Let’s Go Camping

Gay Campgrounds Offer Additional Appeal During COVID-19

The sounds of nature are calling as we slowly venture out after months of lockdown. Campfires and cookouts. Quiet nights gazing into the night sky.

While the travel and tourism market has taken a hit from COVID-19, the RV market is reportedly seeing an uptick as people anxious to travel seek out new and safe options. But many are asking what the new rules are. Is it safe to go outdoors to camping resorts during the coronavirus pandemic?

Economist Richard Curtin told the Chicago Tribune that people “see an RV as a way of getting outside in a safe and secure environment they can control.” Many are still shying away from airports and hotels. An RV provides the opportunity to cook for yourself, control your interaction with others, and have all the benefits of travel, with a little more social distance style.

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Renting a standard motorhome from Cruise America in Charlotte will run you about $290 for three nights over the July 4th holiday weekend. That model sleeps five, includes a gas cooktop, generator, refrigerator, microwave and full bathroom facilities. The more compact option that sleeps three is $213 and the largest model is $307. Websites like RVShare.com and outdoorsy.com offer cheaper options from private owners, similar to popular peer-to-peer marketplaces like Airbnb.

There are a few things you must keep in mind when venturing out on an RV expedition. Many campgrounds have limited facilities, and gay campgrounds that often entice us with themed weekends, pool parties and entertainment have had to adjust the rules and their schedules to keep guests safe.

“We are currently open,” says Michael Brooks at Timberfell Lodge and Campground in Greeneville, Tenn. “We are following the CDC guidelines. We have signage up throughout the property that recommends the social distancing of 6 feet or more.” The campground has also increased their cleaning and sanitation, with sanitizing stations set up throughout the property.

But business has not yet started booming for the male-only, clothing-optional retreat. When asked how different this season has been, Brooks quickly points out that there is no comparison. “We really don’t feel like we’ve even started our season yet,” he says. “It’s just a peculiar time.”

Timberfell is starting to see folks return, however, and their event weekends tend to be the biggest draw for people yearning to get back to some sort of socialization. “We just had an event this past weekend, and it was really well attended,” says Brooks. While they have had to cancel, or postpone, some previously scheduled events, Timberfell has two big weekends coming up, and spots are available for both. BANG — The Fabulous Fourth Holiday Weekend is usually the campground’s largest summer party, with cookouts, a poolside dance, tavern bash and happy hour parties. Mardi Gras Weekend is July 24-26. Previous years have included a golf cart parade, “hurricane” party and a Saturday night masquerade ball.

Timberfell hopes things get back to normal quickly. “We’re following every guideline that we possibly can and opening things as we’re allowed to,” says Brooks.

At In the Woods, things have been less interrupted. When the original owner at this northeast Georgia campground died a year and a half ago, the campground made changes to focus on being a more traditional campground for the gay community. “Being one of the smaller campgrounds, our regular people have been coming,” says owner John Wargo.

Wargo now runs the 30-acre property himself with the help of volunteers. “The only thing I don’t have open for booking is our bunkhouse, which is a group accommodation.” The campground offers tent and RV sites, along with a swimming pool and private cabins. The pool is currently limited to 15 people at a time and areas are marked off with six-foot sections to encourage social distancing.

One benefit to travelers now is the added discounts you might find during the pandemic. To help encourage tourism, many of the campgrounds are offering special rates, including In the Woods, which is not charging holiday prices this year during the summer.  “We’re laid back and quiet, which is why the people coming here like it,” says Wargo.

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If you are ready to start venturing out, the important thing is to check-in with your campground ahead of time and stay informed of current guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Camping provides some additional control over how much interaction you have with others, and I would agree that some soothing outdoor relaxation might help ease the anxiety that has been caused by the previous few months.

So, as In the Woods states, “Relax, explore, enjoy,” but do not forget to pack your masks.

Starlite Trailer Lodge

Located between Lenoir and Blowing Rock, the privately owned 75-acre RV campground offers RV sites, cabin rentals and tent camping. According to the website, the campground is closed for overnight stays through June 30 and any existing reservations have been refunded. “We are observing social distancing guidelines and our Lodge, swimming pool and public restrooms are closed,” states the website. Calls to Starlite went unanswered and it is uncertain if they plan to reopen on July 1. For more information, visit starlitelodge.com.

Timberfell Lodge and Campground

Located in the hills of northeast Tennessee, Timberfell is the “premier men’s retreat in the Southeast United States,” according to its website. The resort offers a various group lodgings, campsites for RV and tent camping, individual cabins, and a 20’ by 40’ heated pool. While some events have been cancelled, BANG — The Fabulous Fourth Holiday Weekend is July 3-5 and a Mardi Gras Weekend is July 24-26.  For more information, visit timberfell.com.

Sawmill Camping Resort

Located in Dade City, Fla., Sawmill is one of the most popular such resorts in the Sunshine State, just a short distance from Tampa. According to its website, the campground is open and a full COVID-19 statement includes a list of changes based on state recommendations. The latest statement from May 15 states that in addition to the many precautions, “all staff members are screened for symptoms before reporting to their workstations.” The resort offers cabins, tent sites, RV camping and day passes. For more information, visit floridagaycamping.com.

In the Woods

Located in the rolling hills of northeast Georgia, In the Woods Campground features 30 acres with RV and tent sites. They also offer annual camping leases and outdoor activities. For more information, visit inthewoodscampground.com.

The River’s Edge

Located about 110 miles east of Atlanta in Dewy Rose, Ga., the River’s Edge is a private-membership, gay-owned and -operated, clothing-optional campground with cabins, tent and RV sites. While day passes are not currently available, the campground is open and has some pool use restrictions and social distance guidelines on property. Visit camptheriversedge.com for more information.

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