Things are slowly returning to normal for campgrounds in upstate New York, where escaped prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat were on the loose for three weeks.
The two escaped June 6 from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., allegedly with the assistance of at least one prison employee. After an intensive manhunt by multiple law enforcement agencies, Matt was shot and killed by police June 26. Two days later, Sweat was shot and captured by police.
Matt was found nine miles from Pine Ridge Park Campsite in Westville, N.Y., while Sweat was captured just four miles away from the 60-acre campground located along the Salmon River. The campground, which is about 80% seasonal campers, is 45 miles northwest of the prison.
“Thank God it’s over. It was a little crazy there – I should say it was a lot crazy for 23 days,” said Nancy Fletcher, who owns and runs Pine Ridge Park Campsite with her husband, Bradley, a retired state trooper. “You could feel the tension in the campground. But, after it was over, you could feel the tension release.”
Fletcher said they did have some campers who called and canceled, but they also have taken reservations from others who, for some reason, want to stay near where prison escapees were captured.
Gil Paddock, owner and operator of Deer River Campsite, which is about 24 miles south of Pine River Park, said his campground would have been more difficult for the escapees to find due to a lake and other natural barriers. Also, a large number of his seasonal campers are former law enforcement officers — Paddock is a retired trooper as well — so most felt relatively safe.
“We literally had our own little police force here,” said Paddock. He added that he and others were more involved with the search as part of the local fire department, whose station house served as a base camp of sorts for officers involved in the search.
“Matt was shot four miles as the crow flies from here, but it would have been rather difficult for him to get here,” Paddock said. Still, he did have a few transient campers cancel their reservations, he said, but probably not as many as other campgrounds in the area.
Fletcher said she had campers in from Canada, whose friends thought they were “crazy” for camping in an area where there were escaped prisoners.
“They said they didn’t think they were crazy, but when Sweat was found so close they thought maybe they were crazy after all,” Fletcher said.
“It was not a very good situation — not at all,” she contnued. “It was never good, but we coped. We made the best out of the worst situation you could possibly have.”
Fletcher said her campers were somewhat put at ease due to the heavy law enforcement presence. Police drove through the campground once every hour or so, she said, and were routinely spotted driving up and down the main road past the campground. Campers kept each other apprised of any developments, left lights on throughout the night, always made sure everything was locked up tight and checked on unoccupied trailers.
But now things are back to normal, she said.
“It was nice to be able to go to bed Sunday night and not have to worry about my campers or myself,” she said. “Everything’s back to normal and it’s amazing how quickly things returned to normal. We had everyone talking about it all day and night, whenever they had an update or they heard something on the news. Even the children knew everything about them. But once it was over, it was over.”