Debra Fleming has spent the last 35 years of her life running her campground nestled in the pines.
As she strolled along a path leading to the 200-plus campsites, she bent over to pick up an errant soda can near an RV that can be rented at her 45-acre Cedar Creek Campground near Berkeley, N.J., according to the Asbury Park News.
“The campground has been here for 37 years, and I’ve been here for 35 of those years,” said Fleming, 55, who grew up in town, graduated from Central Regional High School and majored in education at Glassboro State College, now Rowan University.
As a teenager, she worked as a park attendant at a neighborhood park “helping children do arts and crafts and make belts.”
She would canoe, too, on Cedar Creek when she was a youngster.
Fleming’s first husband, Arthur Dingee, operated Cedar Creek, and when he died in 1979 after he was crushed by a dump truck at the campground, she decided to stay on and continue the campground operation.
“The banks, of course, wanted to knock on my door and decide the fate of the business. I thought, “Why can’t I carry on?’ ” she recalled. “It was a little bit of a glass ceiling back then.”
However, Fleming said she persisted, and through the years was able to build the business.
“We started out with 24 sites, and now there are a little over 200 sites,” she said. “We went from accommodating 16- to 18-foot campers to being able to accommodate ones that are 35 feet long, some with a pop-up second story.”
Over the years, Fleming said she has made below-ground improvements, as well as above-ground improvements, adding amenities like the larger camp store, cafe, basketball courts, rustic camping cabins and cozy cabins with their own bathrooms.
“We also went from a small pool to a bigger little pool to the big 50-foot-by-75-foot pool next to the camp store,” she said.
When the weather permits, her three big macaws — a blue-footed Amazon, a little gray and a little cockatoo — stand in outdoor cages to greet campers.
“They all talk and when you walk past you’ll hear: “Hello, watcha doing?’ ” she said.
Fleming also has plans to build a water playground, or splash park, that children can play in with their families. She wanted to construct the park this spring so it would open in time for the camping season, but was met with roadblocks from the township because her property lies in three different zones. The township recently rectified that when it revised its land use ordinances.
The canoe and kayak rental and canoe livery service started in 1978 and continues today, she said.
On a good summer weekend, there could be 500 people in the park, Fleming said, adding that her business is a five-month seasonal business.
Fleming said she considers camping to be not only a less expensive way to vacation, but a better way to go on vacation.
“Parents and kids seem to interact more and the family get to enjoy time together instead of going their separate ways,” she said.
And she said she has noticed a new trend: “People my age who chose to buy a motorhome, give up their stuff and float (travel) for awhile.”
With 20 employees helping her, Fleming said she gives families an opportunity to “make memories.”
“We have Banjo Bob on the hayride and roast marshmallows and tell scary stories, and sometimes bad jokes,” she said.
The opening weekend is April 25 and canoe trips continue through Oct. 18.