Emily Simmons has started work as the new president and CEO of the Campground Owners of New York (CONY), replacing Donald G. Bennett, Jr., who managed the 60-year-old association since 2006.
Simmons assumed her new position on May 1, although Bennett and his assistant, Suzanne Hopkins, will continue working with CONY through May 12 to help guide Simmons in her new role.
Bennett has already spent time introducing Simmons to CONY’s lobbyist and briefing her on pending legislation the association is tracking that could have an effect on private campground operators.
“I live in Clifton Park, which is about 20 minutes from Albany, which will make it easy for me to work with our lobbyist and our legislative partners,” Simmons said.
When WOODALLSCM.com 9WCM) caught up with Simmons last week, she was scouting new office space for CONY in Clifton Park and looking to hire another staff person.
Simmons has experience in nonprofit association management. She told WCM she got into camping and RVing just like millions of other Americans — during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My family and I purchased our RV during the height of the pandemic,” she said, adding that her husband, Jon, and two children, Joshua, 9, and Madelyn, 6, immediately embraced the RV lifestyle.
But while she is a newcomer to the campground business, Simmons has spent much of her life in different facets of the hospitality industry. A native of Massachusetts, she grew up on Cape Cod, where her parents owned and operated a restaurant, as well as a bed and breakfast inn.
She attended The College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., earning a bachelor of arts degree in public communications. She subsequently worked in the restaurant and catering businesses, eventually landing a job with Mazzone Hospitality, one of the largest hospitality groups in the Northeast.
“They are the Capital Region’s premiere special event and corporate catering company,” Simmons said. “I was fortunate to be with them for over eight years.”
Simmons subsequently worked as director of programs and strategic partnerships for the New York State Economic Development Council, where she spent another three and a half years supporting the economic development of New York and its communities until her life took a different direction.
“I lost my dad very suddenly, and then several other friends and family members,” she said. While none of these deaths involved COVID, Simmons said she lost nine close family members and friends over three years.
Simmons left her economic development job to work for Albany Diocesan Cemeteries during this period in which she used her people and management skills to help people after the death of their loved ones. At the same time, however, Simmons and her family were enjoying the joys of camping and RVing, which eventually led her to apply for the job leading CONY when she saw it posted on Linkedin.
“RVing made me want to focus on life and creating memories,” she said, adding that she looks forward to traveling across New York and meeting CONY members over the coming weeks and months.
“I’m looking forward to going to their campgrounds, getting to know them and learning what they do and what they need from CONY,” she said.
Simmons will also be keeping busy monitoring legislation involving Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, and tourism funding, among other topics in addition to preparing for CONY’s annual convention, which is scheduled for Nov. 2-5 at Turning Stone Resort in Verona, N.Y.
Bennett, for his part, plans to focus his efforts on expanding Merchantry Tourism, a marketing and consulting business he co-owns with his wife, Lisa. His assistant, Suzanne, will also join him at Merchantry Tourism. Bennett also runs an accounting firm and Andersons Brochure Distribution Service in addition to Conesus Lake Campground in Conesus, in New York’s Finger Lake region.