Gas prices drain tourists' pockets

But RV'ers keep coming

Posted: Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Record high gas and diesel prices may keep some vacationers home and off the highways this summer, but there are plenty of other motorists willing to siphon the necessary cash out of their wallets and into their tanks to keep their vacation plans rolling.

Frank and Billie Williams don't like the high fuel prices, but they weren't about to let the extra expense stall their plans to visit Alaska. The couple had talked about visiting the Last Frontier for years and now that they are retired, they had the time.

"We piss and moan (about the fuel prices), but we figure it's a chance of a lifetime," Frank Williams said.

The couple drove their diesel-powered truck up from Queen Creek, Ariz., pulling their dual-axle trailer and were parked in camp chairs Monday at Beluga Lookout RV Park at the mouth of the Kenai River soaking up the morning sun.

The Williamses caravanned up with their RV-park neighbors, Eugene and Sharon Lause and their daughter, Patty. The Lauses, who live in Delphos, Ohio, also saw the trip as a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, so they didn't balk at the hefty price of keeping the tank on their truck and trailer rig full.

"(The Williamses) invited us to go, and it took about five minutes to say, 'Yes!'" Eugene Lause said.

Fuel prices are having more of an effect on Howard and Nina Parsons' trip. The couple, who drove their motor home up from Cape Coral, Fla., wanted to make a detour to Yellowknife on the Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territory on their way to the Kenai Peninsula but had second thoughts due to the even higher price of fuel in Canada.

"We've shortened our trip considerably this year," Howard Parsons said.

This is the sixth summer in the past 10 years the couple has driven their diesel-powered motor home to Alaska. High prices didn't keep the Parsons from making the trip, but they have kept the couple's travels within the state in check, since their 34-foot motor home gets about 8.5 miles per gallon.

"If my tank was empty, it'd cost me just within pennies of $200 to fill up," Parsons said.

Parsons' strategy to save money on fuel is to drive to fewer places and spend more time at those places he and his wife do visit.

"I just love running around the state, although I'm doing less running around this year," Parsons said. "I just go somewhere and sit."

Parsons thinks other summer travelers are either doing the same or not going on the road at all.

"I've talked to people on the road, and I've never yet found a full campground," he said. "I definitely think there's less traffic out there."

Randy and Kathy Krell made the trip from Wasilla to Kenai in their motor home to attend a softball tournament on the peninsula. Randy Krell said high gas prices didn't keep them from attending the tournament but would probably keep them from taking a longer trip this summer.

"I don't think we'd probably do a motor home trip down to the Lower 48 this year," he said.

Krell pointed out that although fuel prices might hurt the pocketbook of the individual, the increased revenue in the state coffers is a plus for residents on the whole.

"Actually, the high gas prices are good for Alaska," he said.

Although the prices will keep the Krells from traveling out of state, they won't keep the couple from motoring back to the Kenai when the salmon start running.

"We'll be back to get some of your fish," he said.

Higher gas prices haven't reduced the number of guests at Beluga Lookout RV Park. If anything, business is better this year than last, according to owner Jerry Dunn.

"So far this summer it's better than it was last year," he said. "My reservations are a little bit better."

Still, Dunn is aware that fuel prices are exceptionally high from the small talk from his customers.

"I've heard a lot of complaints from the tourist coming up especially in Canada about the gas prices," he said.

Based on the summer so far, Dunn is hoping for a better than average year. Regardless of how the rest of the season goes, however, he said he can always count on the month of July and its annual influx of dipnetters.

"During dipnetting season it's always crazy here," he said. "We never have enough room then."



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