June 08, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Travel News

Most Americans have yet to realize that it’s still possible to own their own private vacation cottage in a resort destination for as little as a fifth of the price of a site-built home or condominium.

But that doesn’t worry Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA). “At least one hundred thousand families have already discovered the merits of park trailers on their own, and they’re doing a better job of selling these units to their friends and family than we could ever hope to do on our own,” he said.

Garpow added that the park trailer business, which began with a handful of companies in Elkhart County, Ind., has become a nationwide phenomenon, spawning nearly 50 manufacturers in 10 states from Florida to California. “We’re still a relatively small niche of the RV industry,” he said. “But we’re a lot bigger than we used to be, and we’re achieving record sales largely by word of mouth.”

Unlike mobile homes, which are a form of low-cost, permanent housing, park trailers are 400-square foot movable resort cottages that are designed exclusively for part-time recreational use. Often referred to as “park models,” these units are typically upscale in appearance and often feature bay windows and lofts as well as walnut, oak or maple cabinetry.

Most park trailers are placed on campsites, which can be leased for $1,500 to $5,000 per year, depending on location. However, some consumers also place their units on private property and use them as vacation homes, subject to local zoning requirements.

“People are realizing that park trailers enable them to have a weekend getaway or seasonal retreat cottage for a lot less than a condo or site-built home, particularly if they want to place their unit in a resort setting,” Garpow said.

Indeed, while condos and site-built homes in resort areas typically cost $200,000 or $300,000 or more, park models generally cost less than $50,000, with the average price being in the $38,000 range. And given the rising cost of real estate, combined with the increasing attractiveness of the units, park trailers are increasingly becoming a product of choice for working professionals, families and retirees seeking a weekend retreat or summer vacation home.

Park trailer shipments were up 8 percent in 2005, setting an all time industry record. And last week, the industry produced its 100,000th unit, with RPTIA issuing its 100,000th inspection seal to Stone Canyon Lodges in Bear Creek, Ala.

Garpow said park trailers are growing in popularity because they are the right vacation product at the right time. Longtime park trailer manufacturers, for their part, have been astounded by their industry’s growth.

“The industry has seen more growth than I ever expected would happen when we first started building park trailers in the seventies,” said Bob Kropf, a retired former owner of Kropf Industries Inc. in Goshen, Ind., one of the original pioneers of the park trailer industry. “It’s quite exciting.”

A product of the energy crisis of the 1970s, park trailers were initially designed for snowbirds who craved sturdier and more spacious trailers in an era characterized by skyrocketing fuel costs and a national focus on the production of energy-efficient vehicles with reduced towing capacities. Park models offered a solution because they were designed for use in campgrounds, they were bigger than the typical travel trailers and fifth wheels, and yet they didn’t have to be towed.

Elkhart County, Ind. currently has 14 companies in the park model business with a combined workforce of roughly 800 employees who produce approximately half of the nation’s park models. But park trailer manufacturers have also set up shop in many other regions of the country, partly to accommodate rising demand and partly to lower their shipping costs to local markets.

In the past 10 years, for example, Georgia has seen its park trailer industry grow from one to 10 manufacturers, while North Carolina’s park trailer industry has increased from one to three manufacturers. Texas, for its part, didn’t have any park trailer manufacturers for many years. It now has four park trailer manufacturers targeting the Texas Hill Country, the Rio Grande Valley, the Midwest and the eastern half of the United States.

Demand for park trailers has been so strong that some RV and manufactured homebuilders that opted out of the park trailer business several years ago have gotten back into it, including Riverside, Calif.-based Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. and Fairmont Homes of Elkhart, Ind.

To interview park trailer owners, dealers and manufacturers or to learn more about the park model industry, please contact William Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association, at (770) 251-2672 or visit the association’s website at