COOKSBURG, Pa. (EYT) – With statewide restrictions on privately owned campgrounds, cabins, golf courses, and some other outdoor activities being lifted on Friday, Cook Forest is abuzz with activity.
Earlier this week, Governor Tom Wolf announced his administration would be allowing for the reopening of golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips, and privately owned campgrounds starting Friday, May 1.
The announcement was met with excitement in the Cook Forest area, where many businesses are now preparing to reopen this weekend.
ExploreClarion.com spoke to a few Cook Forest area business owners who are looking forward to reopening.
MacBeth’s Cabins and Country Store
MacBeth’s Cabins and Country Store includes a store offering wide range of items, from basic groceries to camping supplies, fishing supplies, and items for those looking to enjoy the river, as well as a wine shop, a sandwich shop, and cabin rentals.
“We’ve been open in our store, but we’re really stocking up now with seeing more movement,” owner Mike MacBeth said.
“Our cabins and campground are reopening this weekend. We’ve had a strong, positive response to that, with a lot of people making reservations. People are really excited to get back out in the woods and explore Cook Forest.”
Hominy Ridge Lodge and Cabins
Hominy Ridge Lodge and Cabins offers a variety of cabin options situated on seven private acres centrally located to all of Cook Forest State Park’s attractions.
According to co-owner Paula Pluta, the visitors aren’t the only ones excited.
“We’re really excited to see people coming back to the forest,” Paula said. “Our cabins are ready and all nice and sanitized and clean.”
While it will be good to see people back out in the forest, they will be advising guests about the new rules in place, Paula explained.
“We’ll be reminding people to practice social distancing and to bring masks with them everywhere, because you can’t go into any buildings without them.”
Paula, who suffered the loss of her home and the gift shop part of her business in a fire earlier this year, added that she and her husband are continuing to work on their plans to rebuild.
“When we rebuild, we’re currently planning on including two new Jacuzzi suites.”
Kalyumet Campground and Kalyumet Fore Fun
Kalyumet Campground offers camping and cabin facilities with countless outdoor recreation opportunities in the immediate area. Kalyumet Fore Fun includes an arcade, a virtual reality escape room, laser tag, and miniature golf.
Co-owner Becky Wineman reported she and her husband Mark are planning on a phased opening process.
“We do not feel that we can responsibly open for camping on May 1,” Becky said.
“Our plan will phase in camping for us. Essentially, on May 8 we will open for seasonal campers, then on May 17, we will open for overnight guests.”
Becky noted that seasonal campers are those who leave their campers on-site for the entire season, as opposed to overnight guests who bring in their campers for shorter time spans. She also explained that only self-contained camper units will be permitted and they will remain closed to tenting until further notice.
“We’re excited to get open for the season and welcome everyone back, but we’re proceeding with caution,” Becky said.
“Our main goal has always been the safety of our guests, our staff, and our community.”
While Kalyumet Campground will be opening soon, Kalyumet Fore Fun – which includes an arcade, a virtual reality escape room, laser tag, and miniature golf – will not be opening just yet.
There are many new guidelines and restrictions in place that will be an adjustment for campers, according to Becky.
“It won’t be quite the camping we’re used to.”
Campers Paradise Campground and Cabins are located beside Cook Forest, near the Clarion River, in the Allegheny National Forest.
Owner Andrea Steele reported they will be open on Friday, May 1.
“We are following CDC guidelines, and we are responsible,” Andrea said.
“What can be safer than camping?!”
Campers Paradise offers year-round cabin rentals, as well as wooded sites for recreational vehicles, with many amenities.
“Our campgrounds have water, electric, hot showers, clean restrooms – all of the conveniences, but still have the outdoor experience,” Andrea explained.
Gateway Lodge, a popular getaway destination offering bed and breakfast style suites to rustic cabins, as well as a well-known restaurant and a spa, plans to begin opening for business later in May.
Gateway Lodge manager Ernest Fesco told CookForest.com, “We are taking new reservations for Memorial Day Weekend. (Our) Memorial Day Weekend package ‘tentatively’ includes a Sunday BBQ Dinner as part of a three-night experience in a Luxury Suite accommodation.”
The services extended will be determined by their response to social distancing requirements at that time, Ernest said.
When asked how he felt the Coronavirus will affect their business, Ernest said, “We will be adapting the way our business functions to ensure the safety of our staff and patrons. Guests will be receiving additional communication prior to their stay about their anticipated experience.”
Gateway has not set an official starting date for the reopening of their restaurant.
“We are eager to extend hospitality in a time when connectedness is so important but will do so responsibly,” Ernest added.
Trail’s End Restaurant is a popular restaurant, bar, and lounge nestled along State Route 36 in Cooksburg, well known for everything from their prime rib and seafood to burgers and wings.
According to owner Susie Irwin, Trail’s End has chosen not to be open for take-out, the way many other restaurants have, at least for the moment because they felt they “too far out of the way” for many people.
“Anyway, you can’t really put prime rib in a styrofoam box and expect it to still be as good when people take it the whole way home,” Susie said.
“But, as soon as the governor says it’s okay, we’ll reopen.”
The earliest they could hope to open would be May 8, but they’re still awaiting word on that possibility, according to Susie.
“This closure is very hard on the small businesses of Cook Forest, and everywhere. Please watch for the reopening, and we will all be very glad to welcome our friends, customers, visitors, etc. Prayers to all.”
The Coronavirus Pandemic has done more than just shutter many businesses for a time; it has also changed many things about how businesses can operate.
Businesses are now required to follow updated public health safety measures that include special cleaning protocols, as well as social distancing and COVID-19 mitigation guidance provided by the PA Department of Health and CDC, and also to ensure that there are no gatherings larger than 10 people as recommended by the CDC.
The current guidance includes everything from the wearing of masks in many shared/public areas of campgrounds to continued restrictions on playgrounds and some other facilities.
For people looking forward to visiting Cook Forest, or other parks or outdoor recreational facilities, the CDC has also issued the following guidelines, which must be followed while the state disaster declaration remains in effect:
- Stay close to home: Pennsylvanians are encouraged to enjoy permitted outdoor recreational activities within their community and avoid crowding popular destinations.
- Practice social distancing: Maintain the recommended minimum 6 feet apart from fellow recreationists. Pennsylvanians are also encouraged to wear a mask or protective garment that covers the nose and mouth any time they go outside. If a parking lot at a park is full or there are too many people on the same trail, find an alternate place to recreate. Cross the street to avoid running directly past another runner or wait longer at a golf hole for a fellow golfer to move forward.
- Minimize risk to others: Individuals should only go out if they feel healthy and have not been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
- Practice good hygiene: Wash hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Avoid surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs and handrails.
- Have a plan: Create a safety plan before heading outdoors. Explain to children the need to keep their distance from others, even if they happen to see a friend while outside. Discuss with partners, social distancing while on the golf course. Think through how to avoid other runners when waiting to safely cross a street at the same time.