During the heat of the coronavirus pandemic, things were pretty quiet at Kool Lakes Family Campground.
Jeff Coldon, president of the campground, said the off-season campers are restricted to a few year-round residents who are protected by Gov. Mike DeWine’s Stay at Home order.
But recently, Coldon found himself the recipient of a warning letter from the Portage County Health District, which he said accused him of violating that order. Coldon found the letter ironic, saying one of those staying at his campground is a man distancing from his wife, a health care worker, because he has health problems that could put him at risk.
Earlier this month, warning letters were issued to Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Nelson, Ten Point Crossbow Technologies in Mogadore, Gabe’s in Franklin Township, and Kool Lakes. Since then, letters also have been issued to two additional businesses, Sky Lanes Bowling in Garrettsville, which also has a restaurant and sells food for carry-out, and Philabaum’s Hidden Cove Resort in Deerfield.
The owners of Philabaum’s and Sky Lanes declined comment for this story. Ten Point Crossbow’s voicemail message stated that the business is operating on a reduced staff because of DeWine’s orders and encouraged customers to email their questions.
The Insane Clown Posse canceled its Gathering of the Juggalos, which had been set for August at Nelson Ledge’s Quarry Park. But as of Friday, the Quarry’s voicemail message said that the park was open, encouraging campers to practice social distancing while they were there. By Monday, however, that message was pulled from the park’s phone line.
In addition, the health district, in cooperation with the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, also issued Gabe’s a notice of violation for operating in violation of DeWine’s order and also cited the business for failing to comply with the order and for operating without a food establishment license. Since then, however, the three-member Dispute Resolution Commission, which determines what an essential business is during the pandemic, determined Gabe’s is an essential business as long as it conforms to some requirements.
The health district’s letters to the Portage County businesses warned the businesses to cease operations or provide verification of the essential nature of their businesses.
Coldon said he insisted that the health department inspect his business so he could prove that he complies with the order. Two people from the health district came to the campground, accompanied by a deputy from the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, whom the health district employees seemed to regard as a "legal advisor." Coldon said the female from the health district was concerned about government regulations and seemed to think "it’s my way or the highway."
The woman from the health district, he said, was concerned about customers who were buying propane. The deputy, however, pointed out that many people in the area use propane at their homes for many reasons, including grills and their stoves.
The group took a drive through the campground and that was the end of it, Coldon said. Later, Becky Lehman, public information officer, said Coldon was "correct" that year-round residents are protected by the governor’s order. And Joseph Diorio, the county’s health commissioner, said many of his staff are operating in new roles because of the pandemic and are relying on the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office and the sheriff’s office for guidance.
Coldon said seasonal campers don’t come to the campground until May, because in early spring, it’s too cold for most people to do traditional camping. But before then, he still sees a few year-round residents. Some, he said, leave their campers at the property all year round. Some people have stayed at the campground since November. There are a few utility workers who stay there while they are working on electric lines. And one man, he said, is staying at the campground because of coronavirus.
He said that man has health problems and is concerned that his wife’s job as a health worker would put him at risk.
"He’s isolating himself from his wife," he said. He said he believes it’s not right to put people, including that man, out on the street.
He said he has sought guidance from the American Camp Association. The group encourages campground owners to close their picnic tables and close activities at their camps if local regulations permit them to be open. But Coldon said most campers want to keep to themselves and not socialize with others anyway.
"Some of them have RVs that are half a million dollars," he said. "They have beautiful kitchens and bathrooms to use."
Coldon said he hopes that Gov. Mike DeWine will let him open his campground to seasonal campers, as long as he can encourage them to social distance. So far, campgrounds aren’t part of his plan to reopen Ohio.
"What’s the difference between us and golf courses and marinas?" he said. "People go down to the marina and have a big party on a boat. What’s the difference between them and us?"
Reporter Diane Smith can be reached at 330-298-1139 or firstname.lastname@example.org.