they did not have a genuine home address, only a mailbox. That has left them unable to vote in national or local elections....

But some elections officials say that voters should have a real connection to the place where they are casting ballots, and that RVers are registering in certain states simply to avoid taxes. Some of them rarely, if ever, set foot in those states.

I guess they need a real connection to their state, kind of like, say, Hillary Clinton had to New York when she ran for the Senate there.  I know that the immediate reaction from many of you may be that this is somehow weird and, being weird, it is OK to lock them out of voting. But I can attest these folks are all quite normal people who are seduced by the ability to live anywhere they want, on the spur of the moment, and who revel in being able to simplify their life enough to fit all their worldly goods into an RV and hit the road.

This part is total BS:

David Ellis, the former Bradley County Election Commission director who started removing full-time RVers, said they have no connection to the area and are simply "dodging their responsibility to pay their fair share" of taxes.

RVers pay taxes in the states in which they work, not in their home state  (just like everyone else, by the way).  RVers, who rent their living site, pay the same property taxes (ie zero) that any other renter pays.

For the record, none of my folks have reported a problem.  However, these problems are just going to get worse.  Crackdowns both on illegal immigration and hypothesized terrorism are making more difficult to complete any number of basic tasks, like banking, without a permanent physical address.

Posted on November 8, 2007 at 09:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Free Camping

Running for-fee campgrounds on public lands often gets us into some controversy.  For example, many people wonder, sometimes in a fairly excitable manner, why they have to pay for camping on public lands when they have already paid their taxes.  The simple answer to this is that Congress and administrations of all flavors have consistently ruled for years that fees rather than taxes should support developed campgrounds.  Read this post for more, or call your Congressman if you don't agree.  Also, here is my company's FAQ on camping fees and private companies operating on public lands.

However, there ARE many free camping opportunities on public lands, but because of Forest Service terminology, these are sometimes missed by the public.  In most cases, when the Forest Service has a named campground, it requires a fee because it has a number of minimum features for the facility:

  • Graded, and sometimes paved, roads and spurs
  • Bathrooms, and sometimes showers
  • Picnic table, tent pad, and fire ring / grill at each site
  • On-site host / security to enforce rules (e.g. quite time)
  • On-site operator with property and liability insurance
  • Water supply that is frequently tested and treated when necessary
  • Hazard tree removal
  • Trash and (for campgrounds not on a sewer system) sewage removal
  • Leaf blowing from trails and roads, site raking, painting, etc.

This stuff does cost money, and so the typical campground we run charges $12-14 a night, with 50% off for Golden Access patrons (i.e. senior citizens).  Heck, the insurance alone costs about $1.50 per night's stay, thanks to our friends in the tort bar.

However, most National Forests offer what is called dispersed camping.  This is camping out in the wilderness, without any amenities, and, at least in most cases, is totally free.  Most of these camping areas don't have names, just locations and boundaries.   Expect to give up all of the above amenities, and be ready to pack your trash out, but you can still pitch your tent out in nature without charge.  And in many of these locations, you can get far away from other campers.  Just call the local ranger district (contact info here) and ask them for information on dispersed camping.

One proviso - the biggest problem with these dispersed, non-hosted areas is, if they are heavily used, they can be a worse experience than the paid campgrounds.  They can accumulate trash from thoughtless patrons, and they can get very rowdy.  Dispersed campgrounds attract the best of campers - those truly trying to get a natural experience; and the worst of campers - those who don't want to follow rules, don't clean up after themselves, and who don't want to shut down their loud partying just because it is two in the morning.  Many people who initially opposed paid camping are now big believers, since they have learned to value campgrounds with rules and security after a few late nights listening to loud generators and drunken parties.  Talk to the ranger district to know what you are getting into at a particular site.

Posted on October 21, 2005 at 12:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

My First Wikipedia Post

I find I link to Wikipedia a lot for explanations of terms I use that people may not be familiar with (the most recent being "badger game" in this post).  So, to return the favor of all those who have written the Wikipedia, I wrote my contribution, adding an entry on Workamping.  It required about an hours worth of time invested learning their formatting commands and best practices, but it turned out to be pretty easy.  It was kind of interesting to see the other niche areas I have knowledge about but for which there are no articles yet.  I am currently adding and editing content for model railroading.

Posted on September 6, 2005 at 07:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Forest Service Campgrounds Free in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi

One of my company's primary businesses is to operate National Forest campgrounds.  We have been told that starting immediately, and for an unspecified period of time, many of the campgrounds in the US Forest Service in East Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi will be waiving camping fees for the foreseeable future.  We have been told that anyone can camp for free, and that they do not need to prove they are a hurricane refugee, nor do they even have to be from one of the affected states, to get the free camping.  The Texas Campgrounds we operate are now free to campers, but we have been instructed to still charge fees for day use and for purchases (such as for firewood).  The number of states affected may be larger than just these three, but so far the campgrounds we operate in Kentucky, Florida, and New Mexico are still charging fees.  Update:  campgrounds in Alabama, Arkansas and Oklahoma are also included, see below.

Texas_campground2 Texas_campground1_2

Subsidizing camping for refugees makes sense, though I am not sure why the Feds are subsidizing camping for everyone, but I guess they despaired of coming up with a fair way to separate homeless refugees from regular campers, so they made it free to everyone.  I have not been instructed whether the usual 14-day stay limit enforced by the Forest Service is still in effect, but I will assume it is until informed otherwise.  The 14-day stay limit has also been waived.

Update:  OK, here is the release:


Washington, Sept.3, 2005 - The USDA Forest Service is taking another step to assist survivors of Hurricane Katrina by temporarily rescinding the fee requirement for campgrounds and the 14-day stay limit for camping on some National Forest System lands in the Southern Region. The normal fee range is $4.00 to $25.00 depending on the location.

The forests offering free camping include the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, the National Forests of Alabama, the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest in Arkansas, the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas and Oklahoma and the National Forests and Grasslands of Texas. In all, 106 campgrounds are open without charge to victims of Hurricane Katrina as they transition through these first weeks of the disaster.

Per comment below, an update on free camping opportunities here.

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Posted on September 4, 2005 at 10:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Forest Service May Close Recreation Sites

Frequent readers of this site may know that my day job is running a company that manages recreation sites under concession contract to a number of public landowners, including the US Forest Service.  I take a lot of pride in this job, as our company helps keep recreation facilities open that the government might not have the personnel or the skills or the money to run.  The Forest Service's budget gets cut about every year, such that tax money comes nowhere near covering the cost of managing recreation sites.

Of late, the Forest Service has begun looking to actually close some recreation facilities:

The cash-strapped U.S. Forest Service can no longer afford to maintain many of its parks and has started ranking recreational sites, including campgrounds and trail heads, for possible closure.

Supporters of public lands generally hate the onset of fee-based recreation, and wish it was still possible for all public recreation facilities to be free.  This was a realistic goal back when recreation facilities were cheap to run, but today campgrounds and other such facilities can be tremendously expensive(a single large campground might cost as much as a half million a year to operate), in large part due to actions by the same people who support free use of public lands.  Some examples:

  • 50 years ago, campgrounds labor was essentially free because it could be staffed with volunteers.  With current labor laws, this is no longer possible (even if people still want to volunteer), and a large campground can require hundreds of thousands of dollars of labor to maintain each year, even at minimum wage.
  • 50 years ago, people in the outdoors just drank water from a stream or out of the hand pump.  Today, in certain complexes, we spend tens of thousands of dollars keeping water systems in compliance with complex state laws.
  • 50 years ago, if someone tripped over a root in the forest or twisted their ankle on a rock, they accepted that as a normal risk of being out in nature.  Today, everyone calls their lawyer.  Each year, campground visitors file millions of dollars of lawsuits for accidents once thought to be normal hazards of nature.
  • 50 years ago, active timber sales in the forest helped fund recreation programs.  Today, timber sales in many forests are at an all time low, due in large part to opposition by nature lovers

So, I admit I don't know the person who said this:

“They will close those sites the public has always enjoyed but which they cannot afford because they are not profitable,” said Scott Silver of the Bend group Wild Wilderness. “It’s the complete perversion of the meaning of public lands.”

But I would bet quite a bit that he supports some or all of the laws and government regulations listed above that make running recreation facilities so much more expensive than 50 years ago.

Update: By the way, though I might disagree with Scott Silver on the necessity of use fees at developed facilities like campgrounds or boat ramps, he is dead on in certain respects:

  • Politicians love to fund splashy new recreation projects, but hate to fund basic maintenance.  This means that at the same time campgrounds and facilities are closing due to lack of maintenance dollars, new facilities are being opened all the time.  This strikes me as absurd. 
  • Recreation facilities on public lands are missing the boat when they attempt to emulate private operations too much.  There are plenty of KOA's next to the interstate with pools and video game rooms.  Campgrounds on public lands have typically taken a different approach and served a different niche, that of providing a more primitive experience closer to nature, and I think its a mistake when they move away from this approach.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, I will never be able to see eye-to-eye with such groups because they refuse to acknowledge that as a private company I can be anything but Darth Vader with secret plans to put up a Walmart in Yosemite or put up billboards along a nature trail.  Crusading socialists often have the funniest ideas about the profit motive.  For example, if I make most of my money at a recreation site catering to people who want a wilderness experience, why in the world would I do anything to interfere with that experience?  It does not matter what the situation or the facts or the company, the first arguments are always that private companies just want to take a natural setting and put up advertising, then build a shopping mall.

By the way, Mr. Silver sees conspiracies among the private recreation companies.  I have sat on some committees in the "evil" organizations he cites, and I will tell you with complete assurance that these groups would have trouble crafting a successful plan to buy a 6-pack of beer from the local 7-11, much less shape government policy to their ends.  But maybe I got left out of all the really cool SPECTRE-type meetings. 

Posted on April 19, 2005 at 05:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Looking for Pyramid Lake Help from SoCal Readers

I have gotten some nice, supportive feedback from my earlier post on my frustration with the recent oil spill at Pyramid Lake, California.  So much so that I would like to ask any readers who are familiar with Pyramid Lake (the one in LA county, not the larger one in Nevada) to send me an email -- We are considering a few new services at the park and some approaches to cut down on the long waits to get on the boat ramp, and I would like to discuss them with a few smart blog readers.

Posted on March 28, 2005 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Distributed Stupidity and the Anti-Lottery

This is a great post from Brian Micklethwait of Samizdata describing government as "distributed stupidity" and demonstrating how we all face an anti-lottery every day as more arbitrary laws are piled on top of us:

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that there is now a crisis of excessive lawmaking in the West generally, and in the Anglo-Saxon world in particular. It is not that our political class is hell bent on tyrranny, impure and simple. It is more that they have become legislative entrepreneurs, so to speak. And just as a businessman who is delighted to make a fast buck selling mobile phones does not bother himself about the grief inflicted by railway travellers with mobiles on other railway travellers, so too, lawmakers who are "aiming" at one particular group of alleged wrongdoers have a tendency to neglect what you might call legislative collateral damage. The laws pile up, and the other legislators, the ones who you would hope would be sitting there solemnly trying to limit that collateral damage, neglect that duty, because they are too busy hustling through other little laws of their own, aimed at other preferred clutches of alleged wrongdoers. Laws go straight from legislative entrepreneurs to government regulators, without no intervening process of scrutiny that is worthy of that adjective.

Which means that government regulators are then tempted to mutate into what you might call regulatory entrepreurs. They cannot possible enforce all their laws, rules and regulations. There are not enough hours in the history of universe for that to happen. So, just like the legislative entrepreneurs, they also lose sight of the big picture (it having become too big to bother with) and decide for themselves which regulations to take seriously. How? Any way they please. In accordance with what rules? Whichever ones they decide to go with.

Add a dash of right wing fervour (a point which Go Directly to Jail apparently brings out very strongly) about crime being very, very bad and having to be fought with implacable ferocity, and to hell with those silly old legal safeguards, and you end up with a kind of anti-lottery instead of a government. Any person, at any moment, is liable to be picked on and turned into a criminal. At any moment, in the words of those British National Lottery adverts, it could be you-ou!!! And everyone is obliged to enter this one.

Theres more, and its all good.

Posted on March 7, 2005 at 12:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Hiring Camp Hosts

Its that time of the year again.  Each year we hire over 400 RVers and workampers as seasonal camp hosts.  If any of you out there are interested, check out our site for camp hosts jobs here, or visit our main recreation web site here.  Last month I wrote an article on the work camping lifestyle here.

Posted on February 1, 2005 at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Forest Service Rules

My company operates campgrounds and other recreational facilities on government lands, and the US Forest Service is our most important partner.  We work day-to-day with about 20 or so district rangers, who are the front-line general managers of the Forest.

My observation over time is that USFS district rangers have a nearly impossible job.  By their enabling legislation, the USFS is tasked with balancing logging, mining, ranching, recreation, forest health and environmental stewardship in running the forest.  In our modern day age of uncompromising special interests and conflict resolution by lawsuit, it is absolutely impossible to make any decision  without sending some party scurrying to the courts.  In particular, environmental groups have become expert at tying up any decision in court, and attempting to block any of the other competing interests.

The current Administration has introduced new rules intended to make this job easier.  As reported in the New York Times via the Commons Blog,

Forest Service officials said the rules were intended to give local foresters more flexibility to respond to scientific advances and threats like intensifying wildfires and invasive species. They say the regulations will also speed up decisions, ending what some public and private foresters see as a legal and regulatory gridlock that has delayed forest plans for years because of litigation and requirements for time-consuming studies.

I hope this is true, because I feel for front line forestry personnel who joined the service mostly because of their love of the outdoors and the environment, and have been forced instead to become amateur lawyers.  However,  I doubt much will change.  I think that intelligent planning and negotiation may be gone forever in working on environmental issues in favor of litigation.

Posted on December 24, 2004 at 08:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

RV Sales Surge

Good news for our business (I run a campground management company), the AP reports via our Arizona Republic that RV sales continue to surge, despite high gas prices.

RV sales are definitely riding the front end of the demographic wave, as new retirees look for more flexibility and mobility in their retirement years.   RV businesses are also benefiting from a post 9/11 reluctance to travel overseas or vacation at high-profile resorts or cities that might be targets.  I wrote on some of these trends in my post "the New American Nomads".

Posted on December 5, 2004 at 08:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Florida Attraction Recommendation

We never go to DisneyWorld without Bob Sehlinger's book "the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World".  I don't know if he does a lot of unofficial guides or just concentrates on Disney, but from reading it you would swear he spends every waking moment here.  Totally recommended over every other guide out there.

Anyway, as we were reading our guide the other day in our hotel room, planning the next day, my wife happened on the Q&A section where a reader asked him "What is your favorite Florida attraction?"  His answer:

What attracts me most (as opposed to my favorite attraction) is Juniper Springs, a stunningly beautiful stream about one and a half hours north of Orlando in the Ocala National Forest....Winding through palm, cypress, and live oak, the stream is more exotic that the Jungle Cruise and alive with birds, animals, turtles, and alligators.

This was really cool, since my company runs the Juniper Springs recreation area and the Juniper Springs canoe run.  Yeah for us!

Posted on November 25, 2004 at 07:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

New American Nomads

Every year, between November and January, tens of thousands of modern nomads descend on the lower Colorado River.  Spread out from Yuma to Lake Havasu City, but with their center in the normally small town of Quartzite Arizona, RVers will join together for a month or two in the Arizona desert.  Barren fields alont Interstate 10, totally desolate and empty for 9 months of the year, suddenly beome a huge encampment.

One of the little talked about trends within the larger story of the aging of America and the growing population of retired people is the substantial number of people who have given up the traditional notion of a fixed home and neighborhood and headed for the open road.  While some still own a home, and travel for many months of the year, an increasing number have sold their home, bought an RV, and live on the road -- with absolutely no attachment to any fixed location.  They may spend a day or several months in any one location, but most tend to drift north during the summer and back south for the winter.  These are not people who take their RV out on vacation -- these are people who live on the road 365 days a year.

For reasons of weather and tradition, while you can find RVers in the summer months in every state, in the winter months a large number will converge on Quartzite.  Friendships will be renewed.  Business will be transacted.  Jobs for the summer months will be solicited.   A thousand and one vendors will pitch a tent in the desert to sell their wares.  These gatherings remind me of how the old western trading posts may have looked during the winter, surrounded by wintering Indians and trappers.  The only difference today is that most of the nomads are Caucasian, and many of the trading posts, in the form of Casinos, are run by the Indians.

Some of these new nomads are able to completely retire and live off their savings.  Others need to work to bring in a bit of cash, or at least to pay for a place to park and hook up their RV to utilities.  In our business, we hire over 400 of these folks a year, usually working the summer months in exchange for a free site for the RV and some money for relaxing in the winter.  RVers are generally comfortable with fairly modest pay, but they won’t stand still for very long if they don’t like the job or their boss or their co-workers.  After all, they all have wheels on their houses and can leave with little notice.

As you might imagine, in this Federalist country we live in where most government services occur at the state level, this nomadic lifestyle can lead to confusion.  If you spend the entire year traveling around the country, where is your voting precinct?  Where do friends send you mail?  How do you get bills?  Where is your bank?  In which state do you pay taxes?  If you think you have trouble getting W-2’s out to your employees, trying tracking down 400 nomads with no permanent address!

To a large extent, technology has helped solve a number of these problems over the last decade.  Cell phones provide telephone service nearly everywhere in the country.  DirecTV does the same for television.  With a national ISP like EarthLink or AOL, email doesn’t care where you RV is parked – it will get to you.

In addition, a whole cottage industry has arisen to serve the needs of full-time RVers.  Despite advances in technology, most people still need an address for the mail to go, and the IRS still is kindof fussy about having a mailing address for folks.  So, entrepreneurs, mainly in Texas and Florida, have created huge PO box operations to serve RVers, with flexible options for holding or forwarding mail.  Full-time RVers, living 365 days in their vehicle, have demanded and gotten larger and more elaborate RV’s from manufacturers, up to and including RV’s built on bus frames. And, new, more elaborate and upscale RV parks are being built to accommodate the more affluent new RVers.

Other people, including, predictably, the government, have not caught up with this trend.  For example, many RVers are living on retirement and social security payments.  Most state revenue departments have laws in place that if you are a resident of that state for some number of days, then you have to pay income taxes on earnings, even retirement pay or investment earnings, in proportion to the time spent in the state.  These laws are mainly put in place to snare some incremental taxes from wealthy athletes and traveling sales people, but they can can hurt RVers. 

An RVer who is totally honest about the states they were a resident in during a year might end up having to fill out five, six, or more state income tax returns.  No one wants to do that, especially for small sums, so very very few people observe these tax laws.  In fact, that is why PO Box drops are in Texas and Florida, because neither have state income taxes.  Their pension and investment and social security checks go to those states, and no one has to be any the wiser about what other states they may have parked their RV in for a while.

There are a number of places to get more information about full-time RVing.  Web sites and magazines line the Roaming Times and Trailer Life cater to full-time RVers.  Working RVers can find information about work camping jobs and camp hosting as well as the whole workamping lifestyle.  Finally, look for good places to camp at goRVing.com, at ReserveUSA, or of course at my company's directory of forest service campgrounds.

Posted on November 20, 2004 at 09:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Hello Kitty RV

Readers may or may not know that our company runs campgrounds, mostly on public lands.  I must say, though, despite running hundreds of campgrounds, I have never seen this.  It just looks....wrong.

Hellokitty_rv Hellokitty_rv2

More here on Gizmodo, one of my favorite sites. If you are not reading Gizmodo, particularly if you have a Y chromosome, you should be.

Posted on November 5, 2004 at 09:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)