Trailers Get Hip

Over the years trailers have developed a dubious reputation. Certainly there are fine, upstanding, God-fearing folk who love their trailers, but the derisive term "trailer trash" has struck a resonant if somewhat mean-spirited tone in the country lately. These days though, a whole new psychographic group is turning to trailers not because they have to, but as a wise investment.

Nancy Brown considers herself the ultimate "urban person." Born and raised in Boston, the 53-year-old schoolteacher has spent her entire life in the Massachusetts capital. And, for many years, Brown and her husband, Michael, a federal employee, have taken trips to Wells Beach in the summertime. But like many resort areas across the country, real estate in southern Maine has become quite expensive, and the Browns have come to terms with the fact that it could cost them at least a couple hundred thousand dollars to purchase a weekend retreat cottage by the coast.

Then Brown's sister recently suggested they consider purchasing what manufacturers are referring to these days as a "recreational park trailer."

A trailer? You've got to be kidding.

"I would never stay in a trailer," Brown remembers thinking, adding that she had never camped in her life. But Brown had never seen a recreational park trailer before. And when she visited Seacoast RV's Inc. in Saco, Maine, she quickly realized why record numbers of working professionals and retirees are driving up trailer sales in many areas across the Northeast. Seacoast RV's has experienced some of the strongest growth, with year-to-date sales up 235 percent compared with last year's figures.

"They're not just for retirees, as some people would think they are," said Linda Mailhot, owner of Seacoast RV's. "Professionals use them for a weekend getaway."

Unlike mobile homes, which are a form of low-cost, permanent housing (at least until the tornado comes through), recreational park trailers are movable resort cottages that are designed exclusively for part-time recreational use. Typically upscale in appearance, they often include bay windows and lofts as well as walnut, oak, or maple cabinetry.

"They're really lovely," Brown said of her unit, a Kropf Industries model that includes a 20-foot sunroom and deck. "They're furnished very nicely and they're easy to maintain."

And the private campgrounds that provide seasonal sites for park trailers -- in Brown's case, Meadowledge RV Resort at Wells Beach -- are high quality parks.

"We liked the park because it's very well kept, very well maintained. It's like this lovely little neighborhood. Everybody's piece of property is landscaped beautifully. We have this whole wooded area that's never going to be developed."

The recreational park trailer lifestyle is available at a fraction of the price of a condo or site-built vacation cottage. While condos by the coast can easily cost several hundred thousand dollars, recreational park trailers cost under $50,000, with the average price being in the $33,000 range. Campsites, meanwhile, typically cost just under $3,000 per season. That includes about six months of the summer use and six months of winter storage.

"Do the math and you'll see why more and more people are discovering the merits of recreational park trailers," said William Garpow, executive director of the Newnan, Georgia-based Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA).

While most recreational park trailer buyers are experienced RVers who discover the units when they visit a resort campground that leases or sells seasonal campsites to recreational park trailer owners, more and more people from outside the RV industry are discovering the product.

"We're even seeing more and more families with children buy into the recreational park trailer lifestyle, particularly since 9/11," Garpow said. "People often purchase recreational park trailers not because they can't afford anything else, but because they share similar interests with other outdoor recreation enthusiasts and enjoy the safe and secure lifestyle that high-quality destination campgrounds and RV parks provide."

Richard Denman, owner of Pleasant Acres Farm Campground Inc., one of New Jersey's first park trailer dealers, attributes rising demand to both economic and social factors.

"The decline in the stock market has increased investors' interest in real estate and in income properties, which translates into increased prices," he said.

As a result, many people are finding that the getaway condo is becoming too expensive. At the same time, he said, 9/11 has prompted many people to place a higher priority on quality family time, and campgrounds provide attractive, secure retreat venues that are close to home.

Looking to the future, Garpow of RPTIA sees growing demand for recreational park trailers, particularly in resort locations in the Northeast and the Midwest that are about an hour or two away from major cities. Brown, meanwhile, considers herself fortunate to have taken the time to find out what recreational park trailers are all about.

"We get so much enjoyment from this little trailer," she said. "It's lovely inside. And I have the beach for the summer and I'm not spending thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars."

For more information about recreational park trailers, including regional and national shipment statistics, contact Garpow, visit the RPTIA (Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association) Web site.

Luigi Fraschini, an auto journalist based in Cleveland, is considering the purchase of a recreational park trailer.