Area campgrounds see booming business during pandemic
They are considered ‘safe havens’ for family fun
October 2020 Cover
(October 2020) – Since the onset of COVID-19, health officials have encouraged Americans to get out and enjoy the fresh air. In an effort to do so, many individuals have chosen camping as a way to follow CDC guidelines safely while having fun at the same time.
A Vintage Camper Rally is the perfect way to have a little fun with the camping craze that has taken over the nation, according to Kayla Leach, interpretive naturalist at Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, Ind.
The idea came about during planning for the park’s centennial celebration.
“We wanted to offer an event to show what camping used to be like,” said Leach. Originally scheduled to take place at the beginning of May, the rally was rescheduled for Oct. 16-18 because of the COVID pandemic. For this year it is “only open to people camping because of COVID restrictions,” she said.
A full weekend of free (unless otherwise indicated) activities are planned, such as a Meet & Greet at 7 p.m. Friday, with a star gazing program to follow at 8 p.m. The following day a picnic will be provided for campers plus a Tour of Campers from 1-4 p.m. and a campfire program. There will also be plenty of things to do on their own, such as hiking, said Leach.
“This will be our first time having this event,” she said. So far, 24 sites have been filled for the rally with at least a dozen still open. Most participants are from Indiana, but one or two are from Kentucky and Ohio. Leach said she expects many different styles of campers to be on display.
Clifty Falls State Park usually stays busy with campers. On a normal year, “camping usually picks up April through October,” said Leach. The campgrounds are open year-round with 106 electric and 63 non-electric sites. Tents and RVs can use both sites, while “most weekends through October we are booked.”
As with many campgrounds, all reservations must be made online to limit interaction between staff and guests. Many facilities use the ReserveAmerica Camping app.
Since the pandemic struck, Leach said she has seen a definite increase in camping, “especially in families. They seem to be staying longer, also. Normally, they would stay Friday and Saturday nights and leave on Sunday. Now we’re seeing people staying one to two weeks.”
Craig and Annette Rogers are campers who took advantage of all that Clifty Falls has to offer this season. The Connersville, Ind., residents camped for the first time at the park in September after some of Annette’s co-workers suggested it to the couple, who are fairly new to camping.
While the Craigs have camped in tents in the past, they decided to buy a camper last year to do some traveling. Earlier this year they had planned to visit California with friends, but that trip was cancelled due to COVID-19 and wildfires in the state, so they decided to try out the camper at Clifty Falls.
The couple said they felt “perfectly safe” at the park. They hiked the trails and visited nearby Hardy Lake, “a potential for the future,” Craig said. Hardy Lake is located just west of Madison near Austin, Ind.
They camped three nights at Clifty Falls and also spent some time the week before at Raccoon Lake in Rockville, Ind. Annette said that the campground was full over the weekend but still a nice place to camp. While at the park, Craig said they took time to walk across the Milton-Madison Bridge to Milton and back, enjoying all the outdoor activities in the area.
“I’ve absolutely seen an increase in campers, especially from families and metropolitan areas,” said Tawana Thomas, executive director of VisitMadison Inc. Many people stop at the Visitor’s Center, and Thomas said there has developed “a greater interest in it.”
She’s seen a revival in camping among people who haven’t camped in years, especially since the state parks are open now. But along with that came the discovery that many state park electrical hookups need to be upgraded for modern RVs.
She said that for many people, “primitive camping is still exciting.” She credits this to modern camping backpacks that are equipped to carry food, water, first aid, shelter and anything else needed.
Since many pools, YMCAs and community facilities were closed this year due to COVID-19, camping has been seen as a great alternative, Thomas said. “People who haven’t camped in years are doing it again. And campers are almost always respective of people’s space,” therefore, adhering naturally to CDC guidelines.
“Clifty Falls State Park is the most popular destination for campers visiting our area,” said Thomas, who has camped at the park as well as at Gen. Butler State Resort Park in Carrollton, Ky. just 15 miles away.
Waterfront view camping in Madison, Ind.
The City Campground in Madison, Ind., is “almost always full on the weekends,” said Campground Manager Randy Gray. Many times it has been twice as full as it was the same time last year during the week, he said.
Located on two acres of riverfront property on Vaughn Drive, the campground has 34 class AA sites with 18 sites bordering the Ohio River. The facility contains a full bathhouse and dump station. And all sites feature water and 30-amp electrical hook-ups, plus 10 sites that are equipped with 50-amp electrical ports.
Gray, who has been the manager for the past two years, said the site stays booked during festivals. Normally, “we are packed a lot of weekends to capacity.”
Even with COVID-19 shutting down most area festivals, the campground was full the third weekend in September. The booking capacity has stayed full in what would have been the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art weekend, said Gray, with no cancellations, even though the event was canceled.
The City Campground is closed from November to April 1 each year. It was shut down earlier this year due to COVID-19. “We were closed April and most of May,” Gray said.
Local campers make up about 10-15 percent of those who stay at the campground, he said. Even though COVID-19 has increased the number of campers for the 2020 season, “we had a lot of people who camped last year, too.”
Although many campers book a shorter stay, Gray has had “people here for a month at a time.” To book a spot for such an extended time, he advises making reservations extremely early “just to have a chance at getting a spot.”
There are many attractions nearby, coupled with the many area events and festivals that normally take place in the area in which Gray encourages visitors to attend.
Camping along the river in Carrollton, Ky.
The many barbecue events, Race Week and Halloween activities make the area great for campers and gives them something to do, said Cindy Schaum of Two Rivers Camp-ground, a city-owned operation located near the intersection of the Kentucky and Ohio rivers in Carrollton, Ky.
Along with her husband, Ronnie, Schaum is campground host for the facility and is onsite 24/7.
The campground offers 33 full hookup sites for RVs. Schaum said she has seen an increase in campers since the outbreak of COVID-19 and said tourists are no longer taking big vacations to populated areas because “everybody feels safer in their camper.”
She said a lot of the campers are local people. “We also get a lot of people traveling through from Louisville to Cincinnati who come and spend just a few days. They like it and come back.” The campground is only 14 miles from the Kentucky Speedway, which is another big draw.
“The city owns and operates the campground that is walking distance to Point Park,” said Misty Wheeler, executive director of Carrollton/Carroll County Tourism. “A lot of people camp at Two Rivers during events at Point Park –such as Bands & BBQ at the Point, and the
Fourth of July festivities – so they can walk back and forth. A paved walking trail connects the campground and Point Park, which is located right on the Ohio River.”
Wheeler said, “The campground opened in 2012 and has wonderful, paved, wide sites – 14 of which are pull through. The campground has a scenic overlook of the Kentucky River, plus it offers a bathhouse, playground, adult exercise equipment, free wifi for campers and a large shelter for family gatherings.”
During the pandemic, Schaum said Two Rivers Campground was shut down for a month, “then we tried having just Kentucky residents.
Finally, we opened it back up to others. We didn’t want it to be a hot spot.”
COVID-19 doesn’t seem to have hurt business too much since holidays are already booked for next year, she said. On three different weekends for 2021, individuals have booked particular spots. There is even a waiting list for the holidays.
Schaum said campers are cautious when it comes to COVID-19 rules and regulations. Most wear their masks if they think they need to, even though the camp spots are spaced at eight to 10 feet apart.
A popular riverside campground in Milton, Ky.
Tandy’s River View Park, located on Cooper’s Bottom in Milton, Ky., offers a great place to stay for those who want to boat or ski the Ohio and Kentucky rivers while camping. Owner Bruce Tandy said that despite COVID-19, he has “stayed as busy as we want to be.”
He, too, has seen a slight increase in campers since the pandemic hit. Tandy’s family leased the campground for several years before he and his wife, Debbie, took over the business in 2013.
Tandy, who lives in North Vernon, Ind., has 74 seasonal lots in addition to many overnighter and holiday weekend campers. He has one campground with 14 lots that is available year-round, “and we do not have any issues filling it.” The larger lot has 60 seasonal spots and is “overrun on the weekends.”
Tandy said he is seeing “a lot of first-year campers and campers with brand new campers and RVs,” as well. Many of his visitors travel from the three-state area of Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.
“Madison is a good draw because there is a lot to do,” he said. There are no hiking trails at Tandy’s River View Park like there are at some of the other campgrounds, but “we offer a combination of things for boaters. You can also visit Madison or just come here to get away.”
He said he was able to remain open through the COVID-19 shutdowns earlier this year, although his shower house will remain closed for the year. All of his camping sites are self-contained, which should make campers feel safe as well.
Andy Craig, Used Car Manager with Craig Toyota in Madison, Ind., said he keeps an RV at Tandy’s River View year-round. Craig and his wife, Tissit, are seasonal campers at the site. He said it seemed the perfect thing to do “after our children were out of the nest.”
Craig said, “We wanted to get something close to home, and we both loved camping.” When their children were younger, “we used to hit all of the state parks.” They always stayed in state, camping May through October.
Craig said Tandy’s is “a very well kept campground. You can’t beat the view” directly across from Madison. Like most campers, Craig said he and his family are outdoors type people, and there is a group of people from the Madison area that camp at Tandy’s a lot. They are a close, friendly group that often interacts with each other at the campground.
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