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What We Learned Part Two

The leaves are changing, a very Fall feel up here, and our third year in business has been truly blessed. Chaotic, disruptive, expensive and, hopefully, beneficial in the long-run… But blessed.

The opposite of our first two years, when we could dream, design and build our idyllic campground - learning much, which solar gadgets work or fail, tools and tricks to save time and survive off-grid - our third year has been dominated by the external. The wettest and coldest summer in Catskills history, multiple government authorities suddenly inspecting us, so many strangers from afar eager to experience Dirt Road Camp and the challenges of serving and satisfying greater numbers to our high standards. Our third year was all about shifting gears, revising our vision for our campground, more so what we are and will never be. So here’s all we’ve learned as Dirt Road Camp matures.

Humans Write Reviews

We were so close! 132 perfect 5-star reviews! 35 on Google and 97 on AirBnB — Rarified air! Just three more 5-star reviews on AirBnB and the Gods of the Internet would give us a Bigfoot sighting! And then it happened: Guests staying at our Outpost cabin gave us 4-stars because “the dirt road to the campground was longer than I thought…” Yep, our dreams of 100+ AirBnB 5-star reviews was over, not due to anything we did or failed at, solely because our namesake, Dirt Road, is long. Anyway, after three years of being reviewed you learn to not take it personally, to change what you can, and accept all you can’t…

Not Everyone is a Campground

Among our many guests is a new and distinct group: Potential campground owners. Folks who love to camp and may want to offer an experience similar to ours to others. And we sincerely tell them, “Good luck!” If the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything it’s that people need to get away, deep into the woods, escape… We believe we are providing therapy as much as camping up here, and others have noticed — Several ad hoc campgrounds sprang-up locally, with and without proper permitting, planning, anything… And several of them have been closed by authorities, which brought much more attention to us via multiple inspections and necessary upgrades.

Seriously, don’t buy a few acres of farm fields and declare it an RV campground! Waste disposal and clean water are critical issues, and we are proactively addressing both, despite the fact that RVs simply can’t get to Dirt Road Camp. Our lovely cedar-lined outhouses will remain, but each will have massive holding tanks beneath to ensure we are environmentally responsible. We also added hand-washing stations (with holding tanks) and made changes across the mountain to satisfy Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection inspections. And, of course, we will always offer a dispersed experience, acres all to yourself to enjoy…while ensuring that you also have bathroom facilities all to yourself (which came after serious debate with authorities and much expense). That said, we strongly suggest anyone considering opening a campground to count your pennies wisely and engage any and all local authorities for permits and regulations.

Amenities for the Unplanned

In addition to infrastructure upgrades, our biggest addition to Dirt Road Camp this year was our new “General Supply” log cabin in our parking lot. If you’ve ever wanted to build a log cabin, think again! We had to fell dozens of maple trees for our septic system (see above “count your pennies wisely”) so the trunks were ideal for a log cabin. Weighing hundreds of pounds each, the joy of building a rustic log cabin was soon eclipsed by the serious workout of stripping bark, notching corners then placing each trunk, never mind chinking every gap. The end result is one of our greatest accomplishments but, again, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Dirt Road Camp’s new “General Supply” serves four overdue needs: Firewood storage, garbage disposal, simple supplies for guests to easily grab on-site instead of driving into town, and a basic “Toy Repair” shop. Yep you read the last right: We get so many adventure bikers up here that we had to offer them a place to make repairs. The NEBDR (Northeast Backcountry Discovery Route) has been a boon to local tourism from Pennsylvania to Maine, and these serious off-road bikers sometimes need duct tape and the occasional tire tube to continue onward — And we are happy to at last offer them a cold drink and our Toy Repair shop after a long day on the trails.

Our “General Supply” log cabin also tells people that they are here. An afterthought some three years later, the long winding ascent on Dirt Road can be ominous and “longer than I thought” to some… But once you see that rustic log cabin, feel the welcome, realize that you have entered a new world. Fully experience all that is Dirt Road Camp.

Fun Stuff We’ve Also Learned

We still give gratis supply firewood to all guests, whether renting a primitive campsite, cabin or Peak wall-tent. In doing so, we do our best to offer an ample supply for each guest’s length of stay (because some people are simply pyromaniacs and need rationing) while encouraging guests to forage the forest for sticks to also burn. More importantly, by providing firewood on-site, we limit invasive bark-beetles that are ravaging our ash trees and other problems with transporting wood and supplies from elsewhere… Still, here’s a few quotes from guests that we thought you’d appreciate:

“If you give me firewood, I’ll burn it all. Seriously.” And burn it all they did!

Another came as a text message:

“Hi! Do you have any kindling?”

Our reply: “Feel free to take a stroll, forage, and look around…”

“Oh yeah! Thank you!”

Another text:

“Do you allow dogs?”


“”Yay! I’m making a reservation now!”

Photo courtesy of Nicolette, guest at Peak Canvas Wall Tent

Fall is merely another season at Dirt Road Camp. Because we don’t close! Winter camping is our favorite so check your calendars, make sure your snow tires have traction, and pack an extra layer of clothes! Oh and something hot and delicious to eat and sip is always encouraged!

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Christopher Dwelyng
Christopher Dwelyng

I'm a local resident curious about how your engagement with the local regulators is going. Any updates?

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