RV park in Wildwood? It’s not without precedent

    This summer was supposed to present a new overnight option for RVers visiting the Jersey Shore: a campground right on the beach in Wildwood. They’d be able to drive up, park on the sand, and make a two-night stop before they headed onto their next destination. It would be another way for Wildwood to generate revenue from its still expanding beaches, and hopefully ward off the threat of implementing a beach tag system on its still-free sand.

    But condo owners in the Wildwood Ocean Towers protested, and the plan was put on hold until another site could be found.

    I can understand why they’re upset. Setting up spots for 80 RVs on the beach in front of a beach-front condo and calling it a campground is going to get people up in arms.

    But let’s talk about what this and other Jersey Shore camping options are, and are not.

    According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the condo owners vowed to stop any such RV park anywhere in Wildwood because it would create a “trailer park” atmosphere.

    I’m sure the image they’re trying to invoke is of Cletus and Brandine Spuckler, the perpetually poor and child bearing couple on the Simpsons. But that’s not the reality here. The Jersey Shore has a long history of setting up affordable summer options for visitors who bring their own housing.

    In 1870, the first Tent Colony opened in Ocean Grove. These aren’t the kind of tents you fold up and store in your garage. They look like miniature Victorian homes, and they’re one of the most photographed sites of Ocean Grove. Families lease the sites, which include a permanent wooden platform and wooden structure along with thick canvas that’s stored in the off season, for the summer. Some leases continue back four generations in one family. The annual cost: $4,000 to $7,000 a year. 

    Over 40 years ago, the Catanoso family carved campsites out of 80 acres of wood along Route 9 outside of Avalon to make Avalon Campground. My mother spent her childhood summers there. I spent my childhood summers there. Sure, there are tenters and people passing through with RVs and pop up trailers, but many families lease spots year round – it’s a more affordable way to have a shore place. The set ups have become elaborate. We had a deck, cable TV and air conditioning on our modest site that we leased for almost two decades. I was there in June of this year, and many new sites had gravel driveways, grass and sprinkler systems. The lowest price I could find for a used trailer in the campground: $11,000, and that doesn’t include the annual site lease fee.

    Strathmere, too, has a trailer park: Ocean Beach Trailer Resort, which opened right across the street from the beach 60 years ago. It has 88 spots, and trailers are allowed on site April 15 to September 15 (with an extra month special added September 15 to October 15). The trailers coming back are one of those signals that the summer season is approaching, and their departure of its close.

    The proposed park in Wildwood would be different: the campground would only rent to self-sustaining RVs. No sewer or water hook ups, no electricity or trash pickup would be provided. The owners could stay a maximum of only two nights.

    This is not an uncommon arrangement, though you’re more likely to find them in the south, especially Florida, to accommodate retired, RVing snowbirds.

    RVing isn’t cheap, either. According to RV Insider’s Guide, the average “budget” RV costs $45,000; high end models top $100,000. They’re not exactly streamlined, either. RVs get 10 miles per gallon if your lucky.

    Trailer park atmosphere? Nah, not in the way the association wants you to picture it.

    Now, that’s not to say their opposition is unfounded. It doesn’t seem like the plan was properly researched. This has never been done on a beach in New Jersey outside of temporary tent camps set up in the Wildwood beach for soccer tournaments. Opponents raise excellent points about environmental concerns of parking RVs on the beach, and safety. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city of Wildwood didn’t submit anything to the Cape May County Health Department, and I haven’t read anything about an environmental impact study. There’s the tidbit that the contract to run the campground went to Wildwood Mayor Ernie Troiano’s cousin by marraige. 

    I don’t think this is a bad idea, but we need to know more, especially about the environmental impact, and how RVs will move safely on and off the beach. The plans felt rushed for something completely that’s different at the Jersey Shore.

    I don’t expect either side to back down. But let’s get rid of the “trailer park” implications in having the discussion.

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