By David M. Feehan
My wife and I recently decided to embark on a new adventure. We rented a 25-foot Thor Axis, a class C recreational vehicle and began a journey into the rural areas and small towns of Virginia. One of our first stops was Fredericksburg, the long-time, former home of IPMI. We were impressed with Frederickburg’s Main Street, lined with interesting shops and restaurants, and busy, pedestrian-filled sidewalks. Our journey then took us to an alpaca farm, a winery, and to the farmers market in Mineral. Along the way, we stopped briefly in Charlottesville.
As we became acquainted with the world of RVs, we learned that there exists a whole subculture–a real community of nomads who travel throughout the U.S. and Canada, driving or pulling rigs that are often in excess of 30 feet long and sometimes reaching 40 feet. Many are truly “mobile homes.”
It’s quite common for RVs to have a tow vehicle; this is true for both a pickup truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer or a self-powered RV pulling a second car, SUV, or motorcycle. In any case, we encountered the perennial question: “Where do you park an RV?”
Some cities and destinations have anticipated this. The visitors’ center in Fredericksburg (a wonderful Civil War memorial and education center) has specifically marked, oversized parking spaces for RVs and buses. By contrast, the City of Charlottesville is a parking nightmare for RV drivers. We stopped at the visitors’ center when we entered town and a police officer had no idea where to direct us except to a construction site! We found an empty lot but it was all reserved parking and this was a Saturday, so we parked and called the number on the sign, offering to pay for a day. The person who answered threatened to send a tow truck immediately unless we moved our vehicle, despite the fact that the lot, with approximately 50 spaces, was completely vacant.
We had wanted to tour the campus of the nearby university and do some shopping, but apparently RVers are not welcome in Charlottesville.
The community of RVers is a large and growing group; often older (many we encountered were 50-plus) and obviously with disposable income. A typical Class C costs more than $100,000, and a large Class A can run up to a half-million or more.
Parking professionals should take note of this growing and affluent market and develop ways to accommodate these nomads. Partnerships with surface lot owners in towns, better information and wayfinding, and simple friendliness would help. I’m sure RVers would gladly pay for the space, if they could find it.
David M. Feehan is president of Civitas Consulting, LLC.