ITHACA, N.Y. —  As the weather gets warmer and the Southern Tier region continues to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some private campgrounds have seen an influx in business.

In an effort to flatten the curve, New York State Parks have been largely unavailable for camping. Beginning June 22, public campgrounds are opening with limited camping capacity and mandatory advanced reservations. All programming and events at state parks have been canceled, as well as pavilion and shelter reservations. State Park Police are patrolling these public campgrounds to ensure compliance with social distancing and crowd control measures, and anyone who does not adhere to the guidance will be requested to leave the facility and will not receive a refund.

While the state parks have been closed for camping, private campgrounds in Ithaca have also had to adjust operations in light of the pandemic.

“We were very nervous going into this season, because nobody could predict what would happen,” Emily Leedy, marketing manager for Firelight Camps, a luxury glamping site on South Hill, said.

Firelight Camps opened for the season on June 1, three weeks later than initially scheduled. The camp has updated its check-in policy to maintain social distancing guidelines, but has found that the nature of its site lends itself to campers being able to maintain an appropriate social distance.

“The great thing about our property is that we have 19 private sleeping tents,” Leedy said. “The great thing about that is obviously, we’re not a hotel where everyone is sharing the same building, they’re sharing the same enclosed lobby space. It’s all outdoors.”

One of the major changes the camp has faced was how it handles serving breakfast, which is inclusive with a stay. Leedy said that typically, the breakfast is served buffet-style, but now campers are provided with individually packaged breakfast coolers to avoid congregating in the lobby tent. Live music nights have been canceled for now, and the bar is only open for to-go drinks for campers.

Additionally, she said that the camp needed to rethink how to still maintain the communal experience of its shared fire pits. Now, the camp has set up private fire pits in front of each tent.

“In a regular season, when we’re not going through a global pandemic, it really is the heart of our property, and it’s the heart of the experience, where people can gather with the people that they brought with them, but they could meet fellow campers and meet fellow members of the community,” she said. “It’s a shared experience that we think really harnesses the roots of camping.”

Even with these changes, Leedy said that reservations for June 2020 have been up 32% compared to June 2019. In the past, she said that there usually are not too many reservations in May and June, especially during the week, but the camp has been grateful to see an influx of business.

“There’s a real need to get outside and to get into nature this year in a way that we’ve never experienced before as a community,” she said. “People are taking advantage of the opportunity to get outside and to do so in a safe, socially distanced way.”

Spruce Row Campground, a private, family-run campground near Taughannock Falls State Park, did not face a delay in its season and opened on May 1. However, Scott Sherwood, owner of Spruce Row, said he faced a number of changes over the past month when determining the regulations of who could stay at the camp. At first, the camp was only allowed to accept long-term camping reservations for 30 days or more. Then, by Memorial Day weekend, overnight campers from surrounding phase one regions were able to camp. Now, there are no restrictions on where campers are coming from, nor for how long they are staying.

Sherwood said that the Tompkins County Health Department Environmental Health Division was instrumental in getting the camp up and running for the season.

“Since this thing began, leading up to us opening and since we’ve been open, they’ve been very accommodating and easy to work with, realizing that as a private business, you really need to open if that is at all possible,” he said.

The camp, which has approximately 200 sites for tents and RVs, is still requiring campers to wear masks. Groups have been expanded to allow up to 25 people, up from the previous regulation of 10. Pools, playgrounds and the fishing pond opened this week with social distancing restrictions between groups, but basketball, mini-golf and pedal kart rentals remain closed.

“We’ve been open for about a month and a half, and I think people have really done well with it,” Sherwood said. “The neat thing about this place is we get a lot of returned business. … They really have done their part in following the guidelines that were sent out, because honestly, all through the month of April, we weren’t really even sure we were going to open, so everybody was really thankful that we could open and have done their part to do what we’ve asked.”

He said that although these restrictions are in place, the camp has been able to mostly operate as normal, with high rates of campers. Sherwood attributed the rush of visitors in May and June — which is before the typical busy season — to the state parks being closed. However, even when the public campsites do open, he said he thinks that business will not be impacted too much because so many people want to be camping this summer.

“I feel like this is probably going to be the busiest year we’ve ever had,” he said. “Once late April, early May started, the reservations just really took off because it’s one of the only things you can do outside this summer.”

Madison Fernandez

Madison Fernandez is a contributing reporter at the Ithaca Voice. You can reach her by email at mfernandez@ithacavoice.com.