Pelland Blog

Yes, It’s Still Made in the USA

July 3rd, 2024

A few years ago, I wrote about companies with lifetime product warranties. As more and more “American” businesses have moved their production overseas in search of lower labor costs, many of those warranties have either been eliminated or seriously watered down. Soon after I wrote that article, two companies on my list – L.L. Bean and Lands’ End – abandoned their long-standing unconditional warranty policies. Many companies blame consumer abuse of their warranties, but the fact is that it is difficult to stand behind a product that is outsourced to factories in China where corners are cut in order to reduce costs and remain price-competitive. On the other hand, there are companies that have steadfastly maintained their domestic manufacturing, like Buck Knives in Idaho and Darn Tough Socks in Vermont, and who still stand behind rock-solid warranties.

In addition to the quality of the products, there are reasons for seeking out products that are Made in the USA. Despite artificial intelligence and automation breathing down the necks of so many workers today, if people do not have dependable jobs and reliable sources of income, guess what? … they cannot afford camping vacations!

The Biden Administration recently announced that 100% tariffs would be imposed upon Chinese electric vehicles (EVs), a critical industry that needs to be protected from foreign government-subsidized competition that is intended to monopolize global markets. Before you think that Chinese EVs are not being sold in the United States, think twice. If you are a Costco member, the Costco Auto Program is selling the 2024 Polestar 2 EV. A Swedish company with offices around the world, Polestar’s EVs are manufactured by Geely in China. Though not electric vehicles, Ford is also manufacturing its Lincoln Nautilus SUV in China, and General Motors is doing the same with its Buick Envision SUV.

I recently went into The Home Depot to buy a simple brass garden hose nozzle. I didn’t want one of those nozzles with all of the dials and doodads that break after a few uses, but the only brass nozzle was made in China. Some people might jump at the low price, but I decided to do my research, and I found that a company called Orr Screw Machines, Inc., located just outside of Pittsburgh, is manufacturing ORRCO hose nozzles that are 100% sourced, manufactured and assembled in the USA. Not surprisingly, they have the highest consumer rating of any similar products on Amazon. I now own two of them!

With all this in mind, I have attempted to compile a list of products that are made in the USA or Canada that you probably use in your business and may want to consider when making your next purchase. Many might even be items that can be sold in your campground store. Yes, quality may cost more, but reliable domestic manufacturing is always your best bet in the long run. Fortunately, many of the items that are routinely purchased by campgrounds are large and bulky and have always been manufactured here at home.          

The List

STIHL: Stihl was founded in Germany, which is also noted for its manufacturing quality. When I bought my Stihl chainsaw, it was still made in Germany, with only the bar made in the USA. Serious loggers and tree maintenance crews will only be seen carrying the distinctive orange saws. Today, nearly the entire line of Stihl gasoline-powered outdoor tools are made in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

TEKNOR APEX: Neverkink RV / Marine water hoses carry lifetime guarantees and are manufactured in plants in 8 American cities. Sold in Ace Hardware, Camping World, Lowes, The Home Depot, True Value and many other retail locations.

UNITED CHARGERS: If you own an EV or want to provide charging options to guests, their Grizzl-E no-nonsense chargers are built to last and made in Canada. (I know, I own a Grizzl-E Avalanche!)

LEATHERMAN TOOLS: From Tim Leatherman’s original multi-tool in 1983, the company has expanded into an extensive line of knives and multi-tools that put the Swiss army knives to shame. Essentially a toolbox that fits in your pocket, glove compartment or accessory sheath, Leatherman Tools have been built in Portland, Oregon since day one. Not surprisingly, the products carry a 25-year warranty.

MAGLITE: The full line of Maglite flashlights is reliably made in Ontario, California.

GENERAC: The leading name in standby power supplies, portable generators, and solar battery storage manufactures 100% of its products from its factories in Wisconsin.

KITCHENAID: Since 1915, it has been no secret that KitchenAid mixers have been the best you can buy. They are manufactured at the company’s main plant in Greenville, Ohio. If you are in the area, take a factory tour!

TIBOR REELS: If you are a fly-fishing enthusiast, you are familiar with Tibor Reels. Each reel is still hand made in the company’s Delray Beach, Florida plant and carries a lifetime warranty.

BATTERY MART: This online retailer sells over 300 different types of batteries, as well as accessories such as jumper cables, that are all American made. Brands include Energizer, Big Crank, Deka and Odyssey.

DURA-BILT: RV awnings, screen rooms, and related products all manufactured in Pennsylvania.

ROGUE: Founded in a garage in 2006, Rogue has grown into one of the most respected international names in the manufacturing of a wide range of fitness equipment and barbells. Based in Columbus, Ohio, the company sets the standard for what Made in the USA means.

SUN DOLPHIN: Paddleboats, paddleboards, kayaks, and other small watercraft made in Michigan.

ALUMIDOCK: Long-lasting, maintenance-free aluminum docks and related products, all made in New York.

RESQME: This is the original emergency car escape tool that mounts on a keychain. The 2-in-1 tool is a seatbelt cutter and window breaker. Made in California, their products can be found at Walmart, Costco, and other retailers.

DULUTH TRADING COMPANY: The company’s Best Made collection of work boots and clothing are all made in Minnesota.

DULUTH PACK: Speaking of Minnesota, Duluth Pack sells an extensive line of American bison leather, American cowhide leather, wool and canvas products made in Minnesota.

RED WING SHOE COMPANY: Red Wing boots have been made in Minnesota since 1905. The company even has a repair department that will restore a trusty pair of boots to like-new condition.

LODGE: The highest quality cast iron skillets and cookware are all made in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

ORIGINAL SHERMAN COOKERS: The Original Sherman Cookers and fire pits are built in Massachusetts, from primarily domestic components. Built to last, they carry a lifetime warranty.

PHELPS HONEY WAGON: Portable sewage disposal units built in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania.

GERBER TABLES: Picnic tables, park benches, bicycle racks and more, made from wood, metal, and recycled plastic, manufactured in Wisconsin.

My apologies to the many companies that have not been included in this list, due to space limitations, particularly companies that specialize in serving the outdoor hospitality industry. Of course, just about every RV, cabin, glamping tent, camping pod, Conestoga wagon and yurt is built in either the United States or Canada. The trick is to go online, search for a product that you would like to purchase, then add the words “made in USA”. Just think. The people who are making the products that you purchase just may be your next camping guests. And wouldn’t it be nice to have one less container ship carrying goods from China hit a bridge in a major American port city?

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Spring Cleaning Is Always in Season

June 27th, 2024

I recall years ago when the first days of spring meant that it was time for spring cleaning. Winter storm windows were removed, windows were opened, bedding was hung outside to air out, rugs were beaten, winter clothing was stored with mothballs, and it was a semi-official sign that winter was over. These household routines are a thing of the past, but every business that caters to an in-person clientele needs to go through a self-assessment and airing-out process at least annually, if not on an ongoing basis.

A spring opening procedure is more obvious for northern campgrounds that closed in the winter and go through a reverse winterizing routine prior to welcoming their first guests of the season. Wherever your park is located, there is more involved than simply turning on water lines and checking for leaks, and removing the mouse traps and sweeping out cabins that were closed up for the winter. The most important tasks involve the visual elements that can make or break an arriving guest’s first impressions. The last thing you want is to put that person on edge, wondering what he or she will find next that will fall short of reasonable expectations.

Those “first impressions” obviously include your entrance and registration desk, but they also include your restrooms, roadways, site amenities, recreational equipment, and much more. When you check into a hotel room, what is the first thing you do? You inspect the bathroom. I remember checking into a motel in upstate New York years ago, where the bathroom was pretty dismal, but rolling down the bedding uncovered a two-inch diameter spider nested on the center of the sheet. There was no way on earth we would be spending the night, and there was no possibility of that establishment ever recovering from that negative first impression.

Far from complete, here is a checklist of some of the factors that create first impressions and that deserve a periodic evaluation at your park.

  • Your Entrance: Is the landscaping maintained, healthy, and weed-free? Is the entrance roadway properly paved and free of bumps and potholes? Is your sign free of chips and peeling paint, is it properly lighted, or is it ready for repainting or replacement? Even if your municipality does not have a sign ordinance, or if your sign is grandfathered in, it might be time to take matters into your own hands with tasteful and appealing signage.
  • Your Front Desk: The people at your front desk and registration area are perhaps your most important employees, definitely not people who get replaced from season to season, earn the lowest wages, and are expected to excel in personal communications skills with little or no training. Keep in mind that, if you have a gate guard, he may have the opportunity to create an even earlier first impression – either positive or negative – prior to a guest even reaching your office. Prior to arrival, your front desk staff also has an opportunity to either excel or fail based upon their telephone etiquette as they field inquiries. If a guest is lost trying to find your entrance after a 7-hour drive, the last thing he wants is to be immediately put on hold! If you can’t handle the volume of incoming calls, it is time to add another phone or another person to answer the calls. Of course, callers will expect to reach voicemail during the off-season and off-hours; however, if you are available to take a call during those times, do so. The caller will be highly impressed. What callers do not want to sense is a lack of response, whether that is an unanswered phone, a non-reassuring outgoing message, or a phone that is answered in an unprofessional manner. It is essential for the business phone number to forward directly to either the owner or manager of the business and that the call be either immediately answered or returned within minutes.
  • Rental Accommodations: You want first-time campers in particular to have the kind of outstanding experience that will turn them into lifetime campers. Be careful about overselling your amenities, particularly at a time when “glamping” and some really exceptional rental accommodations are becoming far more commonplace. If a furnished rental unit is designed to sleep 6 people, the kitchen utensils should not be limited to 3 forks, 2 glasses and 4 chipped plates (as mentioned in an actual campground review). There should be a printed inventory of furnishings (that are checked and replenished by housekeeping between rentals) that will allow guests to know exactly what is included – and what is not included. Do they need to bring their own towels and bed linens, or do you offer a linen service, and if so, is there an additional fee?
  • Restrooms: At the risk of addressing the obvious, your restrooms should be modern, clean, well-ventilated (or heated or air conditioned, depending upon the climate and time of year), well lighted, and impeccable maintained. Nothing will create a worse impression than an out-of-order sign, broken tiles and empty soap dispensers. Hygienic standards that may have been commonplace two generations ago or in pre-pandemic times are clearly no longer acceptable.
  • Campsites: Would you dine in a restaurant where you were brought to a table that had not been cleaned after the previous diners? Would you stay in a hotel room where housekeeping had not cleaned the room after the previous guests? There is a reason that your check-out and check-in times are not one and the same. Without exception, every campsite needs to be thoroughly inspected, not only at the start of the season, but after the departure of every guest. The site should be clean of any trash and debris, with particular attention paid to fire rings, picnic tables, and any rocks that might need to be moved or tree branches that, if left untrimmed, might put a scratch on an expensive new RV.

Always be sure that both you and all of your employees understand that guests are both your lifeblood and your livelihood. Meet or exceed every expectation and do everything possible to make every guest feel both welcome and appreciated.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Thinking Small Is More Important Than Ever

April 24th, 2024

The idea to “think small” worked remarkably well for Volkswagen, in its famous advertising campaign from the Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising agency that started in 1959, cited by Advertising Age magazine as the best ad campaign of the twentieth century. Today, Volkswagen of America is commemorating its 75th anniversary of selling cars in the United States, where it all started with an enterprising businessman who imported two Volkswagen Type 1 vehicles that proved quite difficult to sell in the city of New York.

The Type 1, due to its shape, became informally known as the Beetle, and it was followed by the even more quirky Type 2, which had a variety of informal names that included the Transporter, Camper, Station Wagon, Bus, Microbus, and (in Germany) the Bulli. Eventually, these quirky vehicles caught on with a segment of the public that was attracted to the unconventional appearances, air-cooled engines, and counterculture appeal. The VW Microbus became the semi-official vehicle of Woodstock, Haight-Ashbury, and Arlo Guthrie and the Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.

Americans have always had an inherent desire to support the little guy or the underdog. We see it in sports, and we see it with increasing frequency in our day-to-day buying decisions. Even online, I prefer to buy from small merchants on Etsy or eBay, rather than putting more money into the billionaire pockets of Jeff Bezos. With so-called dollar stores notoriously hammering the nails into the coffins of local merchants in small towns across America in recent years, I was highly encouraged to read the news this week (in March 2024) that the Dollar Tree chain would be closing nearly 1,000 of its stores, mostly those operating under the Family Dollar name, in 2024. This may not bring back the merchants who were forced to close due competitive Goliaths moving into their neighborhoods, but it may be a sign of a turnaround in consumer behavior.

Many people today make a concerted effort to buy local and support small businesses. This new consciousness is behind the resurgence in family farming, farmers markets, and the purchase of farm shares throughout much of the country. I am a craft beer afficionado, and I have not purchased or consumed a brew from any of the international beer conglomerates in decades, but I regularly support at least a couple dozen local microbreweries. Even when purchasing general merchandise, unless I have no choice, I will only purchase goods made in the United States or Canada. If I need lumber, rather than going to a big box lumber yard, I go to the sawmill operation down at the corner of my road.

It’s Story Time

If you are following my train of thought, and if you have your eyes wide open regarding the rapidly conglomerating ownership in the campground industry today, you may realize that there are opportunities for small, individually owned parks to prosper. Sort of like “show and tell” back in kindergarten, telling your story is the best way to introduce yourself to people. Guess what? If they like what they hear or read, you may have set the foundation for a multi-generational relationship. To get started, it would probably be a productive exercise to take the time to put your story down on paper. What is the history of your campground, and what is your story as its owner? Tell people why you bought your park, and what you are seeking to accomplish. Are you a new owner, or are you the fifth generation of Smiths to run Peaceful Acres? We are not talking about a business plan or formal mission statement. We are talking about personalizing the differences between your business and your bigger, less personal competitors.

Here are a few tips for what might be included in your story, but above all else, make it personal and from the heart:

  • Why did you decide to buy (or build) your park? What is it that you are seeking to offer your guests or that differentiates your park?
  • What did you do in life that took you to this point in time? Did you work in customer service, the public sector, or did you perhaps work in a big company that downsized or moved its production offshore? What lessons did you learn that you will bring to your business, and how do you plan on doing things differently? Many people will directly identify with your prior experience.
  • Talk about your family and what it means to you. Are there family values that are now part of your business ethics? Is your park the kind of place where you want your own children to grow? In fact, are your children working with you as the next generation?
  • What are your long-term goals for your park? It is amazing how people will be willing to help you to attain your dreams and will want to be a part of seeing them materialize, but they need to know what those goals might be. Share your dreams, and get your customers emotionally involved.
  • What are you doing – personally – that makes your park different from many others? If your life includes some sort of Eureka moment or epiphany, tell the story.

Word Association

Ask a few of your campers for the first word that comes to their minds when they hear the name of your campground. Ask first-time arrivals why they chose your park. If the answers are price, a color or a mascot, you may need to be putting greater effort into telling your story. If the answer is a word that conveys an emotion or a concept – anything from enjoyment to security to a friendly environment – you are probably on the right track. Use those same words in your marketing, recognizing that the qualities that are drawing guests to your park today are the same qualities that will allow you to widen your markets.

Tell your story, and try to personalize every aspect in a coordinated marketing campaign. Add either a personalized “About Us” page to your website or place that content front and center on your site’s Home page, put your photo (or a family photo) in your advertising, and tell the story in the first person. Speak directly to your customers, in a friendly manner, telling them what “we” can do for “you”. Your message will strike a resounding chord, and receptive consumers will respond.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

FAQ Pages Make More Sense Than Ever

April 20th, 2024

There is typically a formula behind the content of most campground websites, with the navigation pointing visitors to the essential information that differentiates any one park from its competitors, including a link to a reservations page where the site’s “call to action” may be finalized. The content will likely include a list of amenities, a listing of accommodations and their accompanying rates, a site map that allows potential guests to visualize the entire park at a glance, a comprehensive listing of area attractions, travel directions, a calendar of events, an outline of rules and policies, and perhaps a photo gallery and one or more Google 360 or YouTube videos. Often overlooked is a page of FAQs – the acronym for Frequently Asked Questions.

Although there may be some overlap with a park’s rules, as well as reservation and cancellation policies, a list of frequently asked questions – and, of course, the answers to those questions – can be very useful in helping guests to plan their stays prior to their arrivals. They also help to minimize the likelihood of misunderstandings and surprises that can set a negative tone upon a guest’s arrival and during that guest’s entire stay. Another big advantage of an FAQ page is its ability to streamline the workflow in your office, particularly when it comes to needlessly answering repetitive questions on the telephone. If you are being asked the same questions day after day, it is an indication that those questions are not being answered on your website or that the answers are buried away in a location that is not easily found. Let an FAQ page come to the rescue!

Most typically, an FAQ page presents a list of brief questions in a conversational format. When users click on a question, it either expands into content that discloses the answer, or it links to a list of answers at the bottom of the page. Although those recurring telephone questions will certainly be included, here are some specific topics to consider adding to your FAQ list:

  • Pet Policies and Restrictions: Let your guests know in advance if you limit the number of pets they may bring, restrict certain breeds of dogs, or charge a fee to bring their pets. Also outline the pet-owner’s responsibilities. If you have a dog park or dog wash, be sure to promote that here.
  • Check-In and Check-Out Times: Let your guests know your specific arrival and departure times, as well as any early check-in or late check-out fees, if applicable.
  • Hours of Operation: These would include hours of operation for your office and store, laundry, game room, any food services that you may offer, honey wagon service, and propane fills. You should also outline the hours of operation for recreational amenities such as your swimming pool, miniature golf course, jumping pillow or water park. A guest who has been on the road all day and can’t wait for a dip in your pool needs to know in advance that it closes at 7:00 PM. While you are listing hours, be sure to mention your quiet hours.
  • Add-On Fees: Particularly at a time when many parks try to offer all-inclusive recreational amenities, let your guests know if there are fees to use any of those amenities. If wristbands are required, is there an additional fee? Guests should also be informed in advance if there are fees for things like parking an additional vehicle, a gate card deposit, or use of restroom showers.
  • Fishing: If your park offers opportunities for fishing, let your guests know whether or not a license or fee is required. If a pond is completely within your property, there is probably no state fishing license required; however, if your park adjoins a lake, a license is likely to be required. In many instances, there will be no license required for children under a certain age; however, a father helping to reel in a catch probably needs to be licensed. Also be sure to let them know if they may keep any fish caught or if your fishing is catch-and-release.
  • Boat Usage: Hand-in-hand with fishing, are guests allowed to launch their own boats in your pond or lake? If so, are motors allowed, or are there any other restrictions? If you rent canoes, kayaks, or paddleboats, now is the time to let people know.
  • Rental Accommodation Details: Let your guests know what is included – and what is not included. Do they need to bring their own towels and bed linens, or do you offer linen service, and if so, is there an additional fee?
  • Usage Restrictions: Amusement parks typically have signs indicating that “you must be this tall to use this ride”, and you need to let your guests know if any of your recreational amenities are restricted to guests over a certain age, height, or other limitation.
  • Visitor Policy: List any restrictions, including fees, on your guests’ visitors. These policies might vary when they apply to seasonal campers as opposed to weekend campers. May visitors bring pets, do they have full use of facilities, where do they park, and is there a limit to the number of visitors per site?
  • Group Facilities: If your park has a safari field, picnic grove, pavilion, or otherwise offers facilities that appeal to groups, promote that fact.
  • WiFi: Is your WiFi free or fee-based, what are the usage limitations, is the coverage widespread, and is a password required?
  • EV Charging: Do you allow – or prohibit – the charging of electric vehicles at your campsites or a central charging station? If so, what are the fees involved?
  • Tobacco, Alcohol, and Marijuana Use Policies: Where may these be used within your park, and what areas are off-limits? Make your policies clear and enforceable.
  • Prohibitions: If you prohibit fireworks, firearms or other types of weapons, generators, political flags, or any type of offensive behavior, let people know in advance. It is never safe to presume that every potential guest will routinely demonstrate basic standards of courtesy or respect for fellow guests.
  • Secondary Vehicles: May guests use personal golf carts, ATV’s, mopeds or other vehicles within your park during their stay? Outline insurance requirements, age restrictions, and be sure to list exceptions for people with disabilities.
  • Forms of Payment: List the credit cards that you accept, along with outlining your policy on the use of anything other than cash for payment. If you charge any credit card processing fees, disclose those up-front.
  • Cancellations and Refunds: At the risk of repeating yourself, list these policies again and make them crystal-clear.

In addition to adding an FAQ page to your website, it is highly advisable to direct guests to this page and encourage that it be read in its entirety. When a guest makes a reservation, it could include an acceptance of policies that involves a digital signature. Rather than simply saying “thank you”, add a link to your FAQ page, suggesting that visiting the page will help to ensure the most enjoyable stay possible.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Look to the Skies for Greater Occupancy

March 15th, 2024


You are probably aware that there will be a total solar eclipse visible across much of the United States and Eastern Canada on April 8, 2024. Entering the United States from Mexico, according to NASA, the path of totality will extend through portions of the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, along with the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Some of the major American cities that will experience totality include Dallas, Idabel (Oklahoma), Little Rock, Poplar Bluff, Paducah, Evansville, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, Burlington, Lancaster (New Hampshire) and Caribou (Maine). If you have a resort anywhere along this path, you should already be preparing to welcome an influx of guests, even if it means opening your park prior to the normal start of your season.

Celestial events of this nature present an enormous opportunity for tourism draw. One of my clients near Erie, Pennsylvania was sold out 6 months in advance, and the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing has devoted an entire page of its website toward promoting what is essentially eclipse tourism.

Nighttime Events

Total solar eclipses are not that frequent an occurrence. In fact, the next total solar eclipse that will be visible from within the contiguous United States will not be until August 23, 2044. It is too soon to plan 20 years in advance, but there are plenty of other, far more frequent upcoming celestial events that your park can promote in 2024. Everybody knows that there are no guarantees when an event involves the weather; however, you need to honestly evaluate whether your park actually offers dark skies if you are going to be promoting nighttime celestial events. This not only means that your park is far enough away from city lights, but you must also ensure that there is no light pollution emanating from within your campground itself, which involves such things as persuading guests to turn off exterior lighting and to agree not to drive around the park after dark.

Learning how our eyes react to light is as much an educational opportunity as the celestial events themselves. For example, if you have a viewing area in an open field, guests need to understand that even one person entering the area with a bright lantern is going to temporarily diminish the viewing capability of every person within that field. A burst of light from a ground source will cause people’s pupils to go from a state of dilation (allowing in a greater amount of light, allowing the viewing of dimmer sky objects) to a temporary state of miosis (reducing the ability to see dimmer sources of light), where the recovery period will likely be several minutes. A small headlamp or flashlight with a red lens or LED will be more than adequate for walking while having minimal impact upon other guests.

The brightness of celestial objects is measured using a magnitude scale that was devised by ancient Greek astronomers, where the brightest objects have the smallest numbers and the faintest objects have the largest numbers. As examples, the full moon has a magnitude of -10, whereas the faintest star visible to the James Webb Space Telescope has a magnitude of +34. In a truly dark sky setting on Earth, the human eye can see stars and other sky objects that are as dim as magnitude +6, whereas the dimmest star visible in a typical city would be at magnitude +3.

Lunar Events

Lunar eclipses can be visible somewhere on the planet between 2 and 5 times per year, always when the moon is in its full phase. As with solar eclipses, total lunar eclipses are the most impressive. Lunar eclipses, sometimes called blood moons or red moons, are visible over a much wider area because they are much slower processes than their solar counterparts. There will be a penumbral lunar eclipse on March 25, 2024 and a partial lunar eclipse on September 18, 2024, but the next total lunar eclipse will not be visible in North America until September 7, 2025. Supermoons are full moons that appear larger than most, due to their elliptical orbit coming closer to the Earth, a term referred to as perigee. Supermoons will occur on September 18, October 17, and November 15, 2024.

Comets

Viewing of a lunar eclipse is less prone to the aforementioned issues of light pollution, due to the brightness of the moon, but dark skies are essential if your guests are to enjoy the viewing of a meteor shower or a passing comet. Although most of us are familiar with Halley’s Comet, which approaches our planet every 76 years, the arrival of comets is mostly unpredictable, sometimes presenting spectacular (and sometimes disappointing) opportunities, particularly when viewed with the naked eye or small telescopes. Halley’s Comet was a remarkable sight in 1910, less dramatic in 1986, and could be impressive again in 2061, but that is – once again – far off in the future. Comets that are expected to be visible to the naked eye in 2024 include Pons-Brooks in March and April and Tsuchinshan-ATLAS in October. Without a telescope or binoculars, many comets look somewhat like fuzzy stars, but Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS has the potential to be spectacular. That is one you should be promoting!

Meteor Showers

Meteors are generally formed by the dust trails of comets. Meteor showers, where the Earth passes through a cloud of such dust, follow a rather predictable schedule, but their impact from year to year can be truly hit or miss. Once again, dark skies are essential. The most reliable meteor showers in the Northern Hemisphere in 2024 include the Quadrantids which peak on January 3-4, the Perseids which peak on August 12-13, and the Geminids which peak on December 13-14. In Northern states, the Perseids are always the main attraction, with their appearance during the summer season. Meteor showers are most impressive when there is no moon in the sky to drown them out with its brighter light, and meteors are easily viewed with the naked eye. In fact, due to their swift appearance, binoculars and telescopes are of no use.

Make it an event!

Particularly if a comet is going to be visible, invite a local amateur astronomy club to come to your campground. These clubs are usually seeking to increase their membership, and they will bring telescopes that your guests, both old and young, can look through. A state-by-state directory of local astronomy clubs can be found on the Love the Night Sky website. Next, promote the event to ensure full occupancy, referring to my recent post on this topic.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Getting a Grip on Your Google Business Profile

February 17th, 2024

Many people are confused by what they see when they perform a Google Search, particularly when they are looking for their own business and think that it is missing from the search results. Scam operators capitalize upon this confusion and offer so-called search engine optimization (SEO) services that generally accomplish little more than obtaining your credit card number. To protect yourself from falling prey to these scammers, it is helpful to understand how Google search results are presented.

Combined, Google and Bing dominate well over 90% of the global search market share. Although Google’s market share has slipped slightly while Bing’s market share has correspondingly increased, Google still maintains nearly 85% of the total. The remainder goes to minor players such as Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and the heavily censored Yandex and Baidu search engines that are used in Russia and China. Although Bing should not be ignored (and will be explored in a future column), the bulk of your search presence is coming from Google.

Just as cable, satellite, subscription and streaming services might all be thought of as “television” today, many people think that everything that appears on Google is part of the same “search” results. That may have been the case years ago, when most searches were performed on computers, and the results consisted of organic search results (the results based upon SEO) preceded by paid “Sponsored Search” results. Today, two thirds of searches are performed on phones, and many of us search for “(type of business) near me”. We don’t even type in those searches with the same frequency as we did a few years ago, now that we can simply tap the little microphone icon in the search box then search using spoken words.

Google Business Profile

Due to the way that those searches are performed, along with Google’s “mobile first” indexing, the first search results seen are the Google Places results that are accompanied by a Google Map with business markers. These results are based upon your Google Business Profile and your location in relation to the search, such as “campgrounds near me” or, for example, “campgrounds near Paducah KY”. The results should show three campgrounds that are closest to that downtown location upon which the map is centered. In this case, there are three campgrounds that appear in the initial view, and a fourth park – a KOA that is slightly more distant from downtown Paducah – only appears, along with several other properties, if you click on the “More Places” link or drag the map. This is despite the fact that the same KOA appears first in the actual organic search results.

That situation can be frustrating when you think of your business as being “near” a particular city, town, or landmark. It gets even more confusing when you consider that “near” is a relative term, where over 50 miles might be “near” in Montana or North Dakota, while less than 5 miles might be “near” in Connecticut or New Jersey. Most importantly, if you have not created a Google Business Profile, you are essentially not near anything! Drop what you are doing and check to see if you have a GBP by doing a Google search for your business by name. If you do not see that profile to the right of the search results on a computer or at the top of the search results on a mobile device, it is time to create that profile. Alternately, if you see a GBP that contains a link that says “Own this business?”, it is time to take control and complete the profile that has been auto-generated. To understand the importance of this, bear in mind that many people do not scroll beyond these Google Places to see the actual Google Search results!

If you do not see a Google Business Profile – which will frequently be the case with a new business – go to https://www.google.com/business/ to get started. It is free to create this profile, you should do it yourself, and – most importantly – you do not need to pay anybody to provide this service. As the page says, “Take charge of your first impression”. When you manage your profile, the first thing you want to do is to check for and add any missing information, such as your website URL, phone number, correct address, and most appropriate business category. You will next be able to add your logo, photos, and attributes – such as your business being veteran-owned, if that is the case. Once this has been done, it is time to use your GBP to truly interact with potential customers. Post special offers, publicize events, respond to Google Reviews, send and receive direct messages, and create a set of frequently asked questions and answers.

Get Verified

If you do not see a green check mark next to the name of your business on your GBP, click on the “Get verified” link that should appear in its place. If your business has a Google Search Console profile, you will qualify for instant verification. More likely, you will have to utilize one of the standard verification methods, typically a phone call, text, or an email. Less commonly, you will have to use mail verification, where your code will arrive on a postcard within about 7 days or so and must then be entered before it expires in 30 days. Whichever method is being used in your instance, do not edit any of your business information until after the 5-digit verification code has been received and entered. All of this is easier than it may sound, if you just follow the instructions step by step. As I have warned, there are scam companies out there that will also offer fee-based “GBP optimization” services, but beware of those alleged services just like the fee-based SEO outfits. Claiming and verifying your Google Business Profile is something that must be done, and you can easily do it yourself!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Selling Tickets to Your Event

January 19th, 2024

For many outdoor resorts, special events are a key to customer satisfaction and an uptick in reservations. In many instances, events are low key and may not even involve fees for participation. In other instances, fees may need to be established in order to cover costs. The latter might include food events such as a pig roast or chicken barbecue, or a concert featuring a local performer. Ticket sales for events such as these may not even involve actual “tickets”, but might simply require a sign-up sheet in your office with a cut-off date in instances where a head count is important.

At other times, park owners might be thinking bigger, particularly if a park offers the available open space and local zoning regulations allow. Rather than simply appealing to your existing clientele, events might present an opportunity to bring in participants from the broader public, quite possibly from beyond the local area. These events might also introduce a new round of people to your business, folks who might like what they experience and subsequently become recurring guests. In those instances, it is obvious that selling tickets in your office would be an inadequate means of getting things done.

Regular readers of my column will know that I advocate against handling and processing fees being passed along to customers. That said, whether absorbing those fees or passing them along, when you need an online ticketing solution for a specific upcoming event, you will want to find an effective option that will minimize the fees involved. On the topic of fees, keep in mind that there are always two sets of fees involved with online ticket sales: the ticket processing fee itself and the online credit card processing fees. In general, if you are selling two $50.00 tickets to a customer, expect your total fees to range from $4.50 to $6.00 for that $100.00 transaction (or over $10.00 in the last example shown below).

One of the big advantages of online ticketing is what is referred to as “attendance management”, where advance payment prevents you from losing money with “no-shows”. In addition, most of the online platforms include a significant volume of features and functionality such as a simple CMS (content management system) interface, free accounts, useful mobile apps, and the ability to start selling tickets almost immediately. Some will integrate with an existing online payment gateway that you might already be using, and others will funnel payments through platforms such as Stripe.

Here are a few options to consider:

Ticketleap: Ticketleap makes things simple. Accounts are free, and the platform provides you with integrated marketing tools that will help you to promote your event and monitor and analyze sales. A mobile app, available for both Android and iOS, streamlines the process of check-in on the day of the event and will even allow you to sell tickets at the gate. Other functions include the ability to use promo codes (such as discounts for your campers or for early ticket sales), the incorporation of event waivers, the ability for customers to purchase tickets for multiple events in one shopping cart transaction (if you offer multiple events during the course of the season), and a post-purchase message that confirms the transaction and can be customized to include a suggestion to share on social media. The fees are 2% + $1.00, plus a 3% credit card processing fee (unless you use your own processor); a flat fee of only 25¢ for any event priced at $5.00 or less; and no fees (other than credit card processing) for onsite sales. One drawback is that ticket revenue is only disbursed to you 4-7 days after the event, which may be a deal-breaker in many instances.

TicketSource: TicketSource is a UK-based company that offers many of the same services and functionality. Its fee is 3.5% + 99¢ per ticket, including all payment card processing costs. If you would like to use your own Stripe account for payment processing, TicketSource’s fee is simply the 99¢ per ticket. There are no charges for in-house booking or for free events. In addition, there are no fees for events that might be cancelled or postponed, with customers fully refunded the purchase price of their tickets. This would be useful in instances where a performer cancels, there ends up being severe weather the day of the event, or you simply cancel the event due to inadequate ticket sales. TicketSource releases funds to your bank account on the Monday after the day of the event (usually showing in your account by Wednesday), or you can collect revenues as your tickets are sold if integrating with your Stripe account.

TicketTailor: Another company based in the UK, TicketTailor has perhaps the easiest integration for ticket sales directly from your website. What makes TicketTailor different is that you buy advance credits to cover the transaction fees, resulting in a fee that could be anywhere from 30¢ to 52¢ per ticket. It accepts payments in a wide range of forms, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, and you receive your payments instantly via either Stripe or PayPal. For credit card processing, the company is specifically partnered with Stripe, where the U.S. fees are 2.9% + 30¢ per ticket, with a total price that is probably one of the best options available, particularly useful if you plan to absorb the fees into your ticket prices.

Yapsody: Based in California, this is yet another option that is noted for its low pricing. Their fees are 1.75% + 59¢ per ticket, with payouts directly to your bank account through your existing online merchant services provider (and whatever fees will be incurred there.) The company also offers ticketing tiers for volume users, with discounts from 20 to 60% on ticketing fees, making this platform particularly profitable for venues that plan on selling 5,000 or 10,000 tickets over the course of a season.

Eventbrite: The gorilla of the online ticketing industry, Eventbrite could be right even for small venues and events. Unlike the other platforms, Eventbrite has either an event fee or a monthly fee. Their Flex plan is primarily for businesses with one-time events, where the U.S. fee is $9.99 per event with up to 100 tickets, $24.99 per event with up to 250 tickets, and $49.99 per event with unlimited tickets. With their Pro plan, a monthly subscription fee is charged for unlimited events, based upon seating capacity. The U.S. fees are $29.00 per month for up to 100 tickets per event, $79.00 per month for up to 250 tickets per event, or $159.00 per month for unlimited tickets per event. In addition to these per event or monthly fees, the U.S. ticketing fees are 3.7% + $1.79 per ticket sold, plus a payment processing fee of 2.9% of the total order. Clearly, this is the most expensive option of the five platforms that I have outlined; however, it is difficult to compare apples with apples from one platform to another. Providing similar features and functionality as the others, the big difference with Eventbrite is its online marketing clout. It had a network of 90 million active ticket buyers in 2022, and they will actively market your event to people seeking an outing in your area, essentially generating ticket sales that you would not otherwise reach on your own.

Just as we all have choices when it comes to finding local events, there are many choices in online ticketing services. Do your homework carefully, contact the companies and ask for demos, then choose the one that will help to make your upcoming event an unqualified success.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Don’t (Always) Blame Your Webmaster

November 28th, 2023

Half the people with websites don’t even know what SEO stands for, but, like an addict, they never think they are getting enough of it. Without question, there is an obsession with the mystery of search engine optimization. Over the course of a year, I field dozens of emails and phone calls from people who have mistakenly been given the impression that there are magicians afloat who hold the keys to secrets that can outsmart Google at its own game. I hate to deliver the bad news, but don’t blame the messenger when I advise that there is no such magic wand. Want proof? Do a Google Search for “best magician in the world”, scroll down, click on “More results”, then repeat, repeat, and repeat. The DavidCopperfield.com website is as invisible as the Statue of Liberty in one of the great magician’s most famous illusions.

We are living in a time when too many of us expect instant gratification in everything that we do. The owner of a new (fictitious) campground in central Oklahoma, with a new website that was just launched the previous month, cannot understand why his website does not appear in the results — er, at the top of the results — when he searches for “campgrounds in the United States”. In large part, this expectation is driven by the countless emails that slip by our spam filters and the robocalls that evade even the best junk call filters, all claiming exclusive knowledge to the secrets to search engine placement. The first thing that you need to understand is that 99.99% of the outfits that contact you regarding so-called SEO services are scams, typically working out of overseas boiler room operations. Some may even represent that they are calling you from Google itself, in this case only the first in a series of utter falsehoods. They may also claim to be a “Google Partner” and display a badge to that effect. If that is the case, they are in violation of the Google Partners badge guidelines which specifically state, “You cannot show the Partner or Premier Partner badge on any materials, such as websites, that advertise Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services without a prominent notice saying such SEO services are not verified or endorsed by Google.”

If that in itself does not make you suspicious of what is being offered, dig a bit deeper and you will often learn that the alleged services involve “creating links in blogs, websites, and directories that are intended … to generate traffic to your website … so that search engines know that this site is important for both its content and the references made to it on other websites.” The “blogs, websites, and directories” referenced are usually owned and maintained by the SEO outfits themselves, with manufactured content that nobody accesses. These backlinks carry little if any credibility with legitimate search engines (which are basically Google and Bing these days) and have zero influence upon search results. In fact, these “White Hat SEO” services are in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines because they involve the creation of what are considered to be unnatural or artificial links. Rather than helping the SEO of your website, paying for these alleged services could actually inflict harm upon your site’s SEO by penalizing your site.

The Domain Name Services scam. Either throw it out or forward it to the consumer protection division of your state Attorney General’s office.

My favorites are the scammers that send what looks like an invoice, with a “search engine optimization fee” to “renew your listing” on some worthless directory, implying that non-payment will result in the removal of your website from the directory and thereby cause its disappearance from Google search results. It is amazing how many people panic, do not read the fine print, and turn over what is typically about $300.00 — as well as their credit card information — to these thieves.

In other instances, the SEO scammers get really nervy and ask you for control panel or FTP (file transfer protocol) access to your website, or ask for WordPress account access credentials, so they can go in there to “fix” things. Do NOT under any circumstances give anybody other than your webmaster this level of access. If you ask them to provide you with the recommendations that you might provide to your current webmaster, they will probably hang up and move on to their next call, hoping to find somebody more naïve. In other instances, they might send you an auto-generated report that could look confusingly impressive if you are your own webmaster, although any competent webmaster will recognize the report as inconsequential bunk. In rare instances, particularly if you built your own website or hired a local tinkerer to build your site, there might be some serious errors and oversights that are in fact impeding your site’s SEO and that should be corrected. Would you like somebody working on behalf of a nearby campground entering your park and handing out sales literature to your campers, attempting to persuade them to camp at their park instead of yours? Think about it. If you have a relationship with your webmaster that is based upon trust in that person’s or company’s competence, there is no reason to panic. Anybody can find minor shortcomings and areas for improvement in another person’s work, but those are rarely of a degree that impacts a site’s search engine ranking. More often than not, the “problem” is impatience and unrealistic expectations on the part of the business owner. Going back to my fictitious campground in central Oklahoma (fictitiously located in Enid), an expectation to appear at the top of the search results for “campgrounds in Oklahoma” is unrealistic. When searching for such a broad term, it only makes sense that the results will feature broad resources such as Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation, KOA, Jellystone Parks, and Good Sam. It is somewhat more realistic to expect to appear in searches for “campgrounds in Garfield County OK”, and much more realistic to expect to appear in searches for “campgrounds near Enid Oklahoma”. Guess what? The most important factor behind appearing in “near me” searches is to claim and maintain your Google Business Profile, which is something that you, not your webmaster, should be doing. Needless to say, the paid “SEO experts” will never offer you such simple and useful advice.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Liability Releases: Better Safe than Sorry

November 2nd, 2023

Liability can take many forms, and it is important for every business to take reasonable precautions to protect its interests in the event of either physical or emotional injury claims on the part of guests. Injuries of either type may often lead to claims for compensation and damages, even when the injuries are the result of reckless behavior on the part of a guest or the failure to follow posted rules and regulations. Businesses with greater inherent risks of injury must take greater precautions to protect themselves from the threat of lawsuits.

Campgrounds with greater inherent risks might include parks with ziplines, shooting ranges, river rafting, paintball fields, jumping pillows, mountain biking, mechanical bulls, and climbing walls; however, every park has liabilities, and there are probably more personal injury attorneys within a 50-mile radius of your park than there are churches, schools, and hospitals combined.

Many campgrounds utilize blanket release forms known as crowd releases. Crowd release forms are generalized notifications that your guests are surrendering their reasonable rights to sue pursuant to their use and enjoyment of your park and its facilities, and they typically apply to the taking of photographs or videos. A crowd release will warn people that photography and filming may be ongoing at any time, that the images may be used in any and all media, in perpetuity, and that the guest consents to the use of his or her image without compensation by nature of entry; however, crowd releases rarely cross the line and attempt to cover the issues of physical liability. Crowd release forms also constitute rather weak defenses in a court of law.

If your park offers recreational amenities or activities with greater inherent risk, you will want to incorporate some very specifically detailed liability releases. There is no question that risky activities offer a great deal of appeal, particularly among younger guests, and can go a long way toward expanding a park’s customer base; however, it is necessary for your business to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of its guests and to take measures to protect itself against lawsuits that may result if injuries are inflicted during the pursuit of those activities. Needless to say, the incorporation of these precautions should go hand-in-hand with the purchase of suitable liability insurance. In fact, the right releases could actually lower those insurance premiums.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are activities where participants assume a degree of risk. For years, the National Ski Areas Association has promoted a Responsibility Code that has attempted to shift responsibility for injuries upon skiers and snowboarders, not the ski area operators. The code advised users to ski in control, be able to stop at all times, avoid those downhill, yield to those uphill, not stop where they would obstruct a trail, utilize retention devices, observe signage, keep off closed terrain, and know in advance how to use lifts.

The Responsibility Code was a start, but the extensive text printed on the backs of most lift tickets these days is now designated as a “Ski Ticket Contract and Express Assumption of Risk”. The following text is typical and taken from the back of a lift ticket: “I accept and understand that skiing, snowboarding, and other forms of winter mountain sports are hazardous, with many inherent risks and resulting injuries or death. By my purchase and use of this ticket, I freely and willingly accept and voluntarily assume all risk of property damage, personal injury or death which results from my participation in winter sports activities and the inherent risks of such activities as they are defined herein.” This statement is followed by an extensive paragraph that itemizes those inherent risks, both natural and man-made. Most lift tickets these days have been replaced by RFID passes, where the purchase requires the acceptance of broad liability terms.

One might think that this broad wording would release the business operator from almost all liability; however, the ski industry takes added measures to reduce the risks of injury, including the use of ski patrollers to open and close trails during the course of the day, sweep trails at the end of the day, and evacuate injured skiers from the slopes. Grooming, signage, the increased use of helmets, chairlift safety bars, and improvements in the safety of equipment also help to reduce the likelihood of injuries. Despite all of these efforts to reduce liability, enforceability is never ironclad. In December 2014, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a season pass waiver was unenforceable, opening the way to a $21.5 million personal injury lawsuit, and this ruling has since been used to chip away at the overall validity of waivers and releases.

Accidents Happen

Bearing in mind the potential legal issues of enforceability, parks that provide higher risk amenities should follow the lead of not only the ski industry but also the amusement park and attractions industry, which routinely enforces height, weight and age restrictions, along with providing a long list of health conditions that should preclude participation. Those conditions typically include, but are not limited to, pulmonary problems, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, pregnancy, obesity, seizures, prior injuries, fear of heights, and psychological or psychiatric problems. Yes, that list covers just about everything. Health issues require a separate signed waiver.

Despite all those precautions, mistakes happen, sometimes when the wrong decision is made on the part of a ride attendant. Think back to June 2022, when Tyre Sampson, who was 100 pounds over the weight limit for the world’s tallest freefall ride – at ICON Park, in Orlando, Florida – slipped out of the ride’s safety harness and fell to his death. The owners of the ride were fined $250,000.00 by the state of Florida and agreed to remove the ride. A subsequent wrongful death lawsuit was settled out of court in March 2023. Within the outdoor hospitality industry, you might recall the case of a three-year-old girl, who died in 2021 after falling through an unsecured septic tank lid at a campground in New Jersey. In a more recent incident, the ski injury lawsuit against actress Gwyneth Paltrow gained broad media attention. The wealthy actress was named the defendant in the initial lawsuit, although the Deer Valley Ski Resort would have been named defendant under the so-called premises liability theory under most other circumstances. Paltrow countersued the plaintiff for $1 and a jury found in her favor after only 2 hours of deliberation (and thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.)

Take Precautionary Measures

When I enjoyed the use of a high ropes and zipline course not that long ago, I signed both a written liability release and a health waiver. I was provided with copies of each, I was provided assistance in properly suiting up for the activity, and I was provided with basic instruction in the use of the equipment. In another outing, I visited a resort that operates mountain biking trails and a mountain coaster. At this facility, guests are directed to a row of computer kiosks where liability releases and health waivers are digitally signed before tickets may be purchased.

There are a number of companies that provide reasonably priced digital release services that work with either computer kiosks or mobile apps. These services save time, avoid the generation of a mountain of paperwork, are secure, offer cloud storage, provide analytical information, and can even integrate with email marketing programs as a means of generating return visits. Some services even allow seasonal businesses to adjust their subscription services between their peak season and off season. A few of the companies that you may want to look into include:

Whether your park uses crowd releases, liability releases, health waivers, or a combination of all three, it is important to make every effort to protect its interests and to avoid the many catastrophic impacts of personal injury lawsuits.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Capitalize Upon Historic Highways

October 11th, 2023

The goal of nearly every campground is to increase occupancy rates, either through increased reservation numbers or extended stays, particularly in the off-seasons. There are many ways to accomplish this. One is to invest in new park features and amenities that will appeal to a broader range of guests, but this can be a costly proposition with a lengthy period for investment recovery. Another way is to get lucky due to your proximity to somebody else’s investment, such as a new attraction that opens nearby (and hoping that it does not decide to open its own campground.) Yet another way is to benefit from a nearby campground that either ceases operation or has an unpopular change in ownership or management. All of those options involve changes of some sort, either on your part or on the part of other entities. One other means of building your business is to capitalize upon something that is already there, perhaps right before your eyes yet unnoticed for decades.

Americans (and perhaps most of humanity) have had a love affair with highways and the freedom of the open road for well over a century. When the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act was signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1956, it authorized the construction of 41,000 miles (today, more than 48,750 miles) of modern highways that would make both local and cross-country travel easier than ever. Inspired by the Autobahn in Germany, when you want to get somewhere fast, the Eisenhower Interstate Highway network is the way to go; however, not everybody is in a hurry all of the time, and the Interstates were not the first long-distance highways in America.

My intrigue with historic highways was kick-started with my reading about a year ago of “The Lincoln Highway: A Novel”, the New York Times bestseller written by author Amor Towles. More recently, I watched the pilot episode of the Route 66 TV series that premiered on October 7, 1960 and ran for four seasons on CBS. Two drifters traveling in a Corvette (that is said to have been replaced by sponsor Chevrolet every 3,000 miles) brought tremendous attention to what was sometimes called “America’s Main Street”, while doubling sales of Corvettes in the first season. I thought it odd that Tod and Buz found themselves in Mississippi in that first episode, nowhere near the actual highway, but it turns out that the series was actually shot on location in 40 states and rarely along the actual highway route.

Prior to the Interstate highways, there was a network of U.S. highways that travelled long distances, in some instances from coast to coast. Everybody is familiar with the appeal – enhanced through song, books and that popular TV series – of U.S. Route 66, which runs from downtown Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in California. Even before the numbering system was introduced, there were a number of established highways crisscrossing the country. Many of those highways, since bypassed by the new Interstates, still at least partially exist and appeal to a new generation of travelers who are seeking out historical landmarks and vestiges of a disappearing culture. Many of these highways are actively promoted by regional tourism associations, such as the PA Route 6 Alliance and Pennsylvania Wilds, both of which promote “400-plus miles of history and heritage, small-town culture, friendly people, and wondrous sights too-often forgotten” in the state of Pennsylvania.

In the early days of auto touring, travelers frequently had tents that attached to their Model T’s and stayed at “tourist camps”, the precursor of today’s modern campgrounds. It only makes sense to capitalize upon your proximity to nearby historic highways, reaching out to campers who are seeking to slow down, stay a while, and explore the history in your back yard. Most of these highways have had their identities usurped by numbered highways that either follow or parallel their routes, but there is adventure in following even vestiges of these original historic highways. Find one near your park, then promote your proximity. Partner with local historical societies, auto clubs, and tin can tourists, perhaps offering your guests “treasure maps” to special places of inspiration, fading away and forgotten without your help. The first on my list are two of the most popular historic highways in America.

The National Road

The National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road, was a 620-mile improved highway, the first to be constructed entirely with funds from the federal government. It was built over the course of more than 25 years in the early 1800s, preceding the advent of the automobile. It connected Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois, where construction ceased due to a lack of funds. Built to accommodate stagecoaches and Conestoga wagons, its use declined with the arrival of railroads but was revived by the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which introduced the grid system of numbered highways. The National Road evolved into both the Victory Highway (honoring American forces who died in World War I) and U.S. Route 40, with a resurgence of roadside businesses that catered to travelers. Later, as had been the case with the railroads, U.S. Route 40 was bypassed by Interstate 70. Today, The National Road Heritage Corridor is a government-business partnership designed to enhance tourism, where The National Road is now considered a tourist destination in itself. If your park is located anywhere along this route, you should be involved! There are historical bridges, monuments, tollhouses, milestones, and much more to be rediscovered along the route within in the following states: MD, PA, WV, OH, IN, and IL.

The Lincoln Highway

Spearheaded by Henry Joy (President of the Packard Motor Car Company), Carl Fisher (head of the Prest-O-Lite Company, which made the first automobile headlights, also developer of the city of Miami Beach, and developer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), and Frank Seiberling (co-founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company), The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental road specifically designed for automobiles in the United States. Funds were generated through donations both large and small, including Thomas Edison, former President Theodore Roosevelt, and current President Woodrow Wilson. One notable business leader who profited the most but refused to participate was tightwad Henry Ford, with the excuse that building highways was the government’s business. Dedicated in 1913, The Lincoln Highway passes through 14 states and over 700 towns and cities as it connects New York City with San Francisco over the course of some 3,000 miles. Evolving into U.S. Route 30 along two-thirds of its way, The Lincoln Highway today is somewhat of an historic patchwork quilt that attracts motorists who seek out its original remnants, ghosts of roadside attractions, and some of the 2,400 concrete markers that were installed along the route by the Boy Scouts of America on September 1, 1928. Although there is really nothing of note in the short section in the state of New York, there are historical bridges, original Boy Scout markers, sections of original brick pavement, monuments to Abraham Lincoln, so-called “roadside giants” that were designed to capture the attention of tourists, and landmarks that have been recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. States along the route: NY, NJ, PA, WV, OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, CO, WY, UT, NV, and CA.

Route 66

Established in 1926, U.S. Route 66 was one of the country’s first numbered highways, the first to be completely paved (in 1938), and quickly became one of the most famous roads in the United States, almost synonymous with what Americans envisioned as the open road. It extended 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, passing through 8 states in the process, and it has played prominent roles in popular literature, songs, television and movies right up through the 2006 animated film Cars. Although formally replaced by segments of the Interstate Highway System in 1985, portions of the original road in at least 5 states have been designated a National Scenic Byway now known as Historic Route 66.

Famous for its art deco diners and service stations, motels with oversized neon signs, and curious roadside attractions, the highway also passes nearby natural wonders such as Meteor Crater, the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon, not to mention the site of the first McDonald’s restaurant. Although the original route can no longer be driven in its entirety without a few detours, many of the roadside attractions have recently been restored to somewhat of their original luster and appeal, particularly after the National Route 66 Preservation Bill was signed back in 1999. States along the route: IL, MO, KS, OK, TX, NM, AZ, and CA.

The Dixie Highway

Inspired by the earlier Lincoln Highway and covering nearly 1,500 miles, the Dixie Highway connected Chicago to Miami on a Western route, and Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan to Miami on an Eastern route, along with cutoffs in both Georgia and North Carolina. Like its predecessor, this highway route was also spearheaded by Carl Fisher, who you may recall was the developer of the city of Miami Beach. The highway also passes by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that Fisher also developed. Once again, civic responsibility was balanced with a good measure of private interest, in his desire to get travelers from the Northern states and Canada to travel to Miami Beach and perhaps stop to visit his speedway along the way. Not actually a single highway, this route was actually a network of consecutive paved roadways, with a distinctive “DH” logo painted on utility poles along the way. It still follows a network of now numbered routes, including stretches of U.S. highways, state routes, and Interstate highways. It passes through Louisville, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando, and the Everglades on its way to Miami. There are still monuments along the way and even sections of original or restored brick pavement. States along the route: MI, IL, IN, OH, KY, TN, NC, SC, GA, and FL.

The Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway

Completed in 1924, this route was designed to compete with the National Road and the Lincoln Highway but started disappearing as soon as 1926. As its name implies, it extended from New York City to Los Angeles and was designed to promote the city of Colorado Springs and its Pikes Peak toll road. Often unpaved, with rivers sometimes unbridged, most of this highway would evolve into what would become U.S. Route 36. Keep in mind that most towns desperately wanted to be included along these major highways, due to the commerce and tourism that easy automobile transportation could generate. In this case, Colorado and northern sections of Kansas and Missouri felt that they had been bypassed and slighted by the Lincoln Highway. Needless to say, the promoters of this alternative route mostly came from those three states. The same group also promoted a similar North-South route, the Jefferson Highway, that extended from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada.

Like the Dixie Highway, the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Parkway was more of a patchwork of existing roads than a totally new highway. It included parts of the Lincoln Highway in the East, the National Road from Maryland to Indiana, and then pieces of other existing highways and traversing the scenic Rocky Mountains before linking up, once again, with the Lincoln Highway and the Overland Trail. Today, pieces of old cars and hubcaps can be seen by sharp eyes along the route. States along the route, though marginally including the Lincoln Highway sections of NY, NJ, and PA: OH, IN, IL, MO, KS, CO, UT, NV, and CA.

Historic Trails

There are other instances of historic trails that were made for explorations and migrations either on foot or by wagon, and that never evolved into long-distance highways. Two of those are included in this final installment in this series, the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail, nonetheless presenting opportunities to get off the beaten path to discover historic sites and markers that commemorate important routes, generally in our country’s westward settlement.

The Oregon Trail

First used by wagons in 1836, the trail was established 25 years earlier, when it could only be accessed by foot or horseback. Once the wagons started rumbling, over 400,000 brave souls drove from “back east” in Kansas City, Missouri to the Pacific coast or various stops along the way, usually traveling in wagon trains for added safety in numbers. As was often the case with early highways, use of the Oregon Trail essentially ended once the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Travel by train was faster, safer, and far less expensive.

Parts of the Oregon Trail have now evolved into the routes of Interstate highways 80 and 84, passing through many of the towns that came into being in order to serve the needs of emigrants on the original trail. Highlights that may be visited include the Hollenberg Pony Express Station, in Kansas, on the Nebraska line. It is an extraordinarily rare example of an original building, in its original location, that served as a source for supplies, drinks, and mail services for travelers on the Oregon Trail. Over the state line into Nebraska, Fort Kearney also offers a historic glimpse into the migrations on the trail. Although it was discontinued as a military post in 1871, when the buildings were demolished and the land opened to homesteaders, Fort Kearney has since been rebuilt as Fort Kearney State Historical Park. Further along the trail, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, in Wyoming, presents another collection of exquisitely restored historic buildings. Scenic highlights along the former Oregon Trail include Scotts Bluff National Monument and nearby Chimney Rock National Historic Site, in Nebraska. Chimney Rock was a renowned landmark that offered assurance to migrants that they were on the right path and making progress westward. Still a remarkable landmark, it has lost some of its height over the decades due to natural erosion, weathering, and lightning strikes. States with historic sites, original wagon ruts, registers where emigrants carved their names, and landmarks to explore along the route: MO, KS, NE, WY, ID, WA, and OR.

The Mormon Trail

The Oregon Trail was actually a network of trails that followed the paths of earlier routes established by fur traders and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On the same token, the Oregon Trail later served as part of the routes of the subsequent California Trail, Mormon Trail and Bozeman Trail, all now collectively known as the Emigrant Trail. Now preserved as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, the treacherous 1,300-mile trek of the Mormon Trail took members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, generally on foot or pushing wooden handcarts, from their original settlements in Ohio, Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley in what was not even yet the state of Utah. This migration took place from the mid-1840s to the late 1860s, once again until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The trek began after the assassination of the church’s prophet, Joseph Smith, and frequent persecution of its members, primarily due to the polygamy that was commonly practiced at that time. There were settlements along the way, including Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, in Iowa, and those that evolved into the cities of Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. Crops were planted at many of these settlements, to replenish the food supplies of subsequent emigrants. Because this trail followed much of the same route as the earlier Oregon Trail, many of the same landmarks served as noted points of reference.

Noteworthy attractions along the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail include Fort Caspar (in Caspar, Wyoming), featuring reconstructions of the fort buildings, a Mormon ferry, and a section of the Guinard Bridge that crossed the North Platte River; the North Platte River Crossing (west of Fort Laramie, Wyoming), where the iron girder bridge built in 1876 still stands; the Mormon Handcart Historic Site (in Alcova, Wyoming), where visitors can experience handcart travel using handcarts (available for use at no charge) along the site’s trails or take a hike to Martin’s Cove, where 500 Mormons took shelter during a blizzard in 1856. States along the route: IA, NE, WY, and UT.

Many Mormon landmarks may be explored outside of the trail corridor, including the Smith Family Farm, Sacred Grove, and Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center (in Palmyra and Manchester, New York); the Priesthood Restoration Site (in Oakland Township, Pennsylvania); the Joseph Smith Birthplace (in Sharon, Vermont); Historic Kirtland (in Kirtland, Ohio); Historic Nauvoo (in Nauvoo, Illinois); and Cove Fort (in Beaver, Utah). Most of these sites offer free guided tours.

Conclusion

There are many other historic highways that can still be navigated today to one extent or another, offering fascinating glimpses into American history, particularly the first half of the twentieth century. Some of these include the Yellowstone Trail (connecting Plymouth, Massachusetts with Seattle, via Yellowstone National Park, with drivable sections still existing in Wisconsin, Montana, Idaho, and Washington), the Bankhead Highway (from Washington, DC to San Diego, with many remnants existing in northern Georgia along “Old U.S. Route 29”), the Susquehanna Trail (DC, MD, PA & NY), the Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway (VA and NC), Black & Yellow Trail (Illinois to Wyoming), Pan-American Highway (Texas to Minnesota), and the Jefferson Highway, that extended from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada. Once again, if your park is in close proximity to any of these historic highways, trails and landmarks, it would make sense for you to promote these nearby attractions, reaching out to the many potential guests who have an interest in exploring these important parts of our country’s history.

This post was written by Peter Pelland