They roll in from all over North America: Vermont, Indiana, Colorado, New York, Maine, Ontario. Some travel in luxury rigs worth more than $1 million; others arrive in more modest recreational vehicles.
But the biggest draw at the annual Southeast Area Family Motor Coach Association rally, which kicks off Wednesday at the Hernando County Airport, is the camaraderie of being a fellow traveler, says Southeast Area president and rally chairman Ralph Marino.
"It's the American dream to be able to just pick up and go," Marino said from his office at the airport. "Just about everyone you see here has been RVing for a long time. For many of them, it's become a way of life."
Through tough economic times and periods of sky-high fuel prices, the Family Motor Coach Association has hosted rallies for more than 30 years, and in Hernando County for the past 15 years.
And though this year's preregistration of 890 coaches is less than Marino would like to see, he doesn't think the annual pilgrimage is in danger of losing its popularity.
"There are people here who will come no matter what," he said. "They enjoy what we provide and know it's an experience they really can't find anywhere else."
Participation for the rally peaked in 2007 with nearly 2,000 motor homes. But when the economy began to sour and fuel prices rose above $3 a gallon, the RV public became more choosy about where it wanted to travel.
Southeast Area vice president Frank Colletti thinks those numbers will start going up, however, as the baby boomer generation discovers the joys of the RV lifestyle.
"Having a motor home is like having a traveling back yard," Colletti said. "You set up next to a guy and you start talking, and before you know it, you're good friends. It happens all the time."
In addition to being able to check out the latest in RV coaches — more than 100 models will be on display — and accessories, participants are able to take advantage of educational seminars dealing with all things RV. Experts will give talks about tire safety, fire protection, fuel mileage tips, vehicle maintenance and food preparation in limited spaces.
In addition, more that 200 vendors will be on hand, hawking everything from fried goodies to carpet cleaning supplies. And there will be daily entertainment.
The five-day event will bring the county a much-needed economic boost as visitors shop at local retail stores, eat at restaurants and visit regional attractions.
The Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce estimates the event will pump $10 million or more into the local economy.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]