The owners of the Herkimer Diamond, N.Y., KOA are flanked by KOA CEO Jim Rogers, left, and COO Pat Hittmeier, right.

The owners of the Herkimer Diamond, N.Y., KOA are flanked by KOA CEO Jim Rogers, left, and COO Pat Hittmeier, right.

The Herkimer Diamond, N.Y., KOA Kampground was named Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s (KOA) Kamground of the Year during a ceremony Wednesday (Nov. 18) at KOA’s annual convention in Houston, Texas.

“Being named Kampground of the Year is the highest award in the KOA system,” said KOA President Pat Hittmeier. It is only given to those campground franchisees who truly are the very best of the best in every aspect of what they do, he added

Purchased in 1981 by Rudy and Rena Scialdo, and now run by their daughter, Dr. Renee Scialdo Shevat, and her husband Sam Shevat, the Herkimer Diamond, N.Y., KOA has gained local and national acclaim for its excellent accommodations and outstanding customer service, according to a news release. Its beginnings were a bit more humble, however.

It is said that the farmer who owned the property would see the cattle in his pastures trip, as their hooves broke through the ground. In the hole left behind, he would find a large pocket full of naturally occurring, 18-faceted quartz crystals, now known as Herkimer Diamonds.

The Herkimer Diamond Mines first opened to the public in 1955, with prospectors leaving a dollar in a mailbox as their fee. Eventually, the mines were sold to a group of investors, who built a rock shop and a public campground to serve the needs of the prospectors. That campground eventually became the KOA gem that it is today.

At the Herkimer Diamond KOA, guests find 135 sites, including tent and RV sites. There are also 16 Kabins, five Kottages and two Lodges. Each of the heated and air-conditioned Kottages, which come with a private bath, kitchenette and dining area, have a different theme and are decorated accordingly. Those themes include “World Wide Gems,” “Fish Tales,” “Captains Quarters” and more. Each of the kabins is named after a gemstone, like “Shady Sapphires,” “Amber Annex” or “Peridot Place.”

On site, campers will enjoy spending time on the West Canada Creek, jumping in the pool or playing disc golf, and there is always something fun happening during the season (April 15-Nov. 1). And of course, everyone likes to try their hand at finding fortune at the Herkimer Diamond Mines.

For a minimal fee (kids age 4 and under are free), campers receive a prospecting admission ticket/wristband, a hammer and a collector’s bag for their finds. They watch an instructional video and head off to the mining area, where they can spend the day finding — and breaking — rocks and digging in pockets. They can then take their treasures to the rock shop to have custom jewelry made for them.

Also available are sluice bags full of rough material, perfect for young campers.

“Of course, the mines are a huge draw for the Herkimer KOA,” Hittmeier said. “But what we hear from KOA guests time and time again is how well they’re taken care of when they stay there.”

That includes, he said, the friendliness of the staff and their willingness to go out of their way to meet the needs of campers.

“At KOA, we frequently survey our campers,” Hittmier noted, “and time and time again, this campground gets some of the highest scores anywhere in North America. That’s why they won the President’s and Founders Awards this year as well.

“It’s an outstanding accomplishment that accurately reflects the outstanding efforts of the Scialdos and the Shevats.”

Watch a video from Wednesday’s convention highlights in the featured video elsewhere on this page.