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Go RV-ing on the Lake O
By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer
[Okeechobee, FL.–] About 9 million people in the U.S. own recreational vehicles– motorhomes, travel trailers, truck campers, ‘toy haulers’, and others. And a lot of them make their way to Florida’s Heartland — Lake Okeechobee.
You can hardly skip a pebble on the lake’s north end without hitting an RV park. They start filling up around Christmas time and stay pretty full through the end of March. That’s because the appeal of the Big O region is many-faceted, extending way beyond the pleasant winter weather, according to RVers.
“A lot of activities at most of the campgrounds,” said Michel Goulet of Quebec, Canada who plays guitar and accordion and bicycles with wife Martine.
The couple towed their 39-foot “5th wheel” RV with a pickup for three days from Canada to Okeechobee in mid December, planning to stay for several months. They could afford a hotel or a rental house, but prefer the RV lifestyle.
“It’s like being at home,” Michel said. “You have a little space.”
Likewise for fellow Canadians John Duchesne and wife Mitch from Ontario. The couple–now retired– began tent camping together nearly 40 years ago, then bought pop-up camper trailers and now have a 33-foot 5th wheel. They’ve been traveling to Okeechobee every winter for six years.
“We RV’d on both sides of Florida — the east coast and the west coast. We found all of it was way too busy for us– expensive, crazy,” John Duchesne said. “If you look around here, it has a small town atmosphere. People are friendly, traffic is low and it’s cowboys. I don’t have a country-western bone in my body, but this has character. We feel secure here.”
The Duchesnes plan to stay for 4 1/2 months, attending potluck dinners with their campground neighbors, hitting golf balls and riding motorcycles. John enjoys bass fishing on the big lake, but doesn’t have a boat. He hopes to meet some fellow anglers to wet a line this winter.
Another Ontario resident who we’ll call “Joel”, 82, is spending his second winter season in Okeechobee with his wife in their 38-foot Winnebago motorhome– the couple’s sixth RV. When they play golf or go shopping, they use the mid-size sedan they towed here.
“Basically the freedom, ” the retired auto dealer said of his preference for the RV lifestyle. “Parking where you like. Having your own rig, your own bed every night is pretty nice.”
Tommy Miller from North Carolina and his wife drove their 45-foot motorhome to Okeechobee to help set up his mother-in-law in her winter residence. They planned to spend a week, then head home and return in February. But Miller said he’d like to become a permanent RVer.
“I’m tired of owning real estate and mowing my lawn,” he said.
RVers and other visitors will have another destination soon on Lake Okeechobee. Guy Harvey Outpost RV Resort and Marina is slated to open in spring 2017 at the site of the Okee-Tantie Campground and Marina. The project– to be developed in conjunction with Elite Resorts– calls for 125 RV pads, 70 rental cabins, a waterfront lodge, expanded marina, boat barn, swimming pool, restaurant, tiki bar, and tackle shop.
It will provide a dizzying array of activities– or not. As one Michigan couple, who’ve been spending winters at the lake for years, put it: “We come down here for the sunshine and warm weather. We used to own a boat and fish in the lake. Now we just like to relax.”
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.
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