Camp resort plans raise worries about effects on Upper Delaware
Camp FIMFO is drawing criticism for its scale and potential effect on the character of a rural Catskills town.
| November 2, 2022
Editor’s note: This article is part of an occasional series we call “What’s Going on Here?” to highlight projects and developments throughout the Delaware River watershed.
A drive across the bridge from Shohola, Pa., into a section of the Upper Delaware River in the Catskills of New York leads to a bucolic section of the river corridor.
Here in the hamlet of Barryville in the Town of Highland is a small collection of shops, places to eat and Route 97, which this time of year is exploding in the vibrant fall colors of orange, red and yellow.
But that charming welcome and sense of serenity has been upended lately by a contentious debate about plans for a nearby decades-old campsite that its new owners say will bring jobs, improved facilities and cater to families.
Opponents and environmental activists, though, are not convinced, and have expressed concerns that the project could threaten the health of the river and change the character of their town (population 2,500).
The new owner, Northgate Resorts, which operates camp resorts across the country, took over the Kittatinny campsite in 2020. Kittatinny, which features canoe trips, ziplines, campsites and tents, is a legacy attraction dating back to 1941 — a heyday era for the Catskills in Sullivan County when visitors flocked to the mountains and woods to escape the density and heat of New York City.
On its website, Northgate says it plans to redevelop the Kittatinny site and as Camp FIMFO Catskills, a reference to the company’s branding of “Fun Is More Fun Outside.”
The site would offer a variety of camping accommodations, such as tent sites, glamping pods, camping trailers and treetop cabins.
“Upgraded accommodations will provide a consistent, pleasing, and well-maintained visual along Route 97,” it says. “And with more accessible camping options, Camp FIMFO Catskills will attract more families looking for a convenient and hassle-free camping getaway.”
Its plans include a water playground, sports courts, mini golf, a heated swimming pool, hot tubs, golf cart rentals and improved facilities for campers spread over a little more than 220 acres. (The original plans called for a so-called mountain coaster. In a letter read at a public hearing last week, the company said it was dropping that planned attraction.)
The company touts what it expects will be an annual payroll of $2.5 million and an increase in full-time equivalent jobs, to 89, from a current mix of 46 part- and full-time jobs.
Project framed as a new use, not an expansion
Thematically throughout its literature, the company has emphasized that its plans are not an expansion of an existing use but merely a redevelopment or modification of what’s there now.
Critics say that is a veneer Northgate has placed over the project, which they fear will lead to damaging stormwater runoff, an overreliance on water and construction in a flood plain that could prove harmful to the nearby Delaware River.
“Camp FIMFO is not proposing a continuation of the current style of camping that has a light footprint on our watershed, invites a rich and caring diversity of people and families that want to engage with our river, nature and communities,” said Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “It is seeking to transform the site in significant, impactful and even harmful ways.”
A second public hearing held by the town planning board last week drew more than 80 people who came to the Eldred Junior Senior High School gymnasium to voice their opinions.
Their comments echoed those expressed at a September hearing, in which residents raised concerns about traffic and the demands on local emergency responders and complained about tax breaks the developers expect to seek from the county Industrial Development Agency.
A common theme among residents: The demand for water to accommodate the improvements and water park could cause neighboring wells to go dry.
Residents said the project would be out of sync with the town’s rural character, create a density of visitors larger than the hamlet of Barryville and would be aesthetically incompatible with the surroundings along the Delaware River corridor.
Andy Boyar, a former town supervisor, said at the first hearing, “The very essence of their business model is to exploit to the nth degree the natural beauty we have so carefully cultivated over generations.”
Hearing resumes Nov. 30
Residents worry that impervious surfaces from paved parking will contribute to flooding, runoff and the destruction of wildlife habitat.
A letter filed by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and an opposition group, Know Camp FIMFO, said the developer plans water usage of 25,000 gallons per day but said the project is designed for 40,000 gallons. (A report filed by the developers said daily usage would be “less than” 35,000 gallons.)
“Is FIMFO anticipating additional future expansions for which it is planning and preparing? If so, what are they?” the letter asked.
The letter from Know FIMFO and the Riverkeeper Network warned that the project is in a flood plain, which introduces another concern.
“Climate change has been increasing the level and frequency of flooding in our river communities,” the letter said. “Placing any such infrastructure in the floodplain will most certainly introduce structures and chlorinated water, and potentially other chemicals, into the river when the floods do come.”
The project faces numerous levels of reviews by an acronym salad of agencies, such as the Delaware River Basin Commission, the New York State Departments of Health, Transportation and Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as town planners.
The Upper Delaware Council has reviewed the project and recommended to the National Park Service that it substantially conforms to the land and water use guidelines of the river management plan. The Park Service is expected to make a determination around Nov. 10.
The Highland Planning Board is set to resume its review at a meeting on Nov. 30.
In response to questions from Delaware Currents about what assurances Northgate can offer that impacts to the Upper Delaware, the environment at large and the community in general will be mitigated and that these concerns are being heard, Brian Czarnecki, a regional operations manager, responded that those broad issues would be addressed at the next meeting.
“As you may know, both the public and the Town Planning Board have presented questions to us and all are equally important,” he wrote in an email. “Taking those questions in consideration as well as the comments to be delivered by the National Park Services will allow us to prepare the needed follow-up to be presented” on Nov. 30.