Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Private vs Public management of resources: a study of camping

Recreation vehicles such as motorhomes and travel trailers are as popular now for vacation camping than ever before.  The demand for them, despite the economy, is on the rise.  And when mom and dad want to take the kids out to enjoy the great outdoors, and yet not subject themselves to roughing it in sleeping bags under the stars, these RV's are the way to go.

Although these RV's are mostly self contained and can be driven out to the wilderness, to get the most out of the amenities onboard, an RV site that has 'full hookups' is optimum (meaning electric power, water supply and sewer hookup).  Demand for these sites are also on the rise with the demand for RV's, and the private sector is always happy to please a profitable market.

But most if not all federal, state and county parks also have RV sites, and these sites differ immensely from the private sector RV campgrounds in the following ways:

  • RV settings are optimally located out in the woods, mountains or deserts.  Most of this kind of property is owned by the federal government and was acquired historically through wars, the railroads and other means.  On occasion, a park would be cut out of these pristine properties and developed with public (tax payer) funds.  Private campgrounds are usually of lower eye appeal than the government owned lands, but are eagerly developed by entrepreneurs looking to cash in on the camping market. 

  • For every 100 privately developed campsites, there might be one public site.  Accordingly, demand for the public sites are sky high and must be reserved many months in advance, while private sites are available most of the time simply by arriving and parking the same day.  This is because the public pays for the state or federal sites, and there is no incentive to meet demand for these sites and increase the numbers available to the public.  No incentive whatsoever.  While the costs are born by the taxpayers at large, the public sites do charge a modest (yet lower) rental on each site than the private sites, and since these public sites will always be rationed by the government, no expansion has been significantly planned to address the increasing need for RV accommodations.

  • The typical private site has about half its property devoted to full hookups, and the other half to tent camping.  The typical government site has about 90% of its campground devoted to tent camping, and maybe 10% developed for RV full hookup sites.  The private campground has an owner and a family with a few employees keeping up the property and servicing the campers.  The government site has many, MANY fold as many employees, or 'revenooers' as I affectionately call these government campground employees, and as the cartoon character Snuffy Smith called them as well.  A few revenooers are at the main gate making sure you pay to enter.  Another bunch of revenuooers are on patrol making sure that the campers stay within the confines of the regulations of the campground.  On a private site, you will rarely see an employee unless they are picking up your trash or showing you to your site.  On a public campground, the revenooers will actively seek you out, inspect your campsite for violations and give you a lecture about what you can and cannot do during your visit.  On the surface, the revenooer will tell you that they are there to help you, but that is far from the case: they are there to enforce the government rules, regulations, and to make sure that you are obeying all of them to a T.
In general, the government sites are managed by people that simply don't care that you never come back: they will still get paid, and probably get a larger budget the next year regardless of attendance.  They will never expand (only the personnel roster will get bigger), and will only spend their money on the existing property regardless of the need. Most of the increase in the budget will go into air conditioners for the entry booth, air conditioning and new roofs for the administration buildings, and brand new shiny camp cars and trucks.  Typical government campgrounds are paved, and have pristinely maintained sites, using 10 times the manpower that the private, gravel road equipped mom and pop sites use.   Private campgrounds need to make a profit, and go out of their way to ensure that the campers enjoy their stay and will return in the future.

The revenoors don't give a damn whether or not their patrons drop dead: as long as its not on their site, since that would be way too much paperwork to deal with your dead body.  And when you are still alive and breathing on their state or federal park, you better toe the line or the revenooers will be crawling down your throat in the blink of an eye. 

Camping is a microcosm of the difference between public managed resources and those in the hands of the private sector.  Which management team would you like handling your health care program: the management team at the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the management team at Apple?

That, of course, is a rhetorical question. 


Joe said...

As an avid camper and backpacker, I can tell you that private campgrounds are much more fun to camp at because they are more nearly wild.

Govt. campgrounds are plastic and fake wilderness.

In those places where there are vast regions of open or forests, it makes little difference until you start to unpack your backpack.
Then the govt. areas are filled with freedom robbing regulations that make it much less of a wilderness experience than one would like.

Of the places I've hiked, I liked the Ocala National Forest the best, but its campsites are strictly regulated and there are rules about how many scorpions you can kill to make the log you want to sit on safe.

Govt. vs private? No contest.

Fredd said...

Joe: ditto your sentiment about government plastic sites. Many decades ago, I hiked 17 miles into the federal boonies near Carmel, CA (Los Padres National Forest). When we started to set up camp, a damn busybody revenooer showed up out of nowhere and gave us a lecture about taking our garbage with us, and how to manage our campfire.

christian soldier said...

Fredd- there are literal 'busy bodies ' everywhere- telling us what to do...

as to private versus public (my tax $$$)- right on!--