HAGERMAN — Owners of an RV park on the outskirts of town say the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation’s plan to install an RV park at the Billingsley Creek unit of Thousand Springs State Park could put them out of business.
Ed Wickham said he and his wife, Beverly, poured their life savings into Hagerman RV Village more than 20 years ago. They built up their business — and in doing so, they say they’ve helped build up Hagerman’s tourism base to what it is now.
The parks department plans an $8 million upgrade to the Billingsley Creek unit just north of U.S. 30 near Wickham’s RV park. The Wickhams are not objecting to the whole plan, just the RV park, calling it unfair competition.
“I don’t feel it’s right,” said Beverly Wickham. “I don’t want my tax dollars going to a business that is going to compete with our business.”
It costs the Wickhams $25,000 each year to advertise in national tourism magazines to draw visitors in, Ed Wickham said. Their guests range from construction workers who rent by the month to snowbirds to those who stay only a night.
In February, “our big groups come in,” said Ed Wickham. “We’re a Good Sam RV park.”
Opinions are mixed on the idea of public entities competing against private enterprise
The park department’s project is a win-win proposition, Hagerman Mayor Noel “Pete” Weir said. The Billingsley Creek unit is expected to be a boon for Hagerman’s economy.
IDPR spokeswoman Jennifer Okerlund agrees, saying the parks department’s intent is to bring in more business, not take business away.
“The rising tide will float more boats,” Okerlund said Thursday, “by bringing in more business to other campgrounds, restaurants, motels and hotels.”
But the Wickhams aren’t convinced. Neither is Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield.
The tendency for government to compete with the private sector recurs every so often, he said. But it shouldn’t.
There’s no state policy against it, Miller said Friday, “but philosophically, the government should never compete with private enterprise.”
Hagerman RV Village includes 68 RV spaces and cabins for rent.
“It’s their retirement,” Miller said. “They had plans to expand, and then this comes along.”
The Wickham claim the Billingsley RV park will take a quarter of their business.
“It all may balance out later on,” Ed Wickham said, “but I don’t think I can survive that long.”
The Wickhams have legitimate concerns, David Landrum, Thousand Springs State Park manager, said Thursday.
The Billingsley Creek plan calls for a full-service, 50-space RV park with a dumping station, plus “primitive” camping will also be available for those who want to rough it, Landrum said. Plans also call for an amphitheater, arboretum, information huts, a large picnic shelter, a group camp and a concrete “pump track” for bicycles.
“But it’s not an ‘us-against-them’ issue,” he said. “We’re all part of a small community. We want people to work with each other so we will all benefit.”
“I don’t feel it’s right. I don’t want my tax dollars going to a business that is going to compete with our business.” Beverly Wickham, an owner of Hagerman RV Village