Where will they stay?

Camping has changed forever, local leaders say

Posted 6/15/24

MINISINK FORD, NY — Maybe you’ve noticed them. Maybe you're one of them.

To locals, visitors stand out: Behold the fresh faces, the brand-new gear, the innovative parking styles.

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Where will they stay?

Camping has changed forever, local leaders say


MINISINK FORD, NY — Maybe you’ve noticed them. Maybe you're one of them.

To locals, visitors stand out: Behold the fresh faces, the brand-new gear, the innovative parking styles.

Every summer, the river valley opens its arms to tourists, and they are growing in numbers. For the first time since 2010, the number of visitors to the Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River surpassed 300,000 and is reaching levels not seen since the 1990s, according to data collected by the National Park Service (NPS) (see chart, above).

NPS data for 2024 is available only through February, but the numbers are striking: 28,439 visitors in January and February, compared to 8,767 during the same months last year—more than a three-fold jump.

Chris Barrett, president/CEO at the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, which serves Wayne, Pike, Carbon, and Monroe counties, said when the color-coded phases of the COVID-19 lockdown went from yellow to green, the least restrictive phase, “It was like flipping a switch.” Hotel tax revenue in the Poconos jumped from $8.6 million in 2020 to $14 million in 2021, and even outstripped pre-pandemic levels.

At the June 5 annual meeting of the Delaware River Basin Commission, environmental advocate Anneke van Rossum spoke about the joy she felt seeing people of all backgrounds—of different races, countries, classes, and ethnicities—out on the river, enjoying the valley’s natural beauty in peace and harmony.

Van Rossum was there mainly to speak against Camp FIMFO, a planned renovation of the Kittatinny Campground in the Town of Highland that would turn the tent-camping resort founded into the 1940s into an RV park. “We need for you to stand with the NPS,” she told the commissioners.

When asked where visitors to the Upper Delaware should stay, she referred the River Reporter to her mother, the Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum.

Last June, the park service determined that Camp FIMFO’s plans are not in harmony with river corridor management guidelines.

In explaining the decision, NPS superintendent Lindsey Kurnath said Camp FIMFO would not really be an RV park, which is “where people bring their personal RVs in and out.” Instead, Camp FIMFO will leave its “park models” in place—with permanent hookups for water, sewage, and electricity—moving them only when the need arises.

“These park-model RVs are going to be there, fundamentally unchanged from day to day, from year to year,” Kurnath said last June.

Mike Edison told the DRBC at its annual meeting that Camp FIMFO’s plans have him “concerned about the whole river.”

Anie Stanley of Narrowsburg, NY, told commissioners, “There is a reason why there’s not a massive commercial resort here.”

People will continue to come to the Upper Delaware in search of beauty but also bathrooms, food, water, trash receptacles, diaper-changing tables, gas stations, beds. Some visitors to the Upper Delaware now stay in short-term rentals, a growing cottage industry. More on short-term rentals in the area here.

Is there a campground that could be used as a model of sustainability for others to follow? Maya van Rossum did not return a message seeking an answer.

The Upper Delaware is mostly private while the Middle Delaware, under the jurisdiction of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, is mostly public. Visitors to the Middle Delaware either camp in the public campsites in the park or stay in private accommodations outside of it.

The end of tents?

Two Upper Delaware residents whose names are locally synonymous with “camping” see the end of an era. Tents are fading into the past, they say, and they aren’t coming back.

Rick Lander, owner of Lander’s River Trips, and Dave Jones, the former owner of Kittatinny Campgrounds, support Camp FIMFO. Guests just don’t want to sleep on the ground anymore, they say.

Lander and Jones grew up around campers. Both family businesses trace their beginnings to a time when Route 97 was newly paved, and before the Tocks Island project uprooted Middle Delaware residents from their homes. Jones’s grandparents Ernie and Edna Olschewsky started out in 1941 with six canoes and a few rowboats at Kittatinny Point, NJ. Bob and Joan Lander, Rick’s parents, started in 1955 with ten canoes at the old Ten Mile River Hotel in Narrowsburg, NY. Both businesses have grown over the years to include a string of boat launches, liveries, and campgrounds offering activities like zipline and paintball.

Jones and Lander say campers are getting more affluent and attached to creature comforts. They want to be close to nature but don’t want to get soaked in a midnight squall or have a tent be the sole barrier between them and a bear.

The long-trending preference for private accommodations accelerated during the pandemic, when camping became one of the few ways to have fun safely, and many people went camping for the first time. But these new campers, especially families with babies and toddlers, struggle with tent camping. They want to go to local restaurants. “It’s a different clientele,” Lander said.

The bread-and-butter customers of the past just aren’t there anymore. “Boy Scout Troops and church groups are not coming the way they used to,” Lander said, mostly because of the crisis of leadership in those groups. “People don’t want to be responsible for other people’s kids.”

Rocco Baldassari, general manager of Kittatinny-Northgate Resorts, which is developing Camp FIMFO, said almost all of the calls FIMFO/Kittatinny has been getting since the start of the pandemic are for accommodations.

But these accommodations—there are a range of types, in addition to park models—will be fitted into the campground’s mountain landscape and around Beaver Brook with no earth moving and slightly fewer sites than before. No generators will be allowed.

“We don’t want to make this a high-volume campground,” Baldassari said.

Two hundred and thirty four campsites will be equipped with water, sewer service, and electricity, while 108 campsites will continue to use bathhouses.

Camp FIMFO will install a modern new septic system that will improve the environment, the local camping experts say.

In a traditional tent campground, they say, human waste often gets dumped on the ground. Campers get drunk. They don’t want to walk to faraway bathrooms, especially in the middle of the night. But when campers have bathrooms in their accommodations, all human waste is captured for proper treatment. They say Camp FIMFO’s plans call for a superior septic system than has ever been there before.

Kittatinny’s “grandfathered-in” septic system is “in dire need of replacement,” Jones said.

There are still plenty of camping purists out there.

“This is not my idea of camping,” said River Reporter writer Jonathan Charles Fox while looking over Camp FIMFO’s park models. He’s camped the Rockies, Zion, Arches, the Angeles Crest.

“I do not believe this ‘is where camping is going,’ per se, but rather that this is a new addition to the ‘camping experience,’ and that it’s not an either/or situation,” he said. “Rustic, tent camping is insanely popular still and not being outdated by this newfangled idea of what camping is.”

tourism, Upper Delaware Scenic & Recreational River, Chris Barrett, Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau, Wayne County, Pike County, Carbon County, Monroe County, COVID-19 lockdown, Poconos, Delaware River Basin Commission, Anneke van Rossum, Camp FIMFO, Kittatinny Campground, Town of Highland, RV park, Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum, National Park Service, Lindsey Kurnath, Mike Edison, Anie Stanley, Narrowsburg, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Rick Lander, Lander’s River Trips, Dave Jones, Kittatinny Campgrounds, Ernie and Edna Olschewsky, Kittatinny Point, Ten Mile River Hotel, liveries, campgrounds, Rocco Baldassari, Kittatinny-Northgate Resorts, Jonathan Charles Fox


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