An Open Letter to California Public Recreation Officials

New California rules are set to effectively end the ability of RVers to use generators to produce power in California:

I am sending this to a number of folks we work with in the USFS and California State Parks.  This generator ban has a potentially high impact on public campgrounds as many public campgrounds have no electrical connections for RV's.  The danger is that with this ban, and without investment on public lands, public campgrounds will lose relevance to a lot of the recreating public.  The recent upsurge in interest by new demographics in camping in the outdoors will almost certainly be reversed.

For years -- and some of you are probably tired of hearing me on this -- I have been arguing that the #1 improvement that public campgrounds should be considering is electrification.  I fully understand that agencies like the USFS tend to have an immediate negative reaction to such proposals, fearing that it would over-develop the wilderness.  But I argue the opposite -- electrification would make campgrounds MORE rather than less natural.

The reason for that is generators.  The public does not want to be away from electricity altogether.  If nothing else, they rely on their phones for a myriad of things -- mapping, emergency communications, information about the recreation area, etc;  some have medical equipment that runs at night; and in many locations it is really uncomfortable to go without air conditioning.  But generators are noisy and an environmental mess.  It is for this reason that I have been an advocate for electrifying public campgrounds to return them to the quiet of nature without any significant changes in their viewscape (just an extra pedestal at every site).

With the potential ban on generators, the need for this sort of investment is even greater.  For all the reasons mentioned above, people simply will not come to the campgrounds in their RV without any option for electricity.  I am not sure how we would staff camp hosts for sites with no power when generators are banned.

I understand that many public agencies do not have the budget for this.  But our company has been providing private capital for exactly this sort of upgrade on public lands for years.  Most recently, we have upgraded 7 large TVA campgrounds from primitive to having power and water at every site.  In the process occupancy has risen from 40% to nearly 100% at all these campgrounds, so we get a solid return on the investment if given a long enough contract length. To do this sort of work, we don't need any guarantees or repayments systems such as those in the National Park Service.  All we need is sufficient time, generally 20 years, on the permit or contract to recoup the investment.

Many of you have permit or contract re-bids coming up in the next few years.  I encourage you to consider using this opportunity to try to attract private investment to some of the campgrounds you operate.  It does not have to be all of them -- there will always be room in the large portfolio of public campgrounds for a range of facilities from primitive to more developed.

Over the years I have seen a number of creative ways of doing this sort of thing, and I have worked with all of your agencies for years and understand your processes and restrictions.  Please let me know if I can be of help.