Adirondackers might snicker at the term “glamping,” but David Webb seems to be getting the last laugh.
The entrepreneur, who launched his version of glamorous camping in 2011, has captured the attention of The New York Times.
In January, the Adirondack Mountains, and specifically Webb’s Camp Orenda in Johnsburg, made the Sunday Travel section’s “46 Places to Go in 2013,” placing 21st between Ningxia, China, and Oslo, Norway.
“It’s so exciting that everything I’ve put in here — the passion and hard work — and to see an industry that was pretty much non-existent three years ago, is now on the forefront,” Webb said. “It was an honor for me to be written up and to be a part of getting the Adirondacks mentioned as a go-to destination.”
Clients across the U.S. as well as Europe have already booked for the season at Orenda, he said.
Every weekend is filled until mid-September. Mid-week reservations are going quickly.
The growth of Orenda has been particularly gratifying for Webb. He has developed property his parents purchased nearly 40 years ago and where he and his brother, Christopher, spent happy times together as kids.
In a November 2011 story, Webb told The Post-Star he vowed to his then 35-year-old brother when he was battling a terminal illness that he would “do something” with the land.
He kept his promise.
Webb has built his own brand of glamorous camping: an all-inclusive authentic back-country experience with plenty of bells and whistles. At Orenda, there’s no need to bring camping gear. Guests sleep on high-count cotton-clad mattresses in canvas tents heated by wood stoves and dine on freshly prepared “gourmet Americana” cuisine served with silverware and enamelware dishes.
Arrangements can be made for guided hikes, rafting and fishing trips and horseback rides, or visitors can shoot arrows at the archery range or hang back with a book in the outdoor pavilion that juts out over a rushing brook.
“It’s important for me for people to understand they’re not coming up to some random place. They’re coming to an area in a private setting and getting all the amenities and access to some of the most beautiful locations such as Crane (Mountain), Garnet Lake, the Hudson River right around the corner, Mill Creek – Class A trout fishing,” Webb said.
Although Webb has a total of 46 acres, Orenda’s development sits mainly on two acres, with 2 1/2 miles of marked hiking trails.
The first structure, a pavilion, was built in 2009, followed by an outdoor kitchen and three canvas cabins. He welcomed guests for his “soft opening” in 2011 but considered last year his first official year in business.
At the close of the 2012 season, Webb said he already exceeded financial goals he had forecasted during his fifth year of business and now, thanks to the plug from The New York Times, Orenda is “off the charts.”
In late April, a crew was readying Orenda for the first wave of guests arriving in a few weeks. Plans called for a fourth cabin, extensions of the pavilion and kitchen, and the construction of a 6- by 7-foot outdoor enclosed cedar shower with slate floor.
Webb is also replacing portable toilets with a bathhouse, adding personal touches like handmade soaps, installing Wi-Fi access to all cabins and partnering with more outdoor-adventure businesses to keep his visitors occupied.
Claudia Wheeler, owner of Wolf Pond Stables in Stony Creek, has worked with Webb since the camp opened and offers horseback riding instruction to small groups. She said her business has been positively impacted by Orenda.
“It’s helped me out a great deal. I’d say it’s doubled,” she said. “(Webb) usually gives me a heads up of who he’s got scheduled for me and then I just plan accordingly.”
Jim “Cork” Nester, broker/owner of Nester’s True North Properties and chairman of the town’s Planning Board, said although he hasn’t seen an increase in people wanting to buy property in Johnsburg, he believes Webb has given the area unprecedented exposure and is bringing people to the area who might not have visited otherwise.
“A lot of times when people think of camping … they would rather stay in a hotel. They like to be outside during the day but at night they want to sleep in a nice bed, whereas Dave kind of bridges that very gray line between camping and being kind of pampered,” Nester said.
Webb said he has “built out” Orenda and has no plans for any more construction, which he feels would detract from the rustic atmosphere and privacy of his guests.
He said he has little patience for businesses that profess to offer the glamping experience but do little to upgrade their offerings.
“Nobody is incorporating hospitality, food and beverage and guiding all into one small business,” he said. “Instead, people say, ‘I have a couple of yurts, let’s do something.’”
Looking into the future, Webb said he’d like to open another Orenda in the Adirondacks and is searching for property with a water feature. He’s also scouring some of the more remote islands in the Caribbean and near Puerto Rico for an “island Orenda.” Similar to what he has established in the Adirondacks, he’d like to build a resort that blends local history, culture and native food into the natural environment.
Christopher’s ashes are spread over Orenda, reminding Webb of the pact he made with his brother. Asked what Christopher might think of the work that has gone into Orenda, Webb choked back tears.
“He’d be pretty amazed. He’d be impressed we put something together that is so in tune with the environment and gives people the chance to dial out,” Webb said. “It’s going to be a successful retreat for years and years to come.”
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