By Randy Dotinga Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
September 8, 2008 edition
Park models are small but luxurious 'trailers' that are becoming increasingly popular around the country.
Just about every weekend in August, Indiana computer technician Tom Mackowiak packed up and headed out to meet his wife and teenage children at their "summer cottage" in a campground.
Their living quarters aren't in a house, however, or even a recreational vehicle or mobile home. The Mackowiaks spend their summers in something called a park model trailer, complete with luxuries such as high-speed Internet, central air, and satellite TV.
Smaller than manufactured homes, fancier than many RVs, and a major step up from traditional camping trailers, park models allow families to get away to campgrounds without having to bring their shelter with them. "Your water is hooked up, everything is all set up," Mr. Mackowiak says, and even the air conditioning can be set to turn on before everyone gets there.
"Basically, you're leaving your house and going to your cottage," he explains.
Families like the Mackowiaks are hardly roughing it, and some might question whether they're actually camping. Nevertheless, park models are a popular segment of the campground and "RV resort" industry: An industry spokesman estimated that manufacturers sell 8,000 to 10,000 park models a year, up from 7,000 in the early 1990s.
The units are "basically designed for people who are used to a certain standard of living," says the spokesman, Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association in Newnan, Ga. "The typical unit has quartz countertops, solid oak cabinetry, and Berber carpeting."
Other perks in park models include porches, bay windows, and log siding. The units are 400 square feet or less about the size of a two-car garage.
"It's not supposed to be used as a domicile, a place of abode," Mr. Garpow says. "It's strictly supposed to be a vacation and seasonal dwelling."
The Mackowiaks treat their park model, which they've owned for nine years, as a kind of summer getaway. Mackowiak's wife, Debbie, and their two kids spend the summer at their park model in a campground in Pierceton, Ind., about 105 miles from their home in Highland, just outside Chicago. Away from the hazards of the city, Mackowiak says, his children "get to be kids."
"My son wakes up around 7 or 8 in the morning and goes fishing for a couple hours, then goes swimming," he says. "It's like old-time living. The kids can [even] go out and play in the dark."
Every year, the Mackowiaks ask their children if they want to return. They always say yes, Mackowiak says. "They feel that's where they live. They consider that home."
It's not a cheap home, however. Park models cost an average of $42,000, and space rental runs an average of $4,000 a year, Garpow says.
Under federal guidelines, however, park models' small size confers a financial advantage they aren't taxed as permanent dwellings. And many owners compare their costs with what they'd pay for several weeks at a resort.
It's clear that park model owners "like to have a bit of luxury," says Linda Profaizer, president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
The park model industry has suffered a bit of a downturn recently. "We're not doing bad," Garpow says. "We know that the interest in the product is just as strong as it has been, but a lot of folks aren't feeling as wealthy as they were."
Luxury, of course, never entirely goes out of style. "It really comes down to the comfort level," says Mackowiak of the appeal of his park model. "It's a big difference."
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