By Carol Vaughn —
A filmmaker who lived at Inlet View campground in the final weeks before residents had to leave after the property was sold to a developer is making a documentary about the storied community.
Amy Nicholson, a commercial director and documentary filmmaker based in New York City, spent time living in a camper trailer she and her husband purchased at Inlet View in the communitiy’s waning days, before residents had to vacate the homes where some had spent their summers for decades.
Nicholson, a Baltimore native, grew up visiting Assateague Island National Seashore and as a teen worked as a waitress summers in Ocean City, Md.
About a decade ago, Nicholson took her vintage large-format box camera to Chincoteague during the off season, planning to make some photographs “of things that were closed for the season.”
“I was just basically puttering and I wandered into Inlet View,” as well as checking out Tom’s Cove and Pine Grove campgrounds, she said, adding, “It struck me that there is such community in those places.”
This was around the time the “tiny house” concept was starting to become trendy.
“It just stuck with me. … I was laughing, thinking, ‘These were the original tiny houses.
There they are on wheels, but they never move. The people have added on and they have all these beachy decorations and crabs with their names on them and stuff. …. I was just fascinated with the sense of community,” Nicholson said.
The memory of Inlet View lingered with her and one summer, when she was between projects, she decided to rent a place there.
She and her husband also were looking for property in Accomack County to retire to, so Inlet View was a good home base.
“So I rented a cabin from Louise Tull the first year for about six weeks,” she said.
The first evening they were there, she ventured out to see where the road led.
“These people were sitting in the yard, who turned out to be my neighbors, and they said, ‘Who are you and and come in here and have a glass of wine and meet all of us.’ And I was in love,” Nicholson said, adding, “It was just magical. I consider myself sophisticated and I’ve traveled — but I’d never been to a place like that.”
Soon thereafter she and her husband purchased a camper trailer on a lot on the water and moved in.
“I didn’t film anything for quite a while because I wasn’t sure what I was filming, but after the first year and a half, I just thought, wow, people look at this place as this kind of s***thole, honestly, and they have no idea what a beautiful community this is — and I’m going to make a portrait of this,” she said.
So Nicholson bought a video camera.
“It was a new, small camera that could shoot 4K and so I had to wait quite a while for it to come in — and by the time it came in, we had gotten our letters saying the property had been sold, so I filmed the very last summer. I filmed whatever time we had left,” she said.
Independent campgrounds like Inlet View and Tall Pines Campground near Sanford, which was recently purchased by Sun Outdoors, “are so important to working-class families,” Nicholson said.
The documentary, which is still being edited, opens with Inlet View residents telling stories about their first impressions of the place they called a summer home, in some cases for decades.
“There was a very deep appreciation for the beauty of that island,” Nicholson said.
One woman had been coming there for 49 years, according to Nicholson.
“She was my age and she had been coming there since she was a child,” she said, adding, “When you go to a place for 50 years, you’re a little bit attached to it.”
Nicholson conducted around 15 interviews for the film, working by herself because she didn’t want to intrude on the residents at their time of upheaval by bringing in a film crew.
“If people were going to give me their trust, I wasn’t going to break it by bringing more people into the mix. So I filmed it myself,” Nicholson said.
“Sadly, some people had already packed up and left. … People were leaving in the middle of the summer because they were so heartbroken,” she said.
While the documentary’s emphasis is not the pros and cons of the property’s purchase by a developer, residents did comment about it often.
“People made a lot of commentary about what was happening. I’m not including any of it in the film. I just wanted them to tell their stories and to talk about how they felt about the place,” she said.
Still, in interviews people often told her the new campground planned for the property “is going to be very different because the type of campground that it’s going to be, it’s going to be almost more like a hotel. The family will come for a week and they’ll enjoy their vacation and they will pack up and they’ll leave — where the people there (at Inlet View) knew each other for forever and it was a very, very tight community, and that’s a very different vibe.”
Nicholson referred to another documentary she made, about the rezoning of Coney Island, “which resulted in a very corporate version of Coney Island, where the city of New York gave a sweetheart lease to a corporation that manufactures rides.
“I saw how the crazy quilt of operators and the guy with no teeth who lets your kid ride for free — I saw how that was ruined by a corporate view of what the value of the land was.”
With the Inlet View project, Nicholson said, “I want people to see what the beauty of a non-corporate place is, when people are forced by either lack of income or just because, you know, it’s kind of a rough place — left to their own devices, what they bring to the value of life is being a good neighbor; looking out for each other; if someone needs help, help them.
You know, we’re all in this together, so let’s all have a potluck.
“And it really was like that. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was kind of a utopia in that respect. And that won’t happen when people just come for vacation and leave a few days later.”
Nicholson is passionate about preserving the unique character of places like Chincoteague.
“I hope I’m not too late. I saw what happened here in New York with the massive rezonings of the Bloomberg administration,” she said, adding, “I can’t argue that it’s not nicer and there’s less trash. It’s all very pretty and it’s all very nice — but it’s sterile.”
Nicholson said she understands the need for growth and revenue, but said, “It’s a very slippery slope, because when Chincoteague becomes a Disneyfication of what people come there for … when the individuality of that is gone, sure you’re sitting on that spot, but you’re not having the same experience.
“So, I’m fascinated with the value of the experience that people have when the place is not generated from whole cloth, when it develops over decades, and when the friendships and the memories are baked into the ground. … There’s so much value in that.”
- Before Nicholson left Inlet View for the last time, she tried to get as many names and phone numbers of former residents as she could, totaling around 125 families who she tries to keep updated on the film’s progress.
Nicholson and two editors, Laura Israel and John Young, are in the process of editing the film as well as seeking grants to cover costs.
Nicholson said she considers “Happy Campers” as belonging to the former Inlet View residents and hopes to find a way to show the film to them first, once it is completed.
- “They took the time to talk to me and let me film things in the midst of packing up,” she said.
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Information about the film is at the website, https://www.happycampers.film/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/happycampersdoc
Information about other films by Amy Nicholson is at http://www.filmsbyamy.com/
According to Bluewater Development’s website, Sun Outdoors Chincoteague Bay, on the former Inlet View property, is under development and set to open in 2023. Features will include 217 luxury sites, including full hook-up RV sites, cottages, and luxury tents.
Amenities planned for the property include:
- Private beach area
- Nearly half-mile waterfront Boardwalk
- Swimming pool with numerous water amenities, including adult relaxation infinity pool section
- Large pavilion with fire experience
- Three community fire experiences
- Playground and jump pad
- Pickleball court
- Welcome center with campstore and activities room
- Two bathhouses with guest laundry
- Dog park