Camping for Thunder

Tanya Campbell cooks chicken over a campfire under the watch of (from left) Haylee Collins, Miah Campbell, Maria Contreras and Kyley Campbell on Thursday, June 13, 2019, at Quemahoning Family Recreation Area campground in Hollsopple.

When a group of Ohio bikers roll into town for Thunder in the Valley every summer, they aren’t just bringing motorcycles, they’re bringing a fully equipped recreation vehicle, too, Quemahoning Family Recreation Area Manager Ken Dranzik said.

“Thunder in the Valley is like another holiday weekend for us – they definitely help me fill the park,” Dranzik said.

It’s not just local hotels that are busy during the four-day weekend, according to officials with the Greater Johnstown Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

While Greenhouse Park will be dormant this year, Thunder’s organizers said they regularly refer bikers looking for outdoor accommodations to a list of Cambria-Somerset spots.

That includes Duman Lake County Park near Nicktown, the 1889 Park in St. Michael, the Quemahoning Family Recreation Area, Windber Recreation Park and Stackhouse Park – as well as Mirror Lake near New Florence, Woodland Park in Cambria Township and Camp Harmony in Hooversville.

Peoples Natural Gas Park also offers sites on one corner of the city property.

“We get a lot of calls about camping,” said Lisa Rager, the visitors bureau’s executive director.

Most aren’t looking to rough it altogether, she added.

“They’re looking for space to park their bikes and trailers, electrical hook-ups, campgrounds with showers,” Rager said. “They want a lot of the comforts of home.” 

‘Gentleman bikers’

Ken Dranzik, who manages the Que recreation area for Summer’s Best Two Weeks, said the campground is typically filled up on holiday weekends, particularly the property’s 40 RV sites. On Thunder in the Valley weekend, a significant percentage – often 40 percent – are occupied by groups of bike riders.

“It’s great because they come in a day earlier than other campers, and they fill the sites sooner,” he said.

And Dranzik said he’s found that the old “biker stereotype” doesn’t apply to the riders his park has hosted.

“We tend to get the gentleman bikers,” he said.

“They come rolling in with their toy haulers and $35,000 fully dressed Hogs – and they basically want someplace calm and relaxing at night.

“They’re family people.”

In the Ebensburg area, Woodland Park staff member Regina Vorhauer said up to a dozen camp sites are regularly rented by Thunder bikers.

The total used to be higher – perhaps 20 or so – but the growing number of camping opportunities available during the rally weekend has likely thinned out the total, Vorhauer said. 

‘Fun doesn’t have to end’ 

For more than a decade, the Cambria Summit chapter of A.B.A.T.E. – the Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education – has hosted a weekend-long party at the American Legion Fairgrounds in Ebensburg that draws a crowd of riders, vendors and bands annually.

The chapter’s president, Donny Lange, said the event drew nearly 5,000 attendees over the four-day 2018 weekend – and given the strong early bookings he’s seeing, he’s hoping for another strong year.

With six bands and 15 vendors lined up, the event serves as a lively alternative for riders after they spend their days enjoying themselves in downtown Johnstown or Ebensburg, he said.

“In a hotel, there’s nothing going on after you get back,” Lange said. “Here, they can catch a band or check out bike games – the fun doesn’t have to end.

Woodland Park is known for its relaxed vibe and it’s not always what everyone is looking for, she said.

“But there’s a place for everybody now,” Vorhauer said. “If you want a hotel, you can stay there.  If you want a place to party, you can find that, too.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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