FITCHVILLE After the initial firestorm of controversy with the news that Freedom Valley Campground would be the state's first all-male campground catering to gays, the new owners were a little concerned about the community's reaction.
Their sexual orientation wasn't a big deal in Cleveland, but they had chosen a rural, conservative area and a gay campground in Fitchville was a big change.
A successful opening this spring, including about 200 campers over Memorial Day weekend, has allayed those concerns and they now looking forward to adding to the local economy.
Michael Folkman and Jeff Boone said in January they simply wanted to have a place for gay men to safely enjoy camping. They are pleased with the season so far.
"We have a very good mix," Folkman said. "There's a real niche of gay campers." He said they have seasonal campers from as far away as Michigan and Indiana.
The men have special events planned throughout the summer, including line dancing classes, cookouts and sporting events. Friends and families are invited to join campers on two weekends during the season.
With several improvements already complete, they anticipate a growing number of campers as word of mouth gets out about their facility. Recreational vehicles are already parked in 27 of the 29 seasonal lots. Campers have added decks, awnings, lighting and landscaping to their rented spaces.
Foldman and Boone also have been busy improving the landscaping.
"When I was a homeowner, you would never have seen me doing any type of landscaping," Foldman said after he got down off his lawn tractor while mowing the front yard.
"On the other hand, I love it," Boone said. They agreed that their individual strengths and experiences are helping them build a success business for their retirement years.
Folkman and Boone split 14 acres off from the 53-acre parcel for their private residence and a new pool.
At the campground, they've added a bunkhouse with 12 beds and two grills and two cabins with one queen-size bed each. They've brought in more than 500 tons of gravel to improve the roads and walkways, built steps for guests to reach the lower property easier and stocked the pond with bluegill and largemouth bass.
They also sell liquid propane and firewood and have a store, laundry room, showers and toilets near the office.
They offer about 50 pull-through sites for recreational vehicles or pop-ups and other sites for primitive and tent camping.
The men also have added a disc jockey booth to the dance hall with an outside patio now covered by a tent, which will eventually be replaced by a permanent roof.
Movies and a bonfire are planned for Friday nights. Saturdays will feature a disc jockey or a themed party at the dance hall. Every third Saturday of the month, campers can join in a potluck meal.
Both Folkman and Boone said they are trying to be productive members of the local community.
"We've immersed ourselves in the local community," Boone said, including attending township meetings and using local contractors for work on the property. "The neighbors have been great."
He said they found a neighbor plowing snow out their drive one winter day who told them he just thought he could help them out a little.
"I'm sure our campers are adding to the local economy, too," Folkman said. "People may choose not to embrace our lifestyle, but economy is economy and we're good neighbors."
Carl Pay, who owns C &M's Country Cafe in Savannah with his wife Mary, said he has seen an increase in patrons due to Freedom Valley Campgrounds.
"We have no problems," Pay said. "They are good customers. They treat the waitresses with respect and they tip good."
Geri Spears works at New London Pizza House and her parents, Larry and Rita Fritz, own the business. Spears also said the patrons the restaurant gets from the campground are absolutely no problem. "It has been fine," she said. "We deliver out to the campground" and are glad to see new customers.
"The community as a whole has been phenomenal and we have good support," Folkman said. That's just what they wanted when moved from the hustle and bustle of Cleveland to Huron County to be part of the community."