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Campground owners in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountains are welcoming a return to normal after the capture of a fugitive wanted in connection with the sniper-style deaths of two law enforcement officers. They are lamenting the loss of business during the massive 49-day manhunt, but are thankful the ordeal is over.

Eric Matthew Frein is the suspect in the Sept. 12 deaths of Cpl. Bryon K. Dickson II, an officer of the Pennsylvania State Police and Alex Douglass, another state trooper in Pike County. Both men were killed by bullets fired from a sniper.

A massive manhunt ensued, and Frein was captured Oct. 30 at an abandoned airport near Tannersville.

The manhunt encompassed multiple areas in Monroe and Pike counties, located east of Scranton, Pa., in northeast Pennsylvania.

Obviously, area campgrounds were affected, including Ironwood Point Recreation Area in Greentown, Hemlock Campground and Cottages in Tobyhanna, Mountain Vista Campground in East Stroudsburg and Mount Pocono Campground in Mt. Pocono. All four campgrounds have closed for the season as of last weekend.

Mount Pocono Campground

Mount Pocono Campground

Debbie and Scott Roberts are the owners of Mount Pocono Campground, located just three miles from the abandoned airport where Frein was captured.

Debbie told Woodall’s Campground Management their business was down 40% in September and October.

“They captured him on Thursday and we closed for the season on Friday, and it wasn’t like we got a zillion calls for reservations on that last day we were open,” Debbie said.

She was at a loss as to why her campground was affected so severely, questioning law enforcement’s extreme response and the media’s sensationalistic coverage.  “We bump up against state game land so maybe that was it, but I guess you can’t guarantee safety,” she said.

Siblings Scott and Debbie Roberts

Scott and Debbie Roberts

Debbie said police presence at her campground didn’t really pick up until the last stages of the manhunt. At one point, she said,  two patrol cars drove through the property. Then, on another occasion, police came into the campground with bomb-sniffing dogs that were brought in from Philadelphia.

“It got to be a real joke after a while,’ she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted they caught him, but after a while they were grasping at straws.”

Debbie said she and her brother are looking forward to things returning to normal. She said they have even started getting reservations for next year. “But it was a tough seven weeks for us,” she said.

Hemlock Campground and Cottages

Hemlock Campground and Cottages

Barbara Repetski, who owns Hemlock Campground and Cottages with her husband, Craig, said they were also down about the same amount of business in September and October as Mount Pocono Campground.

“Which is a shame, really, because everything was looking like were going to have a great fall season. Our reservations were up and our July and August were phenomenal,” Barbara said. “We were looking like we were going to have a great year, but now we won’t even make as much as we made last year.”

Although her campground is 40 minutes away from the heart of the manhunt, Barbara said the cancelations were coming in nonstop. “Some were canceling weeks in advance, others on the day of (arrival) because they were waiting to see if he got caught,” she said.

Barbara, who serves on the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association, said the effects were felt by many campgrounds even if they were miles and miles away from the affected area. “Everybody in the Poconos felt it,” she said. “It went downhill very quickly. It kicked us in the butt. Oh well, it could have been worse. It could have been in July and August when we make the bulk of our money.”

Police came through her campground just once, she said, but the entire situation was “scary.”

She said she and Craig would park their vehicles at a different cabin each night, and would leave lights on throughout the property to give the appearance of a populated campground. They would leave the house and look into the woods, wondering if the fugitive was looking back at them.

“After a while, though, we just said, ‘You’ve got to live your life,’” Barbara told WCM. “I mean, to us it was pretty obvious this was a game to him. He didn’t shoot anyone else after those two officers, so it was like has was playing a game with the police trying to catch him.”

Otter Lake Camp-Resort

Otter Lake Camp-Resort

Interestingly, another campground, Otter Lake Camp-Resort in East Stroudsburg, wasn’t nearly as negatively affected. Although it’s located only 7 1/2 miles south of the main area of the manhunt, Karen Soranno, the campground’s office manager, said there might have been a few cancellations, but “not many at all.”

“We have a lot of repeat customers and those people know us and they know the area and we didn’t have a problem at all,” she said. “We still had our Halloween weekend on the 24th and we were full and the kids were all out and everyone had a good time. We kept it as normal as possible.”

She said the state police did search the campground during the manhunt and they could see and hear law enforcement helicopters on occasion, but nothing overwhelming.

The Poconos Mountains Visitors Bureau has distributed information on low-interest loans available to businesses negatively affected by the 49-day manhunt. For more information, visit the bureau’s website at www.800poconos.com.