The popup campground, located at the defunct Army base in the Rockaways, offers a range of accommodations.
The first time that Kent Johnson, a Connecticut native and brains behind the operation, visited Rockaway was ten years ago to go surfing with a friend.
“We got robbed,” he said, laughing. “It didn’t really stop us though, we came out here and kept surfing. That was back in the days of very few people surfing and the old boardwalk,”
In the decade following that first visit, he’s seen a lot of changes on the peninsula.
“Now it’s kind of become a bit of a hipster darling in some ways, so that’s good and bad,” he added. “It’s good that there’s great restaurants now, there’s art, MOMA doing projects out here in Fort Tilden.There’s just more to do.”
One thing that’s missing from that equation, however, is a place to stay.
For a few years, Playland Motel and Bar operated at 97-20 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, but with the loss of the backyard due to community complaints, the owner decided to shutter the bar and, with it, the hotel.
In 2015, Johnson first had the idea to build something like Camp Rockaway. The idea came from turn-of-the-century tent colonies that used to exist on the peninsula.
“This was like New York’s first seaside escape,” he said. “There were hotels for the most wealthy and then there were bungalow colonies, then there were these tent colonies on the beach.
“I saw those images and thought, ‘this could work today,’” he added. “There’s enough interest now in Rockaway.”
Johnson put together a package and a video in 2015 to go along with a crowdfunding effort that eventually raised $50,000 to conduct feasibility studies.
“That gave me the jumping-off point,” he said. “I could say to people, ‘listen, there was a healthy response to this concept from a pretty broad spectrum of people.’”
That got him in the door with local elected officials and the Department of City Planning. Then came cold-calling the National Park Service, which did not go well.
Then he heard about “commercial use authorization,” which is a business permit that authorizes a for-profit entity to provide visitor services within a national park.
With the help of investors, Johnson, an architect by trade, created a business proposal and won the right to make Camp Rockaway a reality.
The campground has a number of different accommodations for campers of all skill levels.
There are luxury “wall tents” that contain a bed, mattress, linens, pillows, towels and even lights and a cellphone charging station. Some of the luxury tents are next to smaller tents – sleeping bag and cot included – so you can bring the whole family.
Herder tents are for those looking for a more rustic accommodation. It comes with two one-person cots, but linens and sleeping bags are not included.
The grounds also include a few “bring your own tent” campsites.
In the middle of the campground there’s a camp kitchen and bonfire that serves as a gathering place for guests, as well as a camp store selling food and supplies.
Visitors can also explore the Riis Park Beach Bazaar, Army base, or just relax by the ocean. For more information or to book reservations, visit camprockaway.com.