Or at least that’s the situation for full-time RVers like us in the current pandemic environment. It’s not completely obvious how best to follow the instruction to “stay home” when, as RVers like to say, “Home is where we park it.” For the estimated 1 million people in the US who live full time in RVs, a cascade of closures has made it difficult to find a place to park where we can be assured that we can safely hunker down for the duration of the virus crisis. Not only are most campgrounds in state and national parks closed, but many private RV parks have closed as well. Even dispersed camping on federal lands has been closed in many places.
In the last installment of the blog I mentioned that we were able to secure the one (1) available spot at a private RV park near Apalachicola in the Florida panhandle. We chose this area because it is close to where we own property on St. George Island and plan to build a home later this year. Now that we’ve been here two weeks and the park is now half empty, we assume that plenty of people have wisely chosen to either cancel their trips or cut their visits short.
Us Versus Them
Closures of parks and camping areas are hard for RVers, but the ugliest and most challenging dynamic that we saw emerging was fear-based tribalism and a tendency to view the problem as a threat from the outside. That tribalism has been on full display here on the Forgotten Coast.
On March 21 Franklin County closed all public beach access in response to Panama City Beach closing its beaches; Franklin County didn’t want spring breakers to leave Panama City and come here instead. On March 24 the Apalachicola City Commission closed all lodging in the city for tourists and leisure visitors, effective March 25. This terminated all hotel, RV, and marina stays except for long-term stays of 28 days or more. On March 27 Florida’s governor issued an executive order prohibiting vacation rentals throughout the state. On March 29 the Florida Highway Patrol set up checkpoints on the interstates leading into Florida to intercept out of state drivers, particularly from New York and New Jersey, and communicate the state’s self-quarantine requirements. The common thread here is that out-of-town visitors are seen as the true source of potential virus transmission as opposed to, say, a resident of Franklin County who contracts the illness from visiting the Walmart an hour away in Crawfordville or a medical specialist in Tallahassee. The reality is that the people most likely to spread the virus are those who don’t engage in social distancing, regardless of their home address. (And RVers are very good at spending long periods of time with few personal interactions.)
Yet other parts of the country have taken or tried to take similar steps. The islands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks are restricting access across bridges and ferries to permanent residents — even keeping out owners of properties on the islands who are not full time residents. The three counties of South Texas that surround Big Bend National Park all shut down campgrounds, hotels, and AirBnBs to deter people fleeing from urban areas to their small communities. In New England, 10,000 residents of Cape Cod signed a petition to close the Sagamore Bridge and cut off access to the entire peninsula to everyone other than year-round residents, medical personnel, and supply trucks. All this activity has made a few things clear. First, since we are Florida residents and we are already in Florida we should not leave the state until the crisis is over. Second, it behooves us to become as “local” as possible.
We are here because we own property on St. George Island, so we looked into the process for establishing our address with the post office. We would be happy to install a mailbox in front of our empty lot if it meant we could get new drivers’ licenses, register to vote, and take other steps to firm up our connection to this place. We intended to do those things eventually, and there is no time like the present! Having a recognized address will also be helpful when we are having construction materials delivered during the house build. Unfortunately, the friendly local postmaster informed us by phone that addresses can only be activated on a new home once the foundation is in place — which in our case means our concrete pilings.
Given the tendency of local authorities to view RV parks as places filled with transients, we also looked into renting a sticks-and-bricks house in Apalachicola. There is exactly one house for rent at the moment, and it didn’t work for us so we passed. Instead we have extended our reservations at our RV park through the end of June. We are also going to change spots from the waterfront spot we’ve been occupying to one further in from the road. We look forward to getting a little more shade as temperatures rise and getting away from the road noise, but we also want to be closer to the section of this RV park occupied by long-term residents in an effort to blend in with them. So long as Franklin County doesn’t close the whole operation down, we plan to stay put here.
Staying Sane in Crazy Times
The good news is that there are things we can accomplish here on the Forgotten Coast beyond obsessive news checking. We’ve been visiting our property quite a bit and doing useful work. Being on site allowed us to measure and stake out the footprint for the new house, and make good decisions about where exactly it will sit on the lot and where the stairs will connect the house to the ground. We’ve also started on the very large project of removing vines growing in the trees and shrubs that occupy about a third of our lot. These vicious, thorn-covered minions of evil have resisted our efforts, and our lower legs look like we’ve done battle with a clowder of exceptionally angry house cats.
On days when we don’t attack the vines we are taking walks in the neighborhood to study how other homes have resolved design problems. Through email and phone calls with our architect we have essentially finalized our house plans. Our next step is to coordinate with our builder on the timing to pursue permits and get construction started, when the shutdowns and his schedule allow. We are currently in line for construction to start in October but like most things the dates are in flux in the current situation.
We’ve met several neighbors who couldn’t resist coming by (and standing 10+ feet away) to check out what we’re doing on the lot. To a person they have been friendly and welcoming, and one couple in particular is very plugged into the community as business owners and civic leaders. I am confident that they will suck us into volunteering with any and all civic projects that come along. We’ve also had the chance for a few (well-distanced) interactions with fellow RVers Eric and Laurel (Raven and Chickadee) who are also hunkered down in this area. Together we have started exploring the paddle trails of the Apalachicola River, providing a much-needed opportunity to appreciate the area’s natural beauty.
It’s been reassuring to find these hopeful signs of a bright future in the midst of all the anxiety and bad news. And making tangible progress on the house build makes us feel like we have some control despite being in a situation where so many things are out of our control. Since our goal for the next few months is to lay pretty low the blog may be relatively quiet for a while, but we’ll continue to post on Instagram somewhat regularly (use the links at the top right). In the meantime, please stay safe everyone!