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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Regional RV owners forge clubs, friendships, snowbird mini-communities

Illustration by Molly Quinn
Illustration by Molly Quinn

Kennewick resident LaDean Stice calls them her winter friends.

For about 16 years now, she and husband Cliff Stice have taken their motor home to an RV park in Yuma, Arizona, from November to March. They look forward to seeing their snowbird neighbors who make the same annual pilgrimage from cooler climates in the U.S. and Canada.

The Stices, who have a 36-foot Itasca, rank among thousands of RV owners routinely traveling south for winters and forming mini RV communities in warmer-climate states to soak in the sun and outdoor recreation.

“You make some really good friends,” said LaDean Stice, 73, during a Dec. 19 phone interview.

“I line-danced with around 30 people this morning,” she said. “In about half an hour I’m going to play cards with a group of women, so there are lots of things to do. My husband plays water volleyball with about 14 men who get into the pool.”

Spokane residents Jack Cady, 71, and his wife Mary, 69, tend to stick closer to home, but they often take their RV to monthly Winnebago group gatherings as members of Inland Empire Explorers.

The couple usually tow a truck behind the motor home. Sometimes they load on kayaks or their bicycles. After parking their RVs at various parks around the Northwest, they and others in Inland Empire Explorers head out to different activities.

“I play golf, and there are several interested people usually,” Jack Cady said. “There are lots of activities. In Lewiston, there are car shows, and quite a lot of the ladies like to go to quilt shows. There’s camaraderie.”

Stice, president of Inland Empire Explorers, says the group involves about 25 Winnebago and Itasca RV owners. It’s a local chapter of the nationwide Winnebago Itasca Travelers, and a majority of the members live in Spokane, while others are from around the state. Dues are $20 a year.

“We have outings starting in April right through October,” Stice said. “We gather usually for three nights. We go to the ocean, all over. Two couples plan it and they’re called wagon masters.”

Stice and her husband in past months worked with another couple to plan a Coeur d’Alene outing.

“We had 16 coaches, and usually there’s one potluck,” she said. “There’s one night where everyone goes out to dinner. There’s another get-together that’s relaxing with appetizers. There might be sightseeing. We enjoy each other.”

Now, more people of the boomer generation are joining those ranks, as they retire or gain travel flexibility.

“I know that more and more people 50 to 65 are heading south for the winter,” said Steve Cody of DelCreek Productions, which produces the Jan. 19-22 annual Inland Northwest RV Show and Sale at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.

“Statistically, the 55-64 age group is the fastest-growing segment of RV buyers – 55-64 increased to 11.1 percent, while 65-74 was 8.8 percent,” he said. “Boomers are having a huge effect.”

Those who are ages 50 to 65 also are contributing to a recent rise in long-term bookings at RV retirement parks, according to Cody.

“When you are a snowbird and stay at an RV park for a length of time, you form a close-knit community of new friends you get to see every year when our weather turns cold,” Cody said.

Going to year-round events through Inland Empire Explorers is another way RV owners can enjoy the vehicles they purchased, said Jack Cady. He and his wife started going on RV outings about seven years ago with an older motor home. After he retired five years ago, they decided to buy a new RV.

With such a purchase, a dealership often gives buyers a first-year membership to Winnebago Itasca Travelers, Cady said. People then can select an affiliated club to join. Often, club members share tips about RV ownership or help each other out when a motor home needs work, Cady said.

He and his wife enjoy their time with Inland Empire Explorers.

“We make an agenda, and kind of everyone in the group takes a turn for wagon master,” Cady added. “If I am a wagon master, then it’s my job to find restaurants and activities. Usually, we have a dinner in and a dinner out. Other times we have a potluck.

“Our group has what they call a men’s breakfast, actually it’s breakfast for the ladies, and the men are responsible on the last morning before we leave to make breakfast for the group. Several of us get together for various things outside the RV group, now that we’ve got to know each other.”

He’s gone fishing and golfing with some of those RV friends.

In May, many Winnebago owners from around the state go to a larger gathering called the Northwest Regional Rally, he said, held in recent years in Cashmere, Washington. The event attracts Winnebago clubs from all over Washington.

“That’s a fun group,” Cady said. “We see each other once a year. The Northwest Regional Rally has different clubs that take different responsibilities, either sponsoring meals, entertaining or organizing golf. Last year, it was a pirate theme; This year, a Hawaiian theme.”

“I’ve made friends,” he added. “I was new to the Northwest Regional Rally, but people have been going many years, and they run into people they’ve known for some time. It’s like a reunion for them.”

For those who head south for winters, multiple RV parks in Arizona cater to people ages 55 and older, Stice said, although people do live in the parks year-round. Some RV parks include lots containing small, permanent one-bedroom modular homes, called park models with a kitchen and bath.

Spokane residents Don and Carolyn Van Leuven, both 80, have taken their 35-foot motor home to the same RV park in Florence, Arizona, each winter for 14 years. They heard about the community of about 1,800 RV lots from longtime friends, who now live in Arizona year-round.

“This is rare, but we own our lot, and that was part of the reason we chose Florence,” Don Van Leuven said. “We like the area. No one can move us off our lot. We have a homeowner’s association.”

The Van Leuvens’ site includes a park model with a porch and patio. “We spend a lot of time outdoors,” Van Leuven said.

“The first eight or nine years, we stayed in our motor home; then we bought a lot. There are people from just about every state, and Canadians. People are friendly.”

The Florence RV park where they stay includes a club house, six laundry rooms, four pools and multiple activities. The community is about 60 miles southeast of Phoenix.

“We know people from all over,” Van Leuven added. “We have friends from British Columbia. The people next to us are from Illinois. There are four couples of us who golf normally on Saturday. We go out to dinner and we go shopping together.”

Stice describes a similar environment in the Yuma RV park where she stays. The park, with about 300 sites, offers recreational activities, a pool, and WiFi. Some friends from the park have visited the couple in Kennewick during the summer.

Costs vary widely for monthly rentals at different Arizona RV parks, depending on location, size and amenities offered, Stice said. She added that costs in Yuma, which is in southwestern Arizona about 240 miles west of Tucson, can range from $500 to $700 a month, plus payments for electricity and extra cable service. The Phoenix area tends to run higher at roughly $600 to $800 a month, plus extras, Stice said.

“A lot depends on the park itself,” she said. “Some are very big, 1,000-plus sites with more than one swimming pool, tennis courts, racquetball courts, golf course, etc.”

“Eight members of our club come down to Arizona somewhere,” Stice added. “We’ve done it for a long time. There are 50 minimum RV parks where we go, and we’re one of the smaller ones.”

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