Campers just want to have fun — and keep their campgrounds in Mission Bay
For more than 20 years, Barry and Cindy Homer have enjoyed one of the most unique aspects of Mission Bay Park — the option to camp right next to the ocean.
Although the Homers live in Texas, they spend the majority of their time in their large RV, or recreational vehicle, traveling all over the United States.
But when the couple is in San Diego, Campland on the Bay is the only place they want to be.
“Sometimes we stay two to six months at a time,” Barry Homer said. “When everything shut down during the pandemic, we ended up staying for almost two full years.”
But with the future of De Anza Cove in city leaders’ sights, the preferred campgrounds of the Homers, and thousands of others, would become part of an expanded wetlands area.
On April 20, the City of San Diego held its final comment period for the proposed plans for De Anza Cove. The ReWild Mission Bay Coalition, a project of the San Diego Audubon Society, is advocating for restored and expanded wetlands.
But some groups, such as campers, are questioning what will happen to their favored activities and pursuits should the land — and their landing spots — become a marsh. The 45-acre park would become entirely marsh under the city plan to add 130 acres of wetland. It is unknown if Campland would be given any new area to rebuild on De Anza.
Jacob Gelfand, vice president of operations for Terra Vista Management, Inc., the company that manages Campland on the Bay and Mission Bay RV Resort, is hoping the City will conduct more studies before making a permanent decision. Campland is a privately-run RV park, while Mission Bay RV Resort is owned by the city.
“We have well over 154,000 people that enjoy the campgrounds annually,” Gelfand said. “Personally, I think it’s closer to a million, because campers often invite their friends over and there are a lot of day use people at the park.”
Campers — whether they have a motorhome, fifth wheel or a travel trailer — have a choice of the 562 sites at Campland. Tents are also allowed.
Beginning July 1, 140 additional sites will be open as part of the De Anza cleanup of the previous mobile home area. The newest sites will be able to accommodate the largest RVs.
Gelfand said that since the COVID pandemic, “more and more people are camping, and have invested in recreational vehicles and tents.”
Campland is so popular, reservations must usually be made two years in advance.
He pointed out that camping happens year-round. In the off-season, extended stay guests often remain for weeks at time.
Gelfand said about half the visitors to the resort actually reside within San Diego County.
“It’s a great, family-friendly, affordable way to enjoy the coast,” he said.
The park offers two pools, two spas, a lighted basketball court, a skateboard park, video arcade, horseshoes and more. In the summer, a camp director organizes daily activities for the kids, including concerts several times a week.
Campers seldom have to leave the grounds if they don’t want, as a cantina with full bar, an ice cream parlor, market, laundromat and gym are on-site. There are also rentals for those who want to try water sports or explore the bike trails.
Like the Homers, Gelfand said many of the users return again and again — and they pump a lot of money into city coffers while enjoying the area.
“Camping is a really important driver for Mission Bay,” Gelfand said. “Between the two resorts, more than $5.2 million has been paid in city rent and TOT tax.”
“It’s one of the most active areas of Mission Bay Park,” he said. “The reality is that of all the different uses of the bay, camping is the one use that has received the most pubic support, but is the most heavily impacted by the plans the city is currently studying.”
As part of the city’s proposal, new wetlands would be added in the current Campland grounds. In other proposed changes, new uplands habitat and trails along Rose Creek would eliminate two of the four ball fields at Bob McEvoy Youth Athletic Fields in Mission Bay.
For some campers, the nearby wetlands is an important draw.
“We have campsites directly overlooking the Kendall Frost Marsh on the southwest side,” Gelfand said. “Camping on that side of the property gives you a different perspective than what the public gets from looking through a chainlink fence.”
He said many campers find being next door to the wetlands is “an incredible way to introduce kids to conservation and protecting the natural environment.”
The Homers agree.
“The wetlands have always been there, and Campland campers have been part of the cleanup,” Barry Homer said.
But the Homers said they feel Campland is also an important nature preserve.
“Campland has trees and landscaping and places for animals and birds to live,” said Cindy Homer. “I counted, and there are 1,150 mature trees just in Campland.”
Just as importantly, she wonders what will happen to the trees, paved roads, infrastructure, wiring and buildings that have been there 50 years.
“If you take it away, who is going to do it and how much will it cost?” she asked.
The couple feels so strongly about Campland they have spoken to city leaders by Zoom calls and in person.
“Because we are campers, people like us can’t possibly get together into a cohesive group,” Cindy Homer said. “Because our views aren’t presented, we lose out. If you don’t camp or RV, you might miss out on the value. But Campland is very valuable and people don’t always understand that.”
As part of their advocacy, they joined Friends of Campland, an organization dedicated to ensuring affordable waterfront camping continues to be offered at Mission Bay.
As a child, Friends of Campland co-chair Elizabeth Van Clief spent many vacations with her parents at the park. As an adult, married with three children, she said “it became more obvious to me that Campland is worth protecting and keeping.”
She said being an activist is not her life calling, but she is well-aware of how important Campland is to both the people who live in the area and those who visit.
Since Van Clief lives close to the bay, she said her kids can swim in the bay, bike ride and watch Fourth of July fireworks — all from the comfort of Campland.
The family’s 10-year-old daughter, and 8- and 7-year-old sons, have also taken part in many different Campland activities.
“There is a portion of campers who go there because they want to be outside or enjoy the natural environment,” Van Clief said. “But I actually think there is a larger contingent who go because it is a safe, fun, family-friendly environment that doesn’t cost $1,000 a night.
“To take away city land enjoyed by 400,000 members of the public for family-friendly use only to expand the wetland doesn’t feel like balancing the use of the bay,” she said. “To say that campers don’t like the marshland is false; they just don’t want to have their campground eliminated.”
Van Clief said going up against large, organized, well-funded groups who want to expand the wetlands isn’t what campers want to do.
“They aren’t activists, they are just regular people on vacation,” she said. “There isn’t a bunch of written papers with people’s position on them. The campers express their opinion by continuing to camp at Campland.”
Gelfand said he shares the belief of most campers that preserving recreational activities and maintaining the environment are not at odds.
“The two have co-existed and can continue to co-exist,” he said. “The Mission Bay Action Plan calls for a balance of recreation, economics and the environment; they must be balanced in any future planning that goes on.”
Gelfand said he believes the city is missing vital pieces of the plan needed to ensure the long-term future of the cove so it also makes financial and operational sense.
He said more exploration is needed as to the impacts of recreation, the implications for the public and campers from what is planned, the costs involved with reverting the area to marsh, the hydraulic implications and more.
As an example, he stated a previous study found that avian fecal contamination was the biggest contributor to water quality problems in the bay. He would like updated research addressing the bird habitat issues of an expanded wetland, as well as more information about potential vector control issues and possible disease spread from both mosquitoes and birds.
He would also like more research into the idea that an expanded marsh would act as a water filtration system and improve water quality in the bay.
“There is overwhelming support for waterfront camping,” Gelfand said. “The reality is that if the powers that be decide to move all the camping to the east side of Rose Creek, we will do our best with it.”
In the meantime, he encourages local and out-of-area campers and others to weigh in on keeping the waterfront camping site available.
“It really behooves the public to weigh in and let the city know about this corner of the park and how the proposed changes affect them,” Gelfand said. “People have had really unique experiences here, beloved by generations of families. Everyone should have a voice in the city’s policy.”