Former Owners Upset over Gay Campground
While Mary and Larry Oney, former owners of Freedom Valley Campgrounds near Fitchville, Ohio, are upset with the news that the business they built up is turning into an all-male facility that will cater to gays, the new owners said they just want the chance to run a responsible business, according to the Norwalk Reflector.
“I never would have let them keep that name,” Mary Oney said. “We built that place. It was our dream and now every time I hear that name I cringe.” She and her husband started the campground 13 years ago.
She said she didn’t find out about the new owner’s plans for the campgrounds until after all the legal paperwork was signed.
Oney said they sold the campground because her husband has faced cancer, open heart surgery and a stroke in recent years.
“Obviously we needed to sell because he’s been so sick,” she said. “One bill alone was $519,000 so we had to do something.”
Oney said the new owners reneged on an agreement to let their long-term clients remain at the park.
“They had originally told us our seasonal campers could stay here for a year,” Oney said, but campers were asked to remove their recreational vehicles shortly after the sale.
“We’ve tried to be good citizens out here,” Oney said.
Michael Folkman and Jeff Boone, new owners for Freedom Valley, confirmed plans to allow only men and advertise in the gay community.
“We’re changing it,” Folkman said. “This is 2008.”
He said he already has reservations for the camping season, which will begin in April at Freedom Valley.
Both men said they were surprised by the furor caused by the story in the Norwalk Reflector last week and said their business will be just like any other campground.
“We like to camp like anybody else,” Boone said. “Gay campers are a select group of people, just like straight campers. It is just our preference.”
Fears that behavior will get out of hand at an all-male gay campground are completely unfounded, both Folkman and Boone said.
“We’re not going to be bothering anybody,” Boone said. “It is a way for us to be in a safe environment.” He said the two have experienced discrimination over the years while camping at family campgrounds.
Boone added that gay campgrounds are fairly common in the United States. The men took down a link on their website that allowed people to look up other gay campgrounds.
“We didn’t want other campgrounds to get hate mail,” Boone said, adding he also hopes no one retaliates against the Oneys.
“After learning we would open as a gay men’s campground, they expressed their disapproval in a very direct and firm manner,” he said.
Both men said they hope the community gives them the chance to prove their worth.
“We did not choose to come here to agitate the surrounding community,” Boone said in a blog comment on the Reflector’s website. “We have 53 acres of private land to be free to be ourselves and to be our own family of choice. We understand the community will vent and perhaps cause trouble. But we plan to stay and we shall with our faith in God and support from friends and family to be a productive member of this community and adding to its local economy.”
Folkman was a real estate appraiser for 31 years in the Cleveland area before moving to Fitchville to manage the campground.
Boone, also originally from Cleveland, said the two decided to buy the campground as a retirement investment.
The facility has 50 sites for recreational vehicles and other sites for tent camping.
He said work will start on a new in-ground pool as soon as weather allows.