With millions of acres of federal land, Coconino County has long been a good place to get outside and sleep under the stars.
But now, an increasing number of companies are taking advantage of that fact.
Over the last two years, the county has seen an explosion in the number of new private camping projects proposed for development, many of them clustered along State Road 64.
Between new sites and expansions of existing camping areas, there have been 14 recent applications for camping focused projects across the county, according to the county community development department.
One of those, The Doney, has been approved for an area off State Road 89 northeast of Flagstaff.
And seven of the projects are located off State Road 64, with five sites clustered around the community of Grand Canyon Junction, formally Valle.
County Community development director Jay Christelman said staff started to see the trend in 2019. And the COVID-19 pandemic, which has put a new emphasis on outdoor recreation, has only sped up that trend.
Most of the projects have a lot in common, Christelman said. Generally, the projects offer various kinds of upscale camping structures to stay in such as yurts or other kinds of more permanent tents, in addition to a handful of more traditional car camping and RV sites.
Many of them also tout northern Arizona’s dark night skies and star gazing opportunities as a big draw for visitors.
“So for the last few years, we have been seeing an extraordinary, extraordinary interest in just campgrounds in general. Most of them have the glamping type thing with fancy tents, and you know, yurts […] but also some interest in RV parks,” Christelman said. “People are tired of being stuck in their homes, but they can't really travel. So they go spend a weekend in one of these yurts or glamping tents and just get out of the house away from people.”
And Christelman said they are only expecting more projects to come across their desks.
Every other week, community development staff hold pre-application meetings to provide information to interested developers on the process within Coconino County, and campsite proposals have become a common occurrence.
“I would say that we have one to three pre-application meetings every other Wednesday that are specific to a campground,” he said. Only a fraction of those ever go farther than the pre-application meeting, but Christelman said it illustrates just how much interest there is in those kinds of projects.
Christelman said the wave of projects comes after a change in the county’s zoning ordinance in November 2019 that created a new definition accommodating camping type projects.
At that time, after interest in camping projects began to ramp up, county staff and the Board of Supervisors added new definitions and regulations allowing the development of such projects within the county zoning ordinance.
The changes allowed camping projects on parcels of land that have the county’s general zone, if a developer received a conditional use permit.
Parcels of land with the general zone are a minimum of 10 acres, but can be much larger.
In that way, the county planning and zoning commission would have the ability to review such projects and decide whether to approve them.
Prior to the change, such projects were not allowed within the county’s general zone, meaning a developer hoping to building a camping project had to request the land be changed to either a resort commercial or commercial heavy zone.
And given how remote most of the projects are, and how they are most often surrounded on all sides by other properties with the general zone, that could be a tall order, Christelman said.
Camping projects have to meet several qualifications before county staff and the zoning commission can grant a permit, such as ensuring there is adequate road access, preferably on county maintained roads, and that fire and emergency response plans are in place and have been approved by local fire officials, Christelman said.
Recent projects that have been proposed include:
-- Windmill Ranch Resort and the Munds RV Expansion, both on Interstate 17 between Flagstaff and Munds Park.
-- The Happy Jack Lodge expansion is proposed near Clints Well.
-- Village Camp Flagstaff and Moose Ranch have both been proposed for areas between Flagstaff and Williams.
-- Two Guns Resort proposed past Winona on I-40.
-- Sun Plaza, CPEX Campground, Nomad’s Pad, Wander Camp and K&R Retreats Camp are all proposed along the State Road 64 corridor and clustered around Grand Canyon Junction.
-- A project called Glamp Canyon is proposed for an area between Tusayan and Grand Canyon National Park.
-- Lastly, Grand Canyon Glamping is proposed along State Road 64 between Williams and Red Lake.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund.