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Douse this campfire
State park campgrounds don't undercut private concerns

Date published: 1/9/2013

[T]here appears to be ample opportunity for the development of both public and private campground facilities.

--Virginia Tech study

HERE'S AN ISSUE the Virginia General Assembly shouldn't spend one more minute trying to "fix": the alleged unfair competition state parks present to privately owned campgrounds. It ain't necessarily so.

Last year, state Sens. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, and Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, introduced legislation that would have required state parks to set camping fees at or above what local privately owned campgrounds charge. The idea came from the owner of a private campground, who charged that the state was undercutting his business. The bills, which were withdrawn, would certainly have compromised the parks' ability to provide camping services.

After that session, the Department of Conservation, which oversees the state park system, asked Virginia Tech to study the issue. Professor Vincent Magnini, of Tech's hospitality and tourism management department (ranked No. 6 in the world), reviewed the research on camping and tourism and came to several conclusions:

Campers choose a campground based on their motivations for the outing. (Relaxation? Family bonding? Nearby attractions?)

Price isn't the key selection criteria.

The more campgrounds in an area, the more campers are drawn to that area.

People choose campgrounds based more on location and amenities than price. They're looking for a particular experience. When campgrounds recognize and fulfill that need, they prosper. What's more, two-thirds of Virginians want the state parks to have campgrounds. Fewer than half of campers automatically prefer to camp in parks. And 90 percent of campgrounds in the state are privately owned.

Bottom line: It's a big world out there, with plenty of room for both public and private campgrounds. Keeping site costs lower in the parks helps families on limited incomes. There's no need to force the parks to charge more. That's good news for everyone who loves the great outdoors--and public parks.