KOA gives up on explaining itself

Following the public relations debacle KOA created for itself earlier this year, when it finally threw in the towel over its misbegotten idea for a glampground in New York’s Catskills, the campground juggernaut apparently has decided to zip its corporate lip. Whereas it once boldly proclaimed development plans for its Terramor brand of glamping resorts, currently still limited to a single facility in Maine opened in 2020, KOA is now saying nothing at all about two projects still in the hopper, or whether it has plans for additional sites.

Of the two ongoing projects, the more likely to succeed appears to be a $28.5 million Terramor planned for the Adirondacks, in upstate New York. As reported here back in January, the proposed 80-site glampground would avoid much of the controversy KOA generated in the Catskills by repurposing an existing KOA campground in Wilmington instead of developing a brand new location. That campground, the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA, was “moved” 2.4 miles up the road last October and reopened this spring, albeit with only 31 RV sites. More, undoubtedly, will follow.

The vacated KOA campground, meanwhile, has the advantage of having already cleared many regulatory hurdles—although not all. As reported last week in the Adirondack Explorer, both the Adirondack Park Agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been soliciting public comment, with the DEC evaluating the project for a wastewater discharge permit. The APA, meanwhile, which oversees public and private development within Adirondack Park, is reviewing the proposal’s “25% expansion of an existing tourist accommodation”—one indication of glamping’s more robust environmental footprint.

Tellingly, KOA declined to respond to inquiries about its plans from the Adirondack Explorer beyond an anodyne assurance that the company “will carry on its mission of connecting people to the outdoors and each other.” The stonewall was blatant enough to elicit a surprised comment from Wilmington Supervisor Roy Holzer, who supports the Terramor venture and thinks KOA “should be keeping the public informed and building excitement for their project,” the Explorer reported. Instead, the Explorer article appears to be the only news report about the project in several months, and even it put in a tardy appearance, publishing on April 20—the deadline for public comments to the DEC. The Adirondack Park Agency, meanwhile, is accepting comments until May 4.

While the communications black-out in New York has succeeded thus far in allowing KOA to fly under the radar, the weather is a bit stormier—literally as well as figuratively—at its other announced Terramor venture, at Midpines in Mariposa County, California. Although it filed a preapplication proposal more than 16 months ago to build two major campgrounds straddling the road that access the south entrance to Yosemite National Park, including a 400-site KOA resort and an 80-90 site Terramor, KOA has yet to follow up with an actual application. Nor has it followed through with promises of additional public meetings after a “coffee and conversation” meeting with local residents last June that left many “uncertain and unhappy,” according to a local newspaper.

But nature abhors a vacuum. While one extreme weather event after another battered the western Sierra foothills—forest fires, record-breaking snowfalls and now widespread flooding, prompting the National Park Service to close Yosemite’s campgrounds starting tomorrow—a similarly extreme human storm has been building among local residents, enhanced in no small degree by KOA’s aloof approach. A grassroots group calling itself Mariposans Against KOA and Terramor has been gifted with the lawn signs used by KOA’s opponents in the Catskills, which it has been erecting locally, and has created a Facebook page where the current hot topic is the amount of water KOA would be sucking out of the ground—five times as much as is used by Midpines residents.

Given the extraordinarily challenging environmental considerations KOA has had to take into account this past year, it’s not inconceivable that it might be having second thoughts about its Mariposa County plans. Then again, this is not a company that backs down gracefully. Three years after opening its Bar Harbor Terramor to mixed reviews, and with earlier projections of having three such glamping resorts up and running by 2025 increasingly in doubt, KOA seems to have decided that the less said the better. Unfortunately, that also means that a lot of people may feel ambushed when the other shoe drops.

Most recent posts

Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: