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RENO, Nev. (AP) – Nevada is making a $1 million wager that recreation doesn’t begin at the buffet table and end at the quarter slots.

This summer, state officials are trying to lure recreational vehicle travelers off the major roadways to explore the off-the-beaten paths of rural Nevada.

The Nevada Commission on Tourism will spend $1 million during the next three years to promote the notion that there’s more to see in the Silver State than glitzy casinos in Las Vegas and Reno. And that the way to see the rugged West is in the homey digs of an RV.

“Recreational vehicle travel is ideal for discovering Nevada’s natural beauty and wide-open spaces,” said Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt, chairwoman of the Nevada Commission on Tourism. “It enables visitors to discover the other side of Nevada in comfort and convenience and stay in nice RV and state parks.”

A survey by the Recreational Vehicle Association, based in Reston, Va., found that RV owners expect to travel an average of 46 days this summer – 10 days more than last year – despite uncertain fuel prices and a cooler economy.

“They may be going shorter distances or staying longer in one place, but the higher cost of gas is not causing them to cancel their trips,” spokeswoman Chris Morrison said.

Tourism officials launched the Nevada RV Adventure campaign in January at the annual Sports, Vacation and RV show in Quartzite, Ariz., a dusty wide-spot at the junction of Interstate 10 and U.S. 95. Quartzite becomes a burgeoning metropolis of so-called snowbirds, who use their RVs to escape harsh winter months in colder climates in other parts of the country.

Ads touting Nevada as a prime RV destination ran this winter on radio stations in Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Sacramento, Seattle and Salt Lake City. RV publications carried the message through the spring.

As part of the campaign, the state is co-sponsoring a sweepstakes with the grand prize being a new Winnebago Adventurer motor home, valued at more than $100,000. Five other winners will receive $500 gift certificates to Camping World stores.

That drawing will be held in September and similar giveaways are planned in each of the next two years, Schneweis said. People can enter five times – once from each of Nevada’s tourism regions.

“This program was designed specially to increase dollars in the rural areas,” Schneweis said. “These people go to restaurants, they go to museums.”

Whether more will go to Nevada’s rural reaches remains to be seen.

“I’m not sure about bringing more people but it’s making them happier,” Vavak said.

Vavak said she often tries to entice RVers who set up temporary quarters for free in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart to come and stay at her place.

“We’ll go there and hand out the Nevada book with all the RV campsites and state parks, then I invite them to come by and register to win an RV,” she said. “Sometimes they’ll come over and book a stay for the way back.”

Mike Cappa, of the KOA in Wendover, credits completion of road construction in Salt Lake City in preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics for a recent boost in his business.

“Over the course of the last four years, business has actually been down” because travelers avoided the Salt Lake highway system that directs motorists across Interstate 80 through his town, he said.

Since the highway reopened in May he’s “seen a resurgence of campers coming along,” he said.

He thinks the Nevada campaign, over time, will reap results.

“It will help rural Nevada,” he said. “There’s a lot of things to see and do here that nobody knows about.”

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Claude Rose, owner of the Valley View RV Park in Ely, said his business has been good so far this year. But he said many travelers seem uninterested in sticking around and exploring.

“You tell them all the things to do around here – there’s a lot of beautiful scenery – a lot of people just aren’t interested,” he said.

But that, too, might change as younger travelers discover RVing, tourism officials say.

Schneweis points to a University of Michigan study that said 45 percent of current RV owners are 35 to 45 years old.

“The typical owner is 48 years old,” she said. “You’re talking people who like to get out and do things.”

The same survey said one in 10 vehicle-owning households have an RV of some sort – from pop-up tent trailers and pickup campers to elaborate motor homes.

In 1999, the RV industry posted its best year ever with $10.4 billion in sales. Last year’s sales dipped slightly, to $9.5 billion, but industry experts predict continued growth over the next decade

“There’s a lot of new owners out there,” Morrison said. “I think that’s why Nevada timed this so well. They got into this baby boomer influx in the market.”


Nevada Commission on Tourism:

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