Astrid Jirka is a Firelight Camp Host and Yoga Instructor, and enthusiastic eco-tourist

Photo by Kaylyn Leighton

Photo by Kaylyn Leighton

Have you ever thought of yourself as an ‘eco-tourist’ or considered the impacts of your travel decisions?  As a Camp Host at Firelight Camps, I have the rare opportunity to work in a place that’s been designed to be in tune with the natural world.  When I work the early breakfast shift, I breathe in fresh, misty morning air and watch colorful sunrises as I brew the first pot of coffee and light the campfire for the sleepy guests strolling forth from their elevated tents in the woods.  Working the rest of the day under the spacious lobby tent I experience the care that has gone into operating this luxury campground whose management has integrated the concepts of ecotourism into the Camp operations.  

The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people.”  With hundreds of millions of tourists traveling the globe, hotel (and glampground!) operators are increasingly aware of their role in making positive contributions to the environment and society. There are many negative impacts that tourism can have - such as the overcrowding of beaches leading to coral reef degradation,  littering and overuse of trails in endangered ecosystems, unfair wages paid to staff or the outsourcing of goods so that there is little economic impact on the local community.  Ecotourism usually involves a degree of education or interpretation, as well.  With a great many miles of travel behind (and hopefully ahead) of me and a work life that has been centered around ecotourism, I’m particularly aware of how Firelight Camps fits into this category.

It’s not always easy to be eco-friendly and therefore it’s all the more remarkable and wonderful to find an establishment that is taking the steps to get there.  In this 2-Part Blog, I’ll focus on both the ecological and social aspects that Firelight Camps undertakes in its daily operations. 

Here are a few highlights that will make you proud to spend the night at Firelight and deem you an eco-tourist!

As Firelight Camps was being envisioned, the owners (Emma and Bobby Frisch) worked with the grounds owner, La Tourelle, to repurpose an extinct tennis club and old dairy farm. The unused courts were converted into a thriving social space, lobby and lounge, while the former tennis cottage was renovated into the bathhouse. Tents were strategically placed in the surrounding new growth forest to prioritize the local flora and fauna, while providing guests with serene forest views. Partially landscaped spaces on the grounds include local hardwood trees and bushes, and native flower, herb and vegetable gardens for guests to enjoy.  The result is a natural environment that attracts local wildlife such as butterflies, raccoons, rabbits, toads, deer and coyotes. The grounds are an excellent viewing place for devout birders and recently I saw a rare (and harmless) Ribbon Snake!  

Firelight Camps borders the famous Buttermilk Falls State Park, home to some of the Finger Lakes’ quintessential gorges and waterfalls. Like all parks in New York State, Buttermilk Falls serves to protect natural resources and make them accessible to the public for education about local ecosystems and cultural heritage and of course, recreation.  As a guest, you can literally step out of  your tent door and onto the trail for varying levels of hikes which will lead you to understand the famous local motto of “Ithaca is Gorge-ous”!

For those with a keen interest in the natural environment and health, Firelight Camps offers guided hikes into the Park.  Sarah Kelsen of Land Beyond The Sea, can take you wild foraging and I guide Yoga Eco-Hikes.  Both of these hikes will teach you about the local ecology and landscape and connect you more deeply to the natural world.   

Photo by Allison Usavage

Photo by Allison Usavage

The tents which you will stay in at Firelight are made by a company called Colorado Yurts.  They are extremely ecologically minded, running their company primarily on solar power and sourcing the material for the tents in the most ecologically possible way, while still keeping them rain proof and made in the U.S.A. !

And you won’t believe the breakfast!  It’s sourced from almost 100% local and organic ingredients.  This includes pastries and bagels from local bakeries, farm-fresh eggs, grass-fed yogurt and milk, seasonal fruit and fruit juices, and more. Guests are continuously impressed by our delicious, healthy and beautiful breakfast buffet.  

Firelight Camps minimizes waste by composting napkins, wooden cutlery and leftover food, with signage that helps guests learn how to dispose of their garbage. We strive to Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Repair and Recycle as much as possible and rely on our guests to help us!

While most of our furnished tents are off-the-grid (no electricity), Firelight Camps is currently conducting a feasibility study to power the lobby (we still need cold beer), bath house (and flushing toilets and hot showers) and other communal areas (yes, wifi too!) with solar energy.  

These are a few of the main points that contribute to Firelight Camps being a noteworthy Green and Eco-Friendly Business and you can be happy to know that your visit contributes to these benefits.  

Here are some additional items you can do to help us:

- Try to only use one towel during your stay so we can save money, water and energy!
- Read our signs carefully to help us compost and recycle.
- Carbon offset your travels to Firelight.   The only way to get to Firelight is by car.   Some of you may take a bus or plane from home, which contributes to carbon emissions and global warming.  You can pay a small sum to offset your emissions at a number of websites that will use your donation to re-invest in eco-friendly projects around the world.   Here are two examples:
https://sustainabletompkins.org/programs/finger-lakes-climate-fund/
https://www.terrapass.com/

With this said, I’m happy to report that the Camp is well situated within the eco-tourism industry, earning it – by my own standards – a bright Green Light, 5 Stars and Great Applause! We look forward to welcoming you and many more eco-tourists in the future!

For more information on ecotourism, you can visit:

The International Ecotourism Society
Sustainable Travel International
The UN World Tourism Organization
Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria
Center for Responsible Travel

ABOUT ASTRID JIRKA:  Astrid is a long time resident of the Finger Lakes, a Camp Host at Firelight Camps and the owner of Vahana Yoga & Eco-Tours.  She teaches yoga at the Camp, leads Yoga Eco-Hikes and will be hosting a GLAMPFIRE YOGA RETREAT at Firelight Camps this September 29th-October 1st.  Please check the Vahana website for more information.  She started her career in eco-tourism as a  guide in the VIrgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John and is an accomplished yoga instructor who coordinates a project called Yoga for the Earth to showcase the links between yoga, activism and environmentalism.   Join her if you can!  www.govahana.com

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