Sandwiched between a few busy restaurants on Barton Springs Road, Pecan Grove RV Park would probably stand out if it didn’t blend in so well. The pecan trees spread throughout the park provide some shady camouflage, and the residents, whose lawn chair-furnished porches generally aren’t as noisy as nearby Baby Acapulco’s patio, live peacefully in a tight-knit community.
From the road, Pecan Grove looks like a stashed-away relic of an older Austin unfamiliar with downtown high-rises and tech booms.
“It’s a little community in here that probably is similar to what we had maybe 50 or 60 years ago in neighborhoods,” said Joyce Lindner, who has lived at Pecan Grove with her husband for 17 years. “Everybody knows everybody else. Most of the people here live here, just like we do. So we know everybody and everybody knows us and we feel safe.”
There are 93 R.V. sites in Pecan Grove; 11 are designated for short-term visitors and the remaining 82 are reserved for permanent residents. All the permanent lots are currently occupied and Robert McCartney, Pecan Grove manager, said that the short-term sites are rented out “most of the time.”
“We always have a lot of people that come here from Europe, especially on weekends,” McCartney said. “They all know about this place. Of course the first thing they want to know is, ‘Where’s Sixth Street?’ If they come to Austin, this is where they are.”
Mike Westlake and eight of his friends, who are all from Great Britain, are road-tripping across the American Southwest in a rented R.V. The young travelers arrived in Austin on Monday, read about the park online and managed to snag a site — not always an easy thing to do without a reservation, according to McCartney. Westlake said he was just happy to be in a laid-back R.V. park so close to Barton Springs.
“We wanted to go to the springs, so we just chose the [R.V. park] closest to that,” Westlake said. “We wanted to stay central. We were in Vegas last week but we stayed outside of Vegas. It was a bit of a pain in the ass having to get a taxi everywhere. This seems pretty chill.”
Pecan Grove is the first R.V. park where there are also residential trailers, Westlake said. “All the other ones have been like roll in and out places,” he said.
The permanent residents, the most senior of whom has lived in Pecan Grove for 25 years, are responsible for that relaxed mood that impresses travelers such as Westlake. It’s a diverse group that spans gaps in age and profession. Linder said the park is full of people that care for each other.
“In this park, the people who live here live here because they chose to,” Lindner said. “I never heard ‘trailer trash’ until we bought a trailer, but there’s no trailer trash in this park. These people are good people. The main thing that we really enjoy is that there just aren’t any status symbols here — nobody cares. We don’t have any Joneses to keep up with.”
Even celebrities Matthew McConaughey and Lance Armstrong, former Pecan Grove residents, didn’t taint the park’s egalitarian flavor. Lindner said that McConaughey would walk his dog around the park and say ‘Hi,’ just like everyone else.
McCartney, who has been manager for 18 years, agreed the park tends to appeal to people who enjoy that neighborly vibe. Once they get there, they don’t leave, he said.
“It’s a good thing here,” McCartney said. “People don’t want to give it up.”
The amiable atmosphere might keep residents there, he said, but it’s Pecan Grove’s low rent and near-downtown location that hook people in the first place. The park’s short-term sites cost $30 per day and the permanent lots rent from $360 to $415 per month, depending on the size of the lot.
“This is a lifestyle that’s not as expensive as owning a house,” Lindner said. “And you don’t have the workload that a house has. The maintenance, the upkeep, the taxes — you have to work 16 hours a day to pay for all of that. When you live in one of these you can clean house in an hour while dragging your feet. And there’s not much in the way of yard work. Leisure time is leisure time.”
The life devoid of structure isn’t for everyone though. Conveniences aside, living at Pecan Grove requires sacrifices that some people don’t want to make. Lindner said that living in an R.V. isn’t the same as living in a house, and if you’re not prepared to give up some niceties, there won’t be much room for anything else.
“Most of our friends don’t understand why we want to live here,” Lindner said. “They think we’re crazy. They don’t understand why we don’t want a house. You have to be willing to give up stuff. There’s not much room in [an R.V.] to put stuff. And I didn’t mind giving it up at all, but they don’t want to give up grandma’s dishes.”
For the moment, however, grandma’s dishes can stay where they are. There aren’t any vacancies for permanent spots at Pecan Grove. But according to McCartney, that doesn’t stop people from asking every day.
“To get in this park somebody has to die,” Lindner said. “Nobody leaves.”