The beginning of May typically sets the opening date for many private campgrounds in Cattaraugus County. But with non-essential businesses still closed across the state due to COVID-19, campground owners are waiting to hear when — or if — they can start the 2020 season.
On April 9, the Cattaraugus County Health Department informed campground owners that by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 executive orders, camping is deemed non-essential, so campgrounds were closed until at least April 30. Cuomo since extended the shutdown orders to at least May 15.
Eric W. Wohlers, environmental health director for the county health department, says the county is “working on updated guidance to send the campgrounds next week.”
At Allegany State Park, grounds, forests and trails are open during daylight for visitors seeking recreation, while indoor spaces and restrooms may be closed. Early season camping is off for now, with campgrounds, cabins, cottages and pavilions/shelters closed to visitation through May 14.
Lance Ours, managing member of Riverhurst Park Campground, bought the campground on Olean-Portville Road in November and didn’t expect to open until mid-May.
“Financially, I can say we haven’t had a huge downfall because we really weren’t planning on opening until May 15,” Ours said, “but we’ve had a lot of campers calling that want to start camping before our season was to open, so a couple weeks ago, we had our water tests done, but the health department has us on hold with the governor’s orders, especially now being extended out to the 15th.”
Ours said he thinks Riverhurst could open for campers in a safe manner next month.
“We feel like we’re not in a hot spot, we’re still in a low-risk area, given our location within the state, but still the presence is here, obviously, and it’s still a concern,” Ours said. “We’re definitely taking the right steps. With camping, our outlook really is families reside in their homes together, so what’s the difference of being in your home or staying in your camper.
“We all go to the grocery store and wear our PPE and masks and take all precautions and wash our hands, etc.,” he said. “But we just feel like we’re not going to be exposing people any more whether they’re camping or staying at their house.”
If campers keep to themselves, Ours said, staying on a campsite could be similar to staying at home.
“I think everybody has got the message about keeping 6 feet apart, keeping our distance with social distancing, washing your hands,” he said. “The public facilities are going to be an area of question. We’ve seen where other campgrounds at this point have noted that they must be cleaned every hour, if not then they might not be able to be opened. But most campers these days have their own facilities right within their campers.”
As a new owner, Ours is unsure how much of Riverhurst’s business comes from out-of-state, but they’ve taken calls from as far as Arizona and Florida.
“Would that be a concern? Probably more a concern of those people coming in, since New York state is in worse shape than other states with campgrounds,” he said. “I think it’s just us using our common sense to the best of our ability and making sure that everybody’s practicing their social distancing.”
Joyce Campbell, owner of Valley View Campground in Ischua, said she was staying at camp but “no one else” was allowed for the time being.
“Normally, we open May 1, so it’s not here yet, but we’ll see what happens this week, if they let us open or not,” she said. “Until I hear from the health department I can’t open.”
Campbell worries what could happen if campgrounds aren’t able to open this summer.
“It would ruin me,” Campbell said. “I’ve already got people that normally pay me this week coming in and saying, ‘You’re not going to open on the first, so we’re going to take so much off of our seasonal camping.’ So it’s already starting to hurt, but not as bad as it will if they won’t let me open.
“Now, I informed everybody the 15th of May is what the health department told me initially, but now they’re saying it’s when the governor says that they can open,” she said. “All I can do is just sit and wait, I guess.”
Valley View relies on local visitors, mostly on the weekends, Campbell said. She’s prepared to take extra cleaning measures if allowed to open, though Campbell noted campers are parked far apart so as to practice social distancing.
“I already talked to the health department; he said I would have to sanitize the bathhouse three times a day, which isn’t a problem,” Campbell said. “Normally, nobody’s here during the week, we’re mostly weekend people, we’re not parked close together, we’re probably 20 feet from each other to start with. But other campgrounds in Cattaraugus County are awning-to-awning, so that, I would assume, would be a bigger problem.”
Lake Lane Fishing & Camping Getaway on Windfall Road relies mostly on seasonal campers, owner Hannah Maurer said. She hopes camps can open at least to those seasonal customers.
“Our hopes are that they do open up the campgrounds,” she said. “I don’t see how it’s any different from a trailer park home; they’re pretty spaced out here, and our seasonals pretty much. We’re a quiet campground, they pretty much stay at their sites anyways. We don’t have a lot of children. But I’m hoping they open at least for our seasonals this season. That would be really nice.”
If seasonal visitors come from far away, Maurer suggested they self-isolate upon arrival.
“I think they could lay low for 14 days after they’re here,” she said. “Ninety percent of our business is local people, seasonals, so we just have a few spots for weekenders or if someone wanted to pitch a tent or something, but we don’t know at this point if we’re going to have weekenders this summer.”
Lake Lane is prepared to take payment through debit or credit cards only as a safety measure.
“We may not open our campground store,” Maurer said. “If they need something, it’ll be bought with a debit card, credit card and placed outside their door. We’re not sure about opening the swimming pool. We do have one, we’d like to open it, but we’re not sure about that either.”