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Thursday, February 11, 2016

State park funding: Thinking out of the box (or the potato sack)

By Russ and Tiña De Maris

As state park managers continue to find themselves caught in the middle of trying to keep the parks up and running and ever-shrinking budgets, two states in the Northwest are trying to get creative.

Back in 2007, Washington park managers were handed nearly $95 million from the state's general fund to keep their parks going for a two-year period. This biennium, they were handed just $21 million – less than a quarter of the amount those few years back. Part of this loss was to be filled by sales of park passes, and the rest of the loss? Perhaps lawmakers figured the parks could conduct bake sales.

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But bake sales aren't the most practical approach to fundraising, particularly when big dollars are required. A little out-of-the-box thinking is what Evergreen State park managers are now trying – and some of the approaches might benefit RVers. One big thing that just might help is filling up otherwise empty RV slots and rental cabins by offering discounts when park visitation is low. Under the park agency's current reservation system, if a cabin or RV space is empty, it still goes for the same rate. State officials say that once they get a new reservation system in place, that won't be the case. If a space is open, park managers can offer it for less money.

Another approach being mulled over is something that outfits like Flying J and other fuel sellers have used to their advantage for ages: Customer loyalty programs. Consider it a "frequent camper discount," wherein the more you camp in the system, the more likely you are to get a discount to bring you back the next time for less. No word on whether the chiefs in Olympia will adopt it, but it's another thought.

Next door in Idaho, when park officials were putting together a wish-list for their budget makers, they decided not to ask for a budget increase. That's probably a good thing, because they would have been more than disappointed: Idaho's governor chopped the park budget by more than 2 percent. Still, park officials aren't huddled up, figuring out how to cut back services – they actually plan on making more improvements.

How so? More creative thinking to the fore in the big potato state. Park prodigies have found that there's actually money to be made in having a campground – so they're planning on building another loop at the already existing Farragut State Park on the southern tip of Lake Pend Oreille, up on the panhandle. Officials declare that overnight stays are "our bread and butter." Entice more overnighters with campgrounds and cabins, and watch the dollars come along.

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Other creative thinking that Idaho has found useful involves sandboard rentals. Sandboards? Yeah, think of snowboarding, only instead of the white stuff users hurl themselves downhill on sand dunes. If you think this sounds like something interesting (other than terrifying), stop by Bruneau Dunes State Park, but beware, the program is so popular that at times you may not be able to rent a board because the enthusiastic downdune boarders have already rented the stock of boards out.

Creative thinking goes a long way. For Idaho state parks, these days only about 10 percent of parks' funding comes from the state budget. That's thinking that far exceeds your average Mr. Potatohead.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Take advantage of other RVers' wisdom -- and save some bucks

An old friend of ours who'd recently bought a big motorhome detailed a "tale of woe," he'd experienced while trying to get ready for a road trip. Somehow things went gunnybag with his "pre-owned" rig's inverter. Aside from having to replace the inverter, he also learned he'd need to have a big, 250 amp fuse to protect it, and some new heavy gauge cables, too.

In an e-mail our friend writes: "I called Magnum the manufacturer of the inverter and they asked me my first name and Zip code and gave me the address of [a marine supply dealer] and they fixed me up with a 250 Amp fuse and holder to the tune of $47.75!"

Regarding two new cables (a six footer, another a foot long) needed for the installation: "Just go down to your friendly Interstate Battery dealer and have a new set made up ...$65.00 lesson learned."

Sad to say, our friend mentions this in the past tense. Over a hundred bucks spent. These were lessons we as RVers had already learned. That fuse? We found one for less than $5.00. The cables? Nothing more than welding cable, which runs about $3 a foot. Our buddy could have done the work himself, and with fuse, "holder" (another do-it-yourself trick), cables and connectors, probably would have spent no more than $45.

The lesson? Before you undertake to spend money on RV fix-ups, ask an experienced RVer. Don't know one? There are many great places on the Internet to get information and share ideas. A variety of RV forums are where thousands of RVers gather to share advice, and in the end, save one another lots of dough.

And like your Grandad always said, "The only dumb question is the one that you don't ask." So don't be afraid to let folks know that you're new to the RV scene and you need a little help. Many old-timers in the RV world are not only a wealth of helpful advice, they're plenty generous with it, too.