The Liberty Gazette
September 22, 2015Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: We’ve collected ideas over the years that would make Liberty’s airport stand out "on the charts" for pilots seeking unique places to fly and things to do, and have shared those ideas with the city. Mike, the artist in the family, made several pictures of what Google Earth(R) images of our airport might look like in years to come if the recommendations were followed. Some of those ideas have begun to take shape, while others are waiting in the wings. One of them is an airport campground; camping is popular both in and out of the aviation community.
Mike: I did a lot of camping as a kid. When I started flying I found airports that allowed camping, such as Kern Valley Airport in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains and Payson Municipal in Arizona’s Zane Grey country under the Mogollon Rim, both of which still have their much loved, much used campgrounds.
Linda: Some smart folks in Arcadia, Florida had a similar idea and have been working to bring it to fruition. To attract more pilots and planes to their little airport, which is about the same size as ours here in Liberty, as a destination in itself rather than just a fuel stop, the Friends of Arcadia Airport have formed a 501(c)(3) corporation and both the city and county have agreed to their plans to develop a three-acre campsite on airport property.
Mike: Grass and weeds are being cleared, places that haven’t been mown in years are receiving a manicure, and the new building permit is making way for a 31’x20’ shade building under which picnic tables will welcome visitors. Trees around the site provide a perfect setting for pitching tents and enjoying the outdoors. The large community fire pit draws guests together for fellowship before retiring to for the evening.
Friends of Arcadia Airport hosted pancake breakfasts and held other fundraising activities. With the help of the local rodeo organization, which has supported them all long, enough money has been raised to get the project started. Each year at rodeo time a big camp-out brings people to the airport, and with shuttle service to the rodeo grounds the entire community benefits. Attendance each of the past three years has increased by 100 percent.
We love a win-win-win. Our thought has always been that campgrounds at the Liberty Airport would be a great draw more for more pilots to not just stop and buy fuel, but come into town and support local businesses. With TVE and Jubilee as attractions, something similar to Arcadia’s success could be accomplished right here in Liberty. The vision is an easy one to see: the city invites guests to land, taxi to a camping spot, and join in the community for a spell. Who knows, with the additional contributions to the local economy we may even see new record auction prices at TVE.
The Friends of Arcadia Airport is willing to share their model plan. With plenty of aviators within reasonable flying distance to support this same idea here, one would have to fumble badly to make it fail. Just ask the people who arrive in the 600 or so airplanes visiting Reklaw in October every year, or those who fly in and camp out at Critters Lodge near Centerville, and you’ll discover this family-friendly activity to be quite popular among aviators.