2014-06-13 / Community

Camp Rockaway: Bringing Tent Cities Back to the Future

By Katie McFadden

A Queens surfer is hoping to bring the historical tent cities of Rockaway back to the future, giving visitors a place to stay during the summer months.

The project is called “Camp Rockaway,” and the designer, Kent Johnson, is aiming to get financed through the online crowd-funding site, Kickstarter.com.

Johnson, who lives in Forest Hills, is hoping to give the influx of visitors to Rockaway a place to stay, as opposed to having to take a long bus or train ride home at the end of a beach day. He’s taking the idea of camping, but will be creating conditions that are more ideal than lying on the ground in a sleeping bag. In fact, guests won’t have to bring any camping supplies as they will be available at Camp Rockaway. The campground will have pre-set canvas tents that are situated on platforms and come fully furnished with a real hotel bed. The campground will also have amenities like private fire pits, outdoor showers, bathhouses with working toilets and even hot tubs.

Johnson, who often surfs in the area, took inspiration for Camp Rockaway from the bungalows and Tent Cities of the Rockaways in the early 1900s and he started thinking of Camp Rockaway as a way to revive that.

“I was digging into the history of Rockaway and I came across bungalow colonies and the tent colonies that were springing up around the same time. Those seemed super cool. I’ve always gone to summer camps and some of them had these types of tents where you stay all summer and it was always great. I wanted to see if there’s a possibility of recreating that experience,” he said. He hopes Camp Rockaway will entice visitors of all kinds, especially those who are interested in learning more about Rockaway. Although the project has been labeled as “Glamping” or glamorous camping, by some, Johnson doesn’t want people to have the impression that Camp Rockaway is for those who have a lot of money. Camp Rockaway will also team up with the program STOKED, which gives low income and underserved children the opportunity to learn to surf.

At the moment, Camp Rockaway doesn’t seem to be much more than an idea. In the video, Johnson says “We’ve done a fair amount of design, a bit of research and had an architect do a feasibility study.” However even details like the location are still up in the air.

In some confusion, the promotional video gives off the idea that visitors will be able to roll out of bed and wind up on the beach, but that isn’t the case. While the tent cities of the 1900s were on the beachside, modern regulations don’t make it plausible as camping is not permitted on the Parks Department-owned beach. That’s why Johnson is bringing the idea to the bay, but it isn’t clear exactly where yet.

“We’re doing zoning and feasibility studies for a couple of properties, but until we can take the next step, I can’t say if it will be in one place or another,” Johnson said.

In hopes of moving forward with the design development, construction and getting though the permits and requirements with the NYC Department of Buildings, Johnson started the Kickstarter campaign to gain more support and to get things moving. As of Wednesday, June 11, 151 supporters had donated a total of $31,338 towards the fundraising goal of $50,000. Some of the backers come from as far away as Canada, California, Colorado and even Norway.

Those who want to support the project have until 9:59 a.m. on Wednesday, July 18, to make a donation. Johnson must raise the entire $50,000 or more to get any of the money. While donations can start at a dollar, there are certain rewards involved for donating a specific amount starting with a thank you postcard for a $10 donation to a two-night private stay at Camp Rockaway for up to 20 people for a donation of $5,500. The campaign can be found by going to www.Kickstarter.com and searching “Camp Rockaway.”

Johnson says that if the Kickstarter campaign is not successful, he won’t give up as he said others have approached him about providing financial support, but the $50,000 would help with moving forward with the design process sooner. He hopes to get started on making Camp Rockaway a reality this winter and is hoping to have it up and running by Memorial Day weekend 2015.

Johnson is aware that there will be more obstacles than just raising the money. A number of city permits will be necessary, but Johnson, the founder of the New York City design/build consulting company Milktrout, said he’s prepared for those.

“We have a pretty good idea of what we’re up against and how we need to navigate that,” Johnson said.

When looking into the history, Johnson got in touch with Vivian Rattay Carter, author of Rockaway Beach (Images of America). Carter was able to provide Johnson with more historical background on the bungalows and tent colonies of early Rockaway history.

She is excited about the possibility of it being brought back, however she also expressed some real concerns about the project.

With the project expected to be on the bayside, Carter brought up the issue of mosquitoes in the area which used to be marshland. She also believes high winds may be a challenge and the campsite may have to be closed down during strong storms in which winds exceed 30 mph. Another concern on the bayside may be flooding. Some sections of the bayside flood frequently, so Johnson will have to take that into consideration when choosing a location.

Carter also brought up a point of bringing water lines to the campground that is expected to have running showers and toilets, as it can cost around $50,000 just to install a new plumbing line. She cited the Rockaway Freeway Dog Park which was trying to have a fountain installed and found that it would cost a “ridiculous amount of money.” In the Kickstarter campaign, Johnson says they’re ready to handle any challenge. “We’ve identified as many potential obstacles as possible; from safety concerns to mosquitoes, and we’re up to the task,” he said.

Despite some of the challenges, Carter thinks Camp Rockaway can work and will be a positive thing. “This would stimulate even more visitors coming in,” she said. It would also give those visitors a place to stay instead of having to spend a long time on the train, going back to the city. “Right now, we don’t really have any place for people to stay when they visit,” she said.

In her travels, Carter has often seen tent hotels. “This is basically happening everywhere,” Carter said, citing yurts that are popular in upstate New York and Pennsylvania. “It’s a nice cross between what a reasonably priced hotel would be and camping on the ground.” She supports Johnson in trying to bring the idea to Rockaway. “It’s out of the box and I give him a lot of credit for trying. I think it would be a wonderful thing if we had it. In fact, I think we should have a few of them,” Carter said.

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Let me think, HELL NO

Let me think, HELL NO

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