After almost a year of living on the road, we tried something new this trip on our way to Red Bay, Alabama for final warranty work.
We stayed at a COE park.
Specifically, Holiday COE park on West Point Lake in Lagrange, GA, right on the GA-AL border.
For those who didn't know, COE stands for Corps Of Engineers, as in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Many people north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi probably haven't heard much about the Corps of Engineers, because most of their work has been done managing rivers and creating lakes in the southern United States. The COE has a long and storied history of managing (and largely controlling) the mighty Mississippi and other lesser rivers for decades, and their work has resulted in the creation of fresh water reservoirs and lakes across the South.
One of the side benefits to these lakes are a series of Corps-managed parks along their shorelines, and they are a hidden gem of camping opportunities for the uninitiated (like us) when it came to using a resource we knew about, but hadn't yet experienced. Being a former country commissioner in a north Georgia county that borders Lake Lanier, I knew about COE parks, but primarily as day use parks for swimming, boating, fishing and picnicking. But never having an RV before meant that I knew little about COE parks when it came to camping.
Only one park under our belts, but what an eye-opener!
Two resources are best used when trying to figure out if a COE park is nearby, and if it is best for you. The first one is corpslakes.erdc.dren.mil, which I have linked here. This site allows you to find COE properties by state, and once identified, gives you the specifics of each park's amenities. Pick a state to search, then check off which activities you're looking for to refine your search. A map shows up with each location, which can be zoomed in to find lakes where multiple choices are available. Click on the lake and you get breakdowns of each amenity for each park or area. For instance, there are 35 places maintained by the COE on West Point Lake alone. Not all are considered parks or campgrounds. Campgrounds will be notated with whether they require reservations or not. Clicking on the campground name will take you to Recreation.gov if reservations are required, or you can use the Reservation.gov app on your smartphone.
Once on Recreation.gov, you can put in the parameters of your needs for your specific rig. Put in your date range, and site options start popping up for you to select. There are few choices with full hookups, so water and electric with a dump station is the usual setup you'll get. I believe there is a maximum 14-day stay allowed before you have to leave, but given the lack of sewer setup, that's probably not a problem for many of us. There are pictures of sites that may (or may not) help you to decide if it's what you want depending on the quality of the picture, but here's a couple of tips to help you find a site suitable for your motor home:
2. Be careful about choosing a 30 amp site based on it's length.
While there may be more 30 amp sites on or near the lake, and the lengths look good to you, many of those sites have some uncomfortable slopes to them, probably because their slabs were built to accommodate shorter campers with lower power requirements. You'll have trouble on many of those sites getting level. The longer they are, the better chance of manageable slopes.
3. The brighter the picture, the less trees are likely overhead
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Just keep that in mind as you look at the site's pictures.
Our site at Holiday was huge! The parking slab was at least 55 feet long, easily long enough for our 36LA, Mini and tow dolly. The only weird thing was it was situated on the left side of the campsite, which meant that our awning couldn't be extended due to the wooded area next to us, and our “patio” faced away from the bulk of the site.
Otherwise, it was a very large site. At least 50 feet wide (not including the parking slab), and extending over 80 feet in length. The site had a picnic table on a cement slab, a fire pit and grill, and a large graded and sanded area for a tent. The only neighbor we could see was at least 50 yards away; otherwise, except for street frontage, we were surrounded by woods.
The park itself has 2 boat ramps, a small playground, a basketball court and a tennis court. Shower and bath facilities were alternately interspersed throughout the park. We weren't here long enough to take the inflatable kayak out, but it seemed to be a great lake, especially with all the coves, to paddle an afternoon away.
Spent a great afternoon and evening with a good friend and former co-worker, Katie Jesser, and her husband, Tom. Hadn't seen her in well over a year, and it was time to catch up with each other's lives.
If there was one downside to West Point Lake in this day and age of connectivity, it's that there was no usable signal on our cell phones for data. In fact, it was horrendous. We could call out and text to people, but the one bar of 3G signal we had wasn't enough to even check email or our banking app. And forget about Facebook. I get it; we're supposed to be getting away from all this when we spend some time in these remote locations, but I suspect that connectivity will be an issue in most COE parks. Check out any reviews beforehand if you need any signal more than minimums. It also looks like a cell signal booster and WiFi setup is in our future.
But the beautiful part of all this was the price: about $12 per night using our US Parks Senior Pass!
More COE parks are definitely in our future!
Now, for my obligatory rant. There is one flaw in the reservation system on Recreation.gov, and it's that it allows people to make reservations without any possibility of verification at time of arrival for length or power needs. This allows people with tents to take up a space clearly designed for a motor home (55' long parking slab and 50 amp power) just because it has a killer view of the water. We passed at least a half dozen sites where tent campers, who clearly had no need for any power requirement exceeding 20 amps, took up sites where a motor home would have more efficiently made use of the site. Because of this, we had one site – one! - available to us at reservation time that met our needs for length and power.
There should be a disclaimer on Recreation.gov which says that your reservation is subject to change or cancellation pending verification of power needs at time of check-in, and that you agree to this before submitting your reservation.
We're Dave and Barbara Richard, and we're living the ultimate retirement experience - traveling the U.S. and Canada in style in a Tiffin Open Road 36LA Class A motor home, playing golf and stopping at every weird and wacky roadside attraction we can find.