RV park reopens: Owner says “Be careful what you wish for!”

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By Andy Zipser
WALNUT HILLS CAMPGROUND AND RV PARK
STAUNTON, VIRGINIA

To that notable curse “May you live in interesting times,” we now can add the warning, “Be careful what you wish for.” After weeks of railing against Gov. Northam for unilaterally deciding to bar all Virginia campgrounds from taking reservations of less than 14 days, we’ve basically had the door swing 180 degrees and – y’all come down, ya hear?

Executive Order 61 was issued May 8, declaring that as of May 15 the state’s private campgrounds could reopen to all, subject to social distancing guidelines – and just like that the phones went crazy.

THIS WEEKEND IS ALMOST FULLY BOOKED, as is Memorial Day weekend, and June is starting to fill up at a fast clip. We don’t have any more staff this week than we had last, so everyone’s scrambling to meet demand. At the same time, all the transient sites we had been filling with two-week specials and short-term monthlies are a patchwork quilt on our reservations grid, which means we’re playing the campground version of Tetris, trying to shoehorn two- and three-night stays into the gaps.

Nice problems to have, if they don’t kill us first, and far better than the alternative. So is it unreasonable for me to be fretting about the exuberance I’m sensing – the kind that you see when school lets out for recess after a mind-numbing morning of social studies and history lessons? Cabin-fever is running at stratospheric levels, but the reality is that camping this weekend will not be anything like most people’s last outing. Can reality ever meet expectations?

There are, of course, the usual social-distancing guidelines expected everywhere these days: everyone stay at least six feet apart, don’t congregate in groups of more than 10, guests “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings.

Then there are Virginia’s new rules specifically aimed at campgrounds, some of which are … peculiar. Like the requirement that “a minimum of 20 feet must be maintained between units for all lots [sic] rented for short-term stays” – but not for those “owned by individuals.” Or the revolutionary requirement that bathhouses must have “provision of hand washing,” presumably because the state got complaints about campers having to lick themselves clean.

But the social distancing guidelines affect more than just walking around the lake. They mean our game room and pavilion, as “common areas that encourage gathering,” will remain closed. Ditto for the swimming pool, where the chlorinated water will kill any virus but won’t keep people from bumping into each other, and where there’s no one to maintain social distancing on the deck.

And perhaps most problematic: a ban on short-term campers having visitors, which means no, your mom who lives in nearby Staunton is not allowed to come over for dinner. I’m really looking forward to those conversations.

The thing is, we – and by that I include our staff – don’t object to these restrictions, which we believe will help us keep healthy. But we know also that some significant minority of the population thinks it’s all bogus and that the COVID-19 virus is little worse than the flu. Or that it may be more potent than the flu, but that the proper social response is to embrace the virus in pursuit of herd immunity, accepting whatever casualties may come as the price of restoring the economy. Or – worst of all – that COVID-19 be damned, what’s really important is that they get what they want and that the proven method of getting what they want is to whine or bluster or threaten.

And that gets so tiresome.

We’ve tried to give everyone advance notice of what to expect, on our website and Facebook page. We’ve prepared a two-sided handout for all arriving guests, one side for the verbose (like me) and the other for the Twitter crowd, with just half-a-dozen bullet points in 32-point type. (Number 6 is my favorite – “Rules apply to children as well as adults” – added because, yes, we’ve received calls from parents asking if their kids are expected to practice social distancing. Apparently they’ve forgotten why their kids haven’t been going to school for the past two months.)

Yet for all that, I suspect that even after all these weeks of living in a surreal new world, it has to sink in for many – maybe most – people that the old ways of doing things may never return. Old habits die hard (can we shake on that?), long-held expectations can be even more durable, and even the nicest people can get cranky when frustrated in seeking the familiar and comfortable.

So I expect that despite all our efforts to communicate clearly and consistently, there will be those who just don’t or won’t get it and will push back, sometimes politely (but insistently) and sometimes not.

We’ll try to take it gracefully. Still, there are times I’ll catch myself yearning for the relative peace of just a couple of weeks ago, when the only thing I had to worry about was having our family-owned business go belly-up. Pick your poison – or as we frequently observe around here, “It’s always something.” Indeed it is.

COMMENTS ARE NOW CLOSED.
So many were so vile and accusatory that it’s embarrassing to our editors to allow them to remain on this website. We welcome intelligent commentary, but when the know-it-alls start spouting their “wisdom,” based on their own version of “facts,” that’s it. If you wish to submit your thoughts on this subject, please send them as Letters to the Editor.

To those of you who submitted respectful, intelligent comments, we apologize for deleting them. The problem is, such thoughtful, non-accusatory remarks are often met by nasty replies from those in the crowd who believe they have all the answers.