Sawmill Campground Celebrates 12 Years of LGBT Camping
Dade City, Fla.Trying to put a blanket description on Sawmill Campground isn’t an easy task. Some see the LGBT Pasco County camp- ground as rural getaway to enjoy nature; some see it as a destination to explore sexual fantasies; nudists see it as a chance to swim naked in a heated pool; and others see it as a chance to see A-list entertainment in a beautiful Florida setting.In short, Sawmill Campground caters to almost every demographic in the LGBT community.
“The Sawmill is the kind of place that is what you make it,” says Derek Sutherland, general manager.“We are a completely self-inclusive destination offering all the amenities of a full scale resort with the added benefit of enjoying the outdoors in a beautiful scenic location.”
The 100-plus-acre resort is in its 12th year and is owned, surprisingly, by two straight men—Phillip Godown and Michael Bubis.The two New York City natives are gay friendly, however, and saw the Sawmill as a business opportunity with a clearly defined niche market, according to Sutherland.
Since taking control several years ago, Godown and Bubis have incorporated upgrades and additions that original owner Joseph Livingston admires.
“The new owners have done a lot of great things with the property,” says Livingston, who opened the campground in 1997 with the late John Moore.“They are doing some of the things now that I had really hoped we could have done while I was an owner.”When Livingston and Moore purchased the property it was a fully operational camp- ground—but it had never catered to LGBTs. Things, as they say, have obviously changed.
Permanent trailers are decorated in rain- bow colors and have “his and his” or “hers and hers” parking spaces. Bear paraphernalia is evident on many of the structures and an occasional “sir and boy” can be spotted walking among the tents and cabins.
Livingston said one of the major improvements to the Sawmill lately is the presentation of some top name entertain- ers.The resort has already hosted the likes of RuPaul, Amber and Tiffany.And later this year Kristine W will once again take the outdoor stage.
Livingston also noted that the new owners seem to be really committed to constantly renovating, updating and keeping the facility and its offerings new, exciting and fresh for patrons. Management constantly updates the web site (FLSawmill.com) with the most cur- rent information about upcoming events.
Sometimes distinguishing Sawmill from a “regular” LGBT club can be difficult.With top name performers, themed parties and events and annual holiday celebrations, the campground comes across as a night spot rather than a destination.
But, it is a destination and membership is required to partake in all of the facility’s activities.
As of 2010, there are more than 50,000 card-carrying members and Sutherland says that an additional three to four members are added to that roster each day. Member- ship is $10 and the only requirement is that he or she be 21 years old or older.
Some members only use their member- ship for special occasions, while others make a weekly pilgrimage to Dade City.
“I go the Sawmill regularly,” says Gulfport resident Karl Williams. “In fact, I’m going back in May for the Leather Daddy week- end. I find it a very welcoming and friendly environment.”
Undoubtedly, a mention of Sawmill Campground amongst friends will lead to at least one sordid story of a sexual encounter in the showers, near a cabin or out on “The Trails.” Mix in themed weekends focusing on porn stars and dancers, and inhibitions can sometimes completely disappear.
While open displays of sex do occur at Sawmill, Sutherland says the facility maintains a strict policy of no sex at the clothing optional pool, inside Woody’s, the Campground’s night club, or in any of the public areas.
“It’s not to say that sort of sexual activity still doesn’t go on in the darker corner locations,” Sutherland says,“but the Sawmill is about a lot more than just a place to come and get your rocks off.”
Sutherland said the institution of rules regarding public sex has made the campground much more attractive to female patrons.
“We want men and women to feel comfortable together—sharing meals, a camp- fire, enjoying the outdoors, relaxing by the pool and partying in the nightclub,” he says. “We work very hard to create an atmosphere that is welcoming to all.”
And it’s not just LGBTs who enjoy the beautiful, wooded area. Sutherland says Sawmill regularly welcomes straight people to the resort.
“We’re always very upfront with them when they check in so there are no surprises,” he says.“But about 90% of them already know what the campground is. Often they come to party with gay friends or they just like the open, accepting and fun atmosphere that the gay community often creates.”
For awhile, Sawmill embraced the open sexual activity of its members and created the “Pig Pen,” an area in the woods that catered to those interested in public, group sex. However, after only six months, the resort closed it down.“We were not at all pleased with the reputation it was creating for the Resort,” Livingston says. “Sleaze can be fun, but it’s not what we’re all about.”
From Camping to "Glamping" The Sawmill offers a wide array of accommodations ranging from sites that allow people to completely “rough it” in tents or just sleeping bags to those that are comparable to all the amenities of a first class resort.
Cabins range from the simple—basic air and heat, one bed and no shower of bathrooms—to the premium units that are compared to a nice hotel room, complete with a private bathroom, shower, television and microwave and fridge.
Tent sites can be had that offer electric- ity and water and those that do not.There are RV sites which not only offer water and electricity but sewage as well. In addition there are 115 permanent sites that people buy and can use as a second home.
Rates range from extremely affordable to more luxurious. For those who want to truly “rough it” an unimproved (no water or elec- tricity) permitted tent site is $18 per person per night Sundays-Wednesdays; add water and electricity to your tent site and the rate is $17 per person per day on weekdays and $25 per person per night on weekends.
All tent sites are two-night minimums on the weekends, but for every two nights stayed, a third night is offered free.
Standard cabins, which have A/C and heat, but no private bath, are $75 double occupancy (1 bed), with two beds and up to four people the rate is $88 per night. Some standard cabins allow pets which cost an additional $10 per night. Deluxe cabins have their own private bathroom and are $110 per night for 2 people sharing one bed. There are a limited number of deluxe cab- ins that allow pets for a $20-per-night fee.
Premium cabins of- fer all the amenities of the other cabins, plus a kitchenette, a TV and a DVD player. Rates for the Premium cabins are $120 a night.A limited number of theses also allow pets for $20 per night. RV sites which offer full hook up are available at $43.60 a night.
“I really encourage anyone—both men and women—to come experience the Sawmill for themselves and then make your opinion about us,” says Sutherland. ”We work really hard to create and environment that gives our guests peace, love and hap- piness. For many we are a welcome escape from the frantic pace of life in the city. Others come to party and play with friends in a self contained resort where they can do everything from dance to hike to eat a great meal.”
Sawmill is first and foremost a destination about fun and relaxation. But there’s more to the resort than meets the eye. Sawmill runs two different charitable organizations- 00Sawmill Charities, Inc., a 501c3 corpora- tion, and Camp Divas, a not-for-profit group.
According to Sutherland, Sawmill Charities raises money through charity bingo events and a 50/50 every Friday.Additional fundraising activities occur during special event and theme weekends and on holidays.
Sutherland says the charity raises about between 15,000-$20,000 a year and award grants are given out every quarter. Former recipients of Sawmill’s generosity include the AIDS Service Association of Pinellas, the Florida Gay Rodeo Association, Harbor House, the Boys and Girls Club, the Sun- coast Harvest Food Bank, and even local elementary schools in the Dade City area.The charity was founded in 2006.
Those seeking grants should contact Richard Shourrds at 352-583-0664 Camp Divas is made up of a mix of camp members and staff which hold drag shows every two weeks and collect tips to be donated the charity.The Cap Divas also hold special event fundraising throughout the year.
Beneficiaries of the grants from Camp Divas are organizations which serve people’s basic needs, things like food, housing, medical needs and other social services.
Those seeking grants from Camp Divas should contact Kevin Daniels or Tommy Gagnon by calling the main switchboard number at 952-583-0664. Article courtesy of Watermark.