ALBANY — Start your campfires!
Campgrounds and RV parks can open in New York after largely being shuttered March 22 as the coronavirus pandemic swept the state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that campgrounds can open immediately so long as the facilities, both state run and privately owned, follow social distancing protocols and other safety steps.
State-owned campgrounds are closed to overnight visitation until June 7, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and "is finalizing plans to safely reopen DEC campgrounds."
Upstate New York and the Hudson Valley are in phase one of a four-phase reopening process, but the state has been separately allowing some sectors to become "essential businesses," so they could reopen immediately.
Campgrounds were added to the essential list Sunday.
"Campgrounds must take precautions to ensure campers maintain appropriate social distancing and adhere to proper cleaning and disinfecting protocols," the guidance from Empire State Development said.
What will be new at campsites this summer?
Campers must maintain six feet of distance between campers, "unless wearing an acceptable face covering, excluding persons from the same household who are camping together," the guidance said.
The state's decision is good news for campgrounds who were uncertain over how they would proceed this summer amid a COVID-19 outbreak that has killed more than 23,500 New Yorkers.
The state alone owns 52 campgrounds in the Adirondacks and Catskills, and tourism is New York's fourth largest employer.
The camping experience may be different this year, but it could serve as a nice respite for people as they try to stay safe from the virus, said Donald Bennett, Jr., executive director of Campground Owners of New York, a trade association for the industry.
"We definitely feel that campgrounds and RV parks will be able to very safely operate and will operate in a way to help people, I guess, get used to the new normal so they can get out and enjoy an affordable activity," Bennett said.
For now, playgrounds and pools at campsites will remain closed, and they will adhere to the state's order that no more than 10 people can congregate together at once with social distancing in place, he said.
Bathrooms and showers will undergo enhanced cleaning protocols in accordance with state and federal standards, Bennett said.
When will campgrounds open?
While the state has given approval for campsites and RV parks to reopen, the state facilities won't open until next month.
Some counties had allowed their local campsites to already open, and the statewide approval will help unify the system, Bennett said.
"As we make progress in the fight against COVID-19, we will continue to take a phased approach to reopening the state and gradually ease restrictions on various activities and businesses," said Kristin Devoe, a spokeswoman for Empire State Development.
The DEC said all of its campgrounds and pavilions are closed to overnight visitation through June 7. And visitors with reservations will be issued a full refund.
For other reservations through the summer and fall, visitors can cancel any existing reservations and either receive a full refund or transfer the reservation to the 2021 season.