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Camping options abound for Firefly Festival

Just weeks after hosting tens of thousands of people for its first NASCAR weekend of the year, Dover will welcome thousands more to the state capital later this month for the Firefly Music Festival at the Woodlands at Dover Downs. Like NASCAR, most attending the now four-day concert feast fest will be staying nearby, whether checking into hotels, camping on-site or, in some cases, camping off-site, essentially in someone’s yard.

There are four listings on Craigslist.org currently that offer off-site campsites ranging from $50 to $400. There are varying lists of amenities, one described as a 30-minute walk to the festival offers showers, bottled water, even access to the family barbeque (that perk is listed at $1, an unlikely price for such luxury). One site, listed several times, includes an air-conditioned gathering area, hot showers and a fire pit.

At Burnt Ducks Hunting Lodge on Dyke Branch Road, they will even take campers up to the festival entrance with a shuttle running throughout the day. For $400 for the long weekend, the sweet set-up also includes wi-fi and picnic tables. The lodge has some 15 years experience with NASCAR visitors.

There is a bit of uncertainty regarding the rules governing these campsites. City of Dover officials hope to get their ordinance updated soon after the festival ends this year. Currently, it doesn’t consider tent camping, just “self-contained recreational vehicles” race fans commonly bring to NASCAR race weekends.

“We need to go back and address tent camping. Our ordinance is for self-contained recreation vehicles,” said Ann Marie Townshend, director of Planning & Community Development for the City of Dover, “We need to be sure there are adequate sanitary facilities, for example.”

She said the number of event camping permit applications for Firefly is far lower than those filed for NASCAR events because large parking lots, like the one at Dover Mall, aren’t being used for tent parking.

Currently, campsites for Firefly go through the same application process as the one for NASACR. If someone wants to allow more than five camps on a property, an application with a diagram of the sites must be submitted. The number of sites dictates the cost of the permit, but Townshend said the most expensive permit costs about $150.

In Smyrna, one woman is offering her farm at the low end of the price range for available sites. For $50 campers can pull up to a spot in the grass, set up a tent and a fire and enjoy your nights under the stars on a quiet back road.

Lisa isn’t using her last name because she hasn’t applied for a permit to allow camping on her 120-acre farm. She has hosted campers every year for Firefly.

“I’m just trying to do it on the down-low, just putting an ad on Craigslist and then hopefully the people who come here will tell their friends and I can make a little extra money.”

Lisa has never been to Firefly, saying it’s too expensive for her and “not really my thing,” but she goes to other festivals, most recently last month she went to Delfest, a bluegrass festival in Cumberland, Md. She sees herself offering a service for fellow festival goers.

“A lot of people come to the festival and they’re young and they’re spending all their money on the tickets and to get here. It’s expensive, so I’m just trying to help people out and help myself out a little bit at the same time,” said Lisa.

Lisa doesn’t expect to make a significant amount of money. She said with the cost of the port-a-potty she provides for her campers Wednesday through Sunday night, she has cleared just a couple of hundred dollars each year. She doesn’t fill her property with tents, but allows for 40 campers in her side yard. Last year she had about half that.

“If it got crazy, we have plenty of room,” Lisa said. The first two years, though, have been pretty mellow on her Smyrna farm.
“It’s quieter than I really expected. For the first year I didn’t know what to expect. The next year when it got a little bigger I thought maybe it’ll get crazy and I was a little bit afraid of that, but it’s just I think people are just so tired after going to the festival all day and coming back that they just want to chill, have a fire, have something to eat, you know, and rest,” she said.

And there’s little chance those staying at Lisa’s farm will find themselves without a place to sleep should her unpermitted site draw attention of local government officials.

Technically, applications should be in 60 days prior to the event, which in this case has already passed for Firefly, but Townshend said the City of Dover attempts to be flexible, approving sites as late as the week of the festival. Beyond that, when fire marshals go out during the festival, if they see an unlicensed camping area, they will attempt to contact the property owners first to give them the opportunity to submit an application on the spot and pay the permit fee, rather than simply shutting down the camp.

“We try to stay on top of it,” Townshend said. “But it isn’t all in the City of Dover, it’s partially in the city and partially in (Kent) county.”

For those who choose to stay on-site, Red Frog Productions is offering more than 15,000 camping spots at The Woodlands, ranging from the very basic spots where campers find themselves with pretty close corners for four nights and five days at $149 to the Premier Glamping for five nights and six days with amenities like a full set of linens on a queen-sized bed and complimentary Firefly robes (there will be RV campers as well) for $999. More than 14,000 of those sites are sold out, with just the bottom level of sites available. Festival representatives expect more than 50,000 campers.

Josh Mohr, the camping assistant director at Firefly, said he isn’t concerned about off-site camping, given the numbers the festival will see in The Woodlands.

“Red Frog and the Firefly team’s main focus is on providing a top-notch and comfortable experience for all guests on the festival grounds,” Mohr said in an email. “Our Campgrounds have expanded this year, and we are looking forward to welcoming these campers and festival guests to a great weekend.”

Lisa feels her farm is a low-key, more peaceful alternative to staying on-site at the festival.

“It’s really relaxed and quiet. When the weather’s good and the stars are out, there are no lights around here and you can see everything, it’s beautiful out here at night.”

And she enjoys the opportunity to get a little of the Firefly experience without having to actually go.

I’ve been going to festivals for many years and I love to go to festivals. I’m retired now and I take care of my mom so I can’t really go as much as I used to,” said Lisa. “So I figured [by hosting campers] I can still stay close to home and enjoy that festival experience, the camping side of things.”