Some hate to be leaving. Others say they are ready to move on.
From old-timers to first-timers, those attending this week's annual Southeast Area rally of the Family Motor Coach Association expressed a mix of emotions over plans to move the event to the Sarasota County Fairgrounds in 2015 after 16 years at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
Cathy Dickson of Toronto said the decision by the association's board of directors to move "really ticked me off because this little town needed a boost."
A longtime RV traveler but a first-year visitor to the rally in Hernando County, the 68-year-old Canadian said she prefers a small-town atmosphere.
Her traveling friend, Karen Gerrie, also from the Toronto area, agreed, and spoke enthusiastically about her discovery of the rustic Bayport Inn, the little Pine Island beach on the Gulf of Mexico and two flea markets to which they planned weekend visits.
Starling Ridgeway, 68, of Anniston, Ala., on his second rally visit to the rally, said he appreciated Hernando's many golf course choices, its wide open spaces and the airport tarmac for bicycle riding.
"I like the country for riding," Ridgeway said. "It's so flat. And I ride the runways."
The spacious site also is a plus for Russ Silber, 70, of Melbourne.
"The dogs get to run out there," he said, gesturing to the surrounding fields. He and his wife, Myra, travel with two pugs.
But Silber, and others, also echoed concerns of the board of directors — that rental fees and associated expenses at the Hernando airport have become too costly for the organization.
The costs, which are passed on to rally registrants, have kept some people away, Silber figured. "We used to have 3,000 coaches," he said.
Added Silber's friend, Jim Conner of Spring Hill: "This year, I think it's about 600."
Myra Silber lamented the move to Sarasota.
"It's a sad thing," she said. "The airport doesn't have the foresight to keep it here for the business people."
She referred to what she considered failed negotiations between the association and county officials.
Local restaurants and businesses will lose out on the money that RV visitors spend during their annual weeklong stay, Myra Silber pointed out.
Also disappointed were members of the Knights of Columbus of Spring Hill, who have been grilling Philly cheese steaks and other fare at the rally for 16 years — their biggest fundraiser annually.
"Sarasota is too far to go," Debbie Colvin said as she tended the grill. "Now we'll have to find someplace else."
On the other hand, some of the coach rovers are looking forward to a change of scenery.
"It's been-there, done-that," declared one 76-year-old, who would only give his first name as Russ. Over eight years of rallies here, he said, he feels as if he's seen everything Hernando has to offer.
Elizabeth White, 76, of Ontario concurred. "I think it will be a nice change," White said.
Tony Marino, 71, of West Palm Beach and a rally participant for 14 years, spoke for many others when he said, "Wherever they have it, I'll be there."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]