Last spring, I was told by a wealthy Hamptons resident that a Brooklyn firm was about to take over a part of Cedar Point Park and charge campers $300 per night for accommodations in a luxury tent. As a lawyer, he was concerned about it. For half a century or more, part of this 607-acre county park has been used as a camping facility, with sites available for $40 a night, and it seemed in recent years to be failing.
The country store inside this park has been closed for the past three years and so campers have no place for last minute purchases anymore. Maintenance work on the facility is poor. And now some New Yorkers were muscling in and taking over a clearing in the park right facing out onto the bay where the old camping community might not be able to go. There was such a thing as running a private for-profit business in a public park—they call it a concession—but he wondered if the county was being properly compensated for this.
I’ve known Dick White as a friend since we were both teenagers. He lives in Montauk and has been on the County Park Commission for a dozen years or more, and as April turned to May I said I wanted to have a look up there and asked if I needed any kind of pass to get into this site.
“You can just drive right in and park wherever you want. There’s a booth at the entrance, but usually it is unmanned. It’s not a problem.”
My wife and I drove up there on a Friday morning, two weeks before Memorial Day weekend. The unmanned entry booth was in need of repainting and repair, as were the locked-up country store and the police facility, and we went down the potholed roads and through the woods, passing a half-dozen trailers set up on camping sites, where people were about to rough it and pay $40 a night for the privilege. People sitting on aluminum folding chairs looked at us curiously as we drove along. More than a hundred other regular camping sites were unoccupied.
You couldn’t miss the “glamping” site. Thirty sparkling new white tents had been set up on wooden platforms side-by-side in six rows, facing out onto the pebbly beach and the lapping waters of the bay beyond. Adjacent to these tents was a field where two much larger white tents were set up across from some luxury portable toilet and shower facilities. In between, on the lawn, was a fire pit and folding tables, chairs and couches. Nobody was there, so we walked around.
Soon a car pulled up and we came to meet one of several employees who were bringing supplies out to this place, which was called Terra Glamping. And they explained how it all worked.
One of the big tents was filled with lounge chairs, sofas, a phone-charger station, books, cards and board games. The other big tent was for a continental breakfast buffet that offered fresh pastries, cut fruit, yogurt, orange juice, coffee and granola.
There was yoga at dawn in the field, swimming, sunbathing and hiking activities during the day, music in the evening and a grilling area nearby—just bring your own. But no electricity or wifi. Evenings were by flashlight, with quiet time starting at 10 p.m.
They told us we could look around, but please not to go into the tents, though we could look through the screened windows. Some tents had been rented, breakfast had been served, and those few people had gone off into town.
We walked the beach and saw kayaks and paddling boards in racks. It was a very peaceful scene. There was beach access alongside the glamping for the regular campers to go to the beach. Stakes three feet high with clotheslines attached defined the glamping area. But people could go in and out.
Some of the tents were open so you could look in. The furniture was luxurious, the double bed inviting, the rugs reminiscent of an African safari. Very nice indeed. Certainly a lovely getaway for hiking and kayaking and more.
What I learned in investigating all this was how luxury glamping contrasted with the regular camping and how hard up the County Parks Department was for money, not just at Cedar Point but in every county facility it oversees. Repairs and improvements are needed everywhere. Budgets were created for the county to approve, which they did, but for years there has been a freeze on spending money on anything at all other than keeping the places they have open, Dick White told me, with just the lightest sprinkling of county employees imaginable. I had no idea the County Parks Department was so broke.
One example of this, besides the decline of the facilities at Cedar Point, was what is happening to the Vanderbilt boathouse in Centerport. The Vanderbilt Mansion and grounds were taken over by the county in the 1940s, and the boathouse, a magnificent Victorian structure, is falling to ruin. They just didn’t have the funds to stop it. In recent years, the county has sold public properties it owns because it could not take care of them. They sold Long Wharf to the Village of Sag Harbor. They sold the Shinnecock Inlet Marina, docks and parking facilities in Hampton Bays to the Town of Southampton.
As for Cedar Point, White added, the country store closed and locked because the people running it were elderly and couldn’t manage it anymore. Without it, he believes, the number of camping units has gone into a downward spiral. There is nowhere to get a quart of milk or even toilet paper.
Furthermore, attempts by the county to grant a “concession” for someone to run the store has had no takers. And amid all this, they began running a glamping facility at Cedar Point. They asked for competing bids, got a few, and took this one. The glamping company pays the county a monthly fee.
During the summer, I had no occasion to go “glamping.” I have a home in East Hampton. But when fall came, I asked Dick White if he would ask his commissioners to answer some questions about how the summer went. I put it in an email. Here’s what came back.
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“Nick Gibbons sent us your email from Dan Rattiner of Dan’s Papers. The answer to his questions are below.
“Terra Glamping were pleased with their first season results.
“Suffolk County Parks has asked Terra Glamping about considering operating the camp store and they are very interested. We are hoping to have a contract in place in time for the next season.
“Overall there was minimal difference in negative feedback from previous years at Cedar Point County Park. The park experienced an increase in the number of reservations for the 2019 season over the two previous seasons.
“Suffolk County Parks is always looking to improve our parks and their operations. We are looking forward to having a new picnic area by the camp store available for groups and individuals for next season.
“The County did not receive any legal complaints regarding Glamping.”
As of February 2020, the concession for the store at Cedar Point is still up for grabs. Call 631-854-4949.