By LEONARD SPARKS
Ronald Sorenson's 30-foot rented recreational vehicle emblazoned with images of President-elect Barack Obama and Sorenson's own poetry. (CNS photo)
COLLEGE PARK (Jan. 19, 2009) - Ronald Sorenson's 30-foot rented recreational vehicle rests on a gravel pad at Cherry Hill Park in Maryland, its sides emblazoned with images of President-elect Barack Obama and Sorenson's own poetry.
The one-time building contractor decided three weeks ago to make the three-day trip from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., spending $17,000 to decorate the RV (with the owner's permission). He has been parked at the campground in College Park for a week awaiting the inauguration of the man he thinks will save the country.
It is supporters like Sorenson who are bringing an unexpected stimulus to Cherry Hill, which is now nearly booked during a month when business is typically dead.
The relatively inexpensive housing option is enlivening a usually moribund camping season at other parks near Washington, D.C., and creating a ripple effect that is putting money in the pockets of campgrounds and their employees.
"The day he came out to announce he was going to run . . . I said, 'He's the next president,'" said Sorenson, a registered Republican who voted twice for President Bush. "I just know he's the right man."
In a normal January, 10 recreational vehicles at most would be parked at Cherry Hill Park. But after Obama's election, people began calling in reservations for the inauguration, said Mike Gurevich, the campground's owner. Among the calls was one from California.
"For us to get people from California is not unusual," Gurevich said. "For someone to drive cross-country for this particular event is probably a little unusual."
So far, 280 of his 300 sites are reserved, Gurevich said, at $55 a day. To prepare, he and his staff have reopened water lines and bathrooms. The campground's cafe, normally closed in January, will serve an Obama family chili recipe found on "Good Morning America's" Web site.
Gurevich might also temporarily recall some of the employees laid off at the end of the campground's summer season, when the park downsizes from 70 to 35 employees. His current staff is enjoying extra hours.
The inauguration's impact is also visible in Cherry Hill's main office. A full-body, cardboard cut-out of Obama stands by the front door, and a floor rack is flush with Obama T-shirts. Near the front desk, a set of shelves hold more Obama items, including autographed ink pens, mugs, buttons and lapel pins.
"This is great for the economy," Gurevich said.
Jon Tancredi, a spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, said traveling by RV offers both convenience and fewer bills. In addition to saving on hotel costs, RV users save on airfare and restaurants.
"These RVs allow you to travel comfortably," he said. "You're not stuck waiting for delayed flights."
About 50 minutes south of the District, Aquia Pines is also getting a boost from the inauguration. Located in Stafford, Va., only a few of its 55 sites are still available. Everett Lovell, Aquia's owner, also said he started a waiting list for the two "rustic" cabins he keeps open during the winter.
Like Cherry Hill Park, Aquia began receiving calls the day after the election, Lovell said.
"I had at least eight people call and say we want all your cabins," he said. "I had to tell them they were already booked."
Lovell, who rents cabins for $54 a day and campsites for between $35 and $42, said he usually has some winter business, but has never been full or had a waiting list.
"The only time I've seen an influx for an event like this is when they used to have Grateful Dead concerts at RFK Stadium," he said.
Inside Sorenson's RV, two open laptops and paper coffee cups sit on a table. Sorenson and his girlfriend, Kathy Kafka, have been busy searching for inauguration tickets and e-mailing news organizations about the RV's artwork.
A third of the driver's side is covered with Obama's portrait and Martin Luther King Jr. set against a blue background. Next to the image is a 19-line poem written by Sorenson. The poem is a tribute to Obama, peace and unity.
Sorenson, 51, said he began writing poetry last March. Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and able to sleep just 1 1/2 hours a night, he now has more than 300 poems, many written between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
Sorenson pulls out a framed copy of the same portrait of Obama and King that decorates the RV's side. He said he wants to hand it to Obama personally, just like he handed a poem to the president-elect during a campaign stop last October in Miami.
With a son who fought in Afghanistan, Sorenson said he's weary of war there and in Iraq. It was Obama's focus and discipline that attracted him, he said.
"We need to stop fighting. Let's figure out a new way," he said. "That's what I know he's going to do."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.