Back in May 2014, a Kickstarter fundraising campaign was launched that boasted a modern campsite on the bay, inspired by the tent cities of Rockaway in the 1900s. A place where people could spend the night instead of making the trip back on the train after a day at the beach. At a time when the Rockaway Renaissance was picking up after Hurricane Sandy, the idea caught the attention of many and 236 people pledged more than $50,000 to help get the idea off the ground. The project was called Camp Rockaway, and more than three years later, it’s finally happening.
Kent Johnson, who owns design and building consulting firm, Milktrout, spearheaded the idea that was completely unique to New York City when it was proposed in 2014. The Rockaway Times caught up with Johnson to get the latest on the project, which is set to launch this Sunday, September 24 in Fort Tilden.
Camp Rockaway was originally slated to begin in May 2015, a year after the successful Kickstarter campaign launched. After consistently trying to make the dream a reality, Johnson found that his proposed deadline wouldn’t be so easy. “I’m an architect and from my experience from doing construction, I’ve become familiar with the slow pace of bureaucracy and when you throw something completely unique out there, it’s bound to be slower. I was making a consistent effort this whole time, but it was slow going for sure,” he said.
Johnson was eyeing some bayside locations around Rockaway Beach at the time, but also found that ideal location wasn’t so ideal. “Bayside locations were challenging because a lot of those areas are so subdivided, that putting parts of it together was looking really challenging. We explored it and talked to property owners and looked at it from a zoning perspective and discussed it with city agencies, but ultimately we found that the bayside location wasn’t feasible,” Johnson said.
Despite the challenges, Johnson persisted and started considering Fort Tilden as an option. Conveniently, the National Park Service (NPS) has been making efforts to provide camping options around Gateway National Recreation Area, including Fort Tilden. “They were soliciting for a Commercial Use Authorization for camping companies, so we threw our hat into the ring,” Johnson said. NPS recently gave Terra Glamping an opportunity to run a campsite at the end of the summer. Now Camp Rockaway will have a shot. “NPS reported that the first pilot went well, so having a successful precedent is good for us,” Johnson said.
NPS awarded Camp Rockaway an opportunity to run a pilot for six weeks. From September 24 through November 6, Camp Rockaway will make its debut at Fort Tilden. Camp Rockaway will offer three levels of camping for those looking for a more rugged experience, to those who prefer the idea of “glamping” and each option is suitable for adults or families with kids. For $195 a night, you can spend the night in a “wall tent,” which will include a safari tent on a raised platform with its own front porch and a fully-dressed queen-size bed, lights, tables, towels and more. These fully-decked out tents are made possible through partnerships with companies like Casper, Brooklinen, Power Practical, Rumpl and Voltaic, so guests don’t have to bring much. There is an option to connect a “pup tent” for kids to stay in. For $115 a night, up to four people can stay in a “Herder Tent” or a canvas tent on a platform, equipped with one-person cots, tables and lights. Guests have to bring sleeping bags or their own linens for this option. For $65, guests can get a more traditional camping experience with the Bring Your Own Tent option.
The campsite also includes a gaming area featuring horseshoes and other games, a picnic and grill area, a store that sells supplies, a campfire site for s’mores and guests will be treated to a continental breakfast each morning. A shower and bathroom facility is also nearby. Johnson also hopes to bring an education aspect to the experience by teaming up with local ecology and conservation groups to give talks about the local ecology and environment of the peninsula and how climate change and sea level rise come into play on the peninsula.
Summer may be over, but Johnson hopes campers will come out to explore the peninsula this autumn. “Fall is a really nice time to be in Rockaway. The crowds may have dissipated but the weather is still great, Riis Park Beach Bazaar will be opening their winter restaurant soon and we can direct people to take a walk on the beach and grab a meal or drink. You also have Fort Tilden right outside your tent flap, which means you can hike and explore the decommissioned structures there and we’ll provide people with maps and suggestions for what you can do around the peninsula. It’s pretty exciting,” he said.
Johnson says he’s excited to finally see Camp Rockaway become a reality. “I’ve been ready to set this in motion and I feel like I’ve had everything queued up for such a long time that it feels fantastic to make this happen. I love designing and building, and the design for this has evolved really nicely and we finally get to build it, which is a lot of fun,” Johnson said.
After the pilot, Johnson says he’ll continue to pursue other locations on the peninsula in addition to Fort Tilden. “We hope that NPS will want to continue a camping program in Fort Tilden and if they issue another RFP, we’ll eagerly apply. We’re also going to resume our efforts with the city since we’ll have proof on concept in place after this pilot. That will help to support that ongoing effort,” he said.
The Camp Rockaway site is officially up and accepting reservations. For more information, or to reserve a tent, head to www.CampRockaway.com.
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