Marmora, NJ – As we broach the 8th week of Governor Murphy’s “stay at home” orders and closing of almost all of the businesses in the state, New Jersey campground owners are astonished by the lack of conversation the Governor’s office is willing to have with New Jersey Campground Owners & Outdoor Lodging Association (NJCOA) about opening campgrounds for transient guests at this time. The Association represents private campground owners throughout the state which accounts for almost $144 million in tourism revenue.
Executive Director Joann DelVescio is amazed that the hotels and motels across the state can open for transients, but private campgrounds must remain closed. DelVescio is frustrated and commented, “on March 21st, the day of EO 107, the Governor’s office deemed campgrounds to be essential and were being treated just like hotels and motels. Apparently, there was a change issued, unbeknownst to the Association, that deemed campgrounds non-essential”. She continued, “In the meantime, campgrounds already had folks in them who had traveled up from the southern states to their second homes in the campgrounds, some campgrounds had essential workers in them, and many campgrounds have been housing medical professionals.” After weeks of back and forth with New Jersey authorities, campgrounds could open May 2nd for their seasonal campers (campers staying for 6 months) with preexisting contracts. No guidance was provided from the Governor’s office even though for 8 straight days there was documentation provided to a Deputy Attorney General on restrictions that the campgrounds were ready and willing to enforce at their campgrounds to remain in compliance with CDC guidelines. “We provided the Governor’s office and others with a document that clearly stated what could and should not be done in a campground, but EO 133 came out and was as vague as could be with all the focus on golf courses”, said DelVescio. “We had provided the officials with similar guidance just as you saw in that EO on opening golf courses. We do not understand why none of our guidance was taken into consideration and all it did was cause confusion among the municipalities where campgrounds are located.” After all this the Association still emails, at least once a week, the Governor’s office, yet the only response they receive is a generated email response with absolutely no follow-up.
The Association has fielded many calls, emails, and messages from campers asking when campgrounds will open. “At this point, I don’t know what to tell our campers. We explain how we have worked hard every day since March 21st to get a clear and concise response from the Governor’s office about when our campgrounds can welcome campers in the Garden State.” DelVescio continues to email and speak almost daily with legislators, county, and local officials in order to get a clear understanding of what the rules are for campgrounds. NJCOA was told by the Governor’s office last week, that if local municipalities allowed short term rentals than campgrounds would be included, yet when you speak to the municipalities none of them are aware of this statement even though it came from the Governor’s office via an email. When presented with the email many local officials throughout the state say the email is not good enough.
Campgrounds are vastly different from hotels and other accommodations – there is no front desk, lobby, elevators, hallways, or room attendants. Campers arrive in their self-contained units which have bedrooms, bathrooms, showers, and kitchens – just like their home. Most campgrounds also have self-contained rental units with the same types of amenities – no one would need to use the campground bathhouse. Since campers are self-contained and do not rely on campground staff, DelVescio wonders what the hold-up is with allowing campgrounds to open. Campgrounds are in a unique situation because they are able to restrict who comes and goes, they can maintain social distancing on their many acres not to mention most campsites are on average are 30 feet by 60 feet, and they are willing to enforce the no gathering mandates.
Even though DelVescio has spent many hours trying to explain what a campground looks like in New Jersey and how campers camp, the State is still extremely confused by what goes on in a campground. Her aggravation grows as officials continue to reference recreation campgrounds or residential campgrounds. She commented that according to the New Jersey Campground Code there is no such type of those campgrounds in New Jersey. Campgrounds in New Jersey provide outdoor lodging for campers and campers go to a campground to enjoy recreation, fresh air, open spaces, hiking, walking, biking, fishing, etc. NJCOA is not referencing day or overnight camps for kids, teens, or others – this is about families camping, the general camping public.
As we near Memorial Day weekend, campgrounds want to be open as do their campers. Campground owners keep hearing that many campers are going to neighboring states to camp. This move by campers could cripple the camping industry in New Jersey for years not to mention the harm it will have on local businesses surrounding campgrounds who depend on the campers’ support. Governors in the neighboring states realize the importance of their campgrounds and value their campers. They have taken the time and effort to understand the camping industry and worked with the Campground Associations to provide truly clear and concise guidelines for the campgrounds to follow, unlike New Jersey where there has been a lack of communication and a misunderstanding of the industry and its customers.
Our owners and campers have been quite patient and understanding as we are worked thru the past 8 weeks filled with mass confusion by government officials. DelVescio has worked all the channels that one would normally go thru, has been very clear in her request to allow campgrounds to open, and it is now time for the Governor to allow campgrounds to open before any more harm comes to this sector of the tourism industry and the supporting businesses. DelVescio stated, “or at least have someone from the Governor’s office, who has authority, reach out to NJCOA and speak one on one.”
Golf courses are open, people are much closer in a golf cart, marinas are open – boat slips are much closer than any campsite. Hotels and motels are open. Bathroom and Shower facilities are now open – why not campgrounds?
The document attached is the latest one that we have sent to the Governor and legislators and county and local officials. It is very comprehensive and is similar to the documents we have been sending to the Governor’s office since March 21st.
We are asking that residential private campgrounds be permitted to accept short term self-contained campers effective on or before May 20, 2020. We can allow these guests to park their second homes at our private campgrounds. They are self- contained, i.e. they have their own bathroom, shower, kitchen, and bedroom facilities and all social distance guidelines per the Governor’s current orders will be adhered to.