Boat, RV sales rise as people try escape to great outdoors

Ed Godfrey The Oklahoman

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Ben Gadd has probably spent 80% of his time this summer on his houseboat on Lake Murray.

“I have never seen so many brand new boats,” Gadd stated in an email last week to The Oklahoman.

He should expect to see a few more. Jordon Nichols, owner of Nichols Marine in Norman, sold three more boats on Saturday.

“The boat business is busier and better than it has ever been before,” said Nichols, who by the end of June already had sold more boats than he did all of last year.

Customers are buying every kind of boat, both new and used, and Nichols said Saturday his inventory was down in Norman to just two ski boats. Normally in August, as summer ends and school starts back, the boat business dries up. Not this year as many people are trying to quarantine from COVID-19 at the lake.

“The exact opposite this year,” Nichols said. “Sales have just continued.”

Nichols said he has friends who sell RVs and ATVs and the story is the same. The fishing industry also is booming. Billy Moore, general manager of Lucky Lure Tackle in Oklahoma City, said a Berkley representative told him there are 2 to 3 million new anglers in the country because of COVID-19.

Gary Giudice, owner of Blue Heron Communications in Norman, thinks there are even more. Giudice’s marketing and communications company has been representing clients in the outdoor industry for 33 years.

“All this spare time people have had they have gone fishing, so they are buying like crazy,” Giudice said. “All the lakes are full. The boat ramps, you got to park a half-mile away to put a boat in.”

Anyone who has visited an Oklahoma lake or state park can attest to how crowded the outdoors have gotten this summer. But with the fiscal year ending June 30, now there are some numbers to back up what people have been seeing.

Chad Crow, social media specialist for Oklahoma State Parks, said 11 million people visited the state’s parks in the last fiscal year, a 20 percent increase over the previous year.

April, May and June are normally the busiest months for the park, usually welcoming about 3 million visitors. This year, during May through June, 5 million people visited Oklahoma parks. Many of the license plates seen were from Texas, Crow said.

“It’s been pretty insane, for sure,” Crow said.

And it likely is not going to slow down anytime soon. People who call to check on cabin rentals in the Beaver’s Bend area in southeastern Oklahoma are often told to check back next spring.

“It’s busier than it’s ever been,” said Dian Jordan, a cabin owner and real estate developer in Hochatown near Broken Bow.

McCurtain County imposes a 3% percent lodging tax, and for June the taxes collected were more than $254,000, which is more than twice what was collected in the previous June, Jordan said. Most of that was generated by the cabin rentals in the unincorporated area of Hochatown, she said.

Beavers Bend State Park and the surrounding area are one of the most beautiful and popular outdoor destinations in the state. When the pandemic first arrived in the spring, cabin owners took a hit financially for a couple of weeks as people tried to determine what was going on in the world, Jordan said.

But since then, cabins in the Hochatown area have been occupied every day of the week, she said.

“That’s the eight million people in Dallas escaping the city,” Jordan said. “They were canceling their vacations to Europe, canceling their vacations to Disney World and wanted a quick drive to a destination where they felt safe with their families.”

Some wonder if the great migration of people to the woods means more litter at lakes and campgrounds and more wear and tear on public hiking trails. But most agree the resurgence of interest in the outdoors is a good thing.

“I am disappointed that it Jordan said residents from a large city like Dallas with all of its light pollution come to southeast Oklahoma and discover there are stars in the sky.

“We are introducing people to nature who have never experienced it before,” she said.

Giudice said getting outdoors is good for the soul.