Ohio campgrounds can fully open on May 21 if they follow health and safety rules.
On a drizzly Thursday morning, David Clounie drove a golf cart along a gravel road at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park campground in the Uniontown area.
Scores of camping sites were empty. Campers and recreational vehicles are sprinkled throughout the roughly 50-acre property.
Maintenance workers cut grass near the miniature golf course and near barren tent camping areas.
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Clounie, Jellystone Park’s manager, has been uncertain whether the dormant campground would transform into a hub of outdoor activity on Memorial Day weekend as it has for decades.
But Clounie got the news he had been waiting for Thursday when the governor’s office announced campgrounds can fully open on May 21 under rules and guidelines aimed at health and safety.
Details on the campground openings, including requirements and recommended best practices, are available at: https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/responsible/Sector-fact-sheet-7-Campgrounds.pdf
"Local governments and (health departments) could add additional guidance on this," said Lt. Gov. John Husted during a coronavirus response press briefing.
Campground owners and operators across the state had been growing impatient during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many retail businesses and other sectors have reopened with safety measures. Others, including restaurants, bars and salons, are set to resume business in the coming days.
"People are definitely itching to get in," Clounie said of Jellystone Park on Hoover Avenue NW in Lake Township. "We've been kind of going play-by-play with the governor every week and each day to see when new restrictions or (the opening) will be."
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Camping provides stress relief in a natural setting, he said.
"It gives people an opportunity to get away from the normal hustle and bustle of life and home and electronics," Clounie said. "And to just kind of enjoy each other’s company ... and sitting around the campfire and making memories."
Memorial Day weekend reservations are at 70 percent of capacity, he said. Vacancies are the result of the pandemic and because some camping enthusiasts have been waiting for a firm opening date, he said.
"It’s hurting us that way because our reservations are significantly down from where they normally are this time of year," Clounie added.
Earlier this week, the Ohio Campground Owners Association issued a letter to the media.
"In the interest of public health and mental wellness, campgrounds provide the ideal social distancing arrangement for both long-term and overnight stays," read the piece authored by Jeff Hoffman, president, and Kristy Smith, executive director, of the group.
"Ohioans trusted the governor while he told us to stay home and flatten the curve," the association said. "It is now time for him to trust Ohio’s businesses to operate safely."
Under the restrictions announced Thursday, campgrounds can open later this month if adhering to regulations pertaining to social distancing, cleaning, employee health, restrooms and shower areas, the wearing of face coverings and common areas.
Mistina Koppes, operations manager at Maple Lakes campground in Seville in Medina County, said she’s ready.
"The county parks are overrun right now," she said Wednesday. "It looks like Wal-Mart at our local parks (in Medina County). You have to go off-trail to park.
"It’s safer in the long run to come to your local campgrounds...," Koppes said. "If I’m able to go to the dentist and have them working on my mouth, I should be able to go to my local campground."
Koppes and Clounie both said they understood Gov. Mike DeWine’s concerns prior to Thursday’s announcement.
"I believe it’s the groups coming together at campgrounds," Clounie said Thursday morning. "We have some common areas ... and I think his concern is groups getting together in those areas."
The Ohio Campground Owners Association, comprised of 145 privately-owned and operated campgrounds, said "campgrounds are most often located in a country setting on many acres of land and (provide) guests a safe place to enjoy the outdoors in relative isolation..."
’Doesn’t make sense’
Koppes said it’s been frustrating to watch many flock to the outdoors and local parks while campgrounds have been stuck in pandemic limbo.
"I definitely understand the safeguards," she said. "And I think Gov. DeWine has really done a great job and Dr. Acton has done great things on ... lowering the curve and doing correct things ... to not have a crazy outbreak in Ohio, but at the same time ... (camping) is the original social distancing."
Camping also improves the quality of life, especially during uncertain times, Koppes said.
"It’s a way to escape ... the sadness or just the mental state of everything right now with people being out of work," she said. "And things are changing in a way that no one thought it would."
At Jellystone Park, concentrated gathering points include the swimming pool and activity barn.
Instead of congregating kids in the barn, craft and activity packs will be handed out, Clounie said.
Community-type swimming pools can open May 26 under specific rules, DeWine announced Thursday.
The order applies to public and club pools regulated by local health departments, said Husted, of the governor’s office.
Swimming pools and water recreation at water parks and amusement parks are excluded, he said.
Camping, meanwhile, will never be the same in Ohio and in other states, at least not for the foreseeable future, Clounie said.
"The COVID experience is going to change how we do business in the camping industry," he said. "And I still think it’s a great escape (for recreation) for families to utilize."
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