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Boheme Retreats: Vintage Glamping In Living Color

This camping retreat in Upstate New York is inviting more People of Color to experience the beauty of the outdoors, with a focus on wellness, comfort and security!

When Brooklyn resident Keva Niver was a little girl growing up in Tampa, Florida, she learned a valuable and lifelong lesson: If it’s new and uncomfortable, then lean into it!

“My parents put me in a private school where I was like one of the few Black people, and I think I really learned to be okay being in spaces where I'm the only one,” said Niver. “It’s not comfortable, but you get used to it. And then later, you can bring others to experience the best things for the first time. I've sort of just been doing that my entire life…”

One of the first such lonely and uncomfortable spaces was the ocean, where she was introduced to surfing. In time, she mastered it, and because of that, spent several years in the surfer community traveling the world and chasing the best waves. And as one of the few Black female surfers in that space, she saw an opportunity to teach other Black children how to surf. And she did. 

Keva Niver in her element, surfing. Photo: Supplied/Keva Niver

“When I'm surfing in the water, that's my church,” Niver said. “And it's like, to give people that experience, like we can do this too! It’s not just a white sport; the ocean is not a white space. And the same with being outdoors.”

Later, while working in the renovation and design industry in Brooklyn, Niver taught herself how to build. Once again, she found herself as one of the few Black female builders and project managers at construction sites. Nooo problem! She built diverse teams, which included her husband who she met while surfing …

And, of course, she brought that joy for discovery to all four of her children, the oldest of whom is college-bound.

Impressive? Yes! But it is far from the end of Niver's story. In fact, another chapter is just beginning: Most recently, Niver launched Boheme Retreats, a glamping site in Sullivan County Upstate New York, featuring 6 vintage RV campers that Niver gut-renovated and redesigned herself, by hand.

Outside of Camper Fannie, a campfire and ideal setup for leisurely relaxation. Photo: BK Reader

The seed was planted for Boheme Retreats when, during the COVID quarantine, Niver gave herself a challenge– to finally restore that 1963 Shasta camper she purchased and then left it sitting outside her home.  She moved the vintage camper into her back yard and started its restoration. Her husband helped her with the plumbing. “When I finished my first camper, I took it on a road trip to Maine. And, you know, everyone would stop me. It didn't matter where I went with this camper, I would get stopped. 

“And so from that trip, I posted on Instagram and Facebook. And people were asking me if they could rent my camper or if I could do a private drop off to them so they can camp in it. I was like, ‘Oh, maybe there's a business idea here.’ But I thought, if I'm going to do this, I am going to be very intentional and try to get more people of color into these spaces at the same time.”

Niver spent the next two years hunting down vintage RV campers and trailers for sale while scoping out a suitable camp spot. In 2021, she found an area in the Western Catskills that had the right mixture of privacy, accessibility and safety (very few bears). She partnered with the Covered Bridge Camp site to bring a unique glamping experience to the camp grounds. Niver immediately got to work renovating and installing each of the current six campers, slowly, steadily building her own little glamping oasis, vintage-style.   

Each of the mini-RVs are themed and named around an influential Black woman, including The Shirley (Chisholm), The Zora (Neal Hurston), The Fannie (Lou Hammer) and The Rosa (Parks). 

Each one also is uniquely reconstructed to keep as much of its original details, including the cabinetry and kitchen appliances. This, with plumbing and ventilation upgrades and the addition of modern fixtures like new flooring, wall paper and sconces, brings a very contemporary, vintage-afrocentric thumbprint that is uniquely Niver. 

Now, through her glamping retreat, Niver is trying to get more Black people to experience the beauty of the outdoors, through her re-imagination of what camping can look and feel like– especially since she’s already familiar with the biggest concerns some Black people (even in her own family) might have, including access to showers, security and working toilets, and most importantly, few ticks and very few bears!

No outdoor experience is going to be without animals. That's what coexisting with nature is all about, said Niver. "We do have a teen bear who is not aggressive that stops by occasionally looking for food" she added. But it's no real threat. 

Boheme Retreats campsite has several trails, one of which leads to a handful of breathtaking waterfalls. Photo: BK Reader

“I understand our history and of people being fearful of being in the woods. So when I was creating this RV camping experience, I was intentional about creating spaces for people to feel comfortable,” she said, adding that the rest will be on the camper to own the space and to see themselves as entitled to nature as are the birds and the trees.

The original (working) gas stove inside camper Fannie. Photo: BK Reader

Niver said her motivation is also mental wellness. Conquering your fears through convening with nature … it doesn’t get any better. And she believes a glamping experience is a perfect first step, because it’s camping with comfort, security and style! 

Niver’s RV campers share a private campsite with 12-15 other campers; a small, quaint community of nature-loving neighbors who look out for one another. The six Boheme RVs sit adjacent to the other and are nestled safely off Willowemoc Creek, a tributary for beavers and a popular fishing stream for trout. Each RV is garnished with lounge chairs, a picnic table and a fire pit. 

Inside of the RVs is one bed large enough to fit two people, while some RVs have extra pull-out beds that can hold up to a total of four (if you have small children and don’t mind tight spaces). There’s air conditioning and a small heater if needed; a working gas stove, sink with hot water, a shower and a toilet. 

However right on the campsite is also a newly renovated, spacious and pristine bathhouse separated by gender, with up to 6 showers and 6 toilet stalls, if you prefer more bathroom privacy or space.

The campsite sits right off of a number of trails for hiking– one a 45-minute roundtrip to a number of beautiful waterfalls– and a gentle and winding creek alongside where you can capture the full breadth of nature’s flora and fauna. 

If your preference is to stay close to the RV, you can still find plenty to do on the campsite: Barbeque, picnic, roast some marshmallows or taking a leisurely ride down the river in one of the large floaties provided by Niver. 

If you have any questions or concerns during your stay, Niver is literally a stone’s throw away, usually in one of the other campers: “I try to be around for my guests, especially if it’s their first time,” she said. 

There’s no cell phone reception, but there is a decent and steady Wifi signal. So you don’t have to unplug entirely, unless, of course, you want to.

The sleeping area of Camper Shirley

Worried about boredom or isolation? Although that is unlikely to happen once you finally unwind and unplug, still, the nearest small town– Livingston Manor– is only 3 miles away. The town is a lively mix of former New York City residents who jettisoned the city life for mountains and fresh air, with the most recent wave of new residents coming following COVID.

In town, you’ll find a string of cute boutique and antique shops, a supermarket, organic grocers, a gas station, motel, a K-12 school and a Dollar Store.

“I feel like I’m taking a new spin on a traditional RV park by adding the retro and being intentional about inclusivity. For me, it’s like, if I’m going to have a yoga instructor at the retreat, then, I’m going to have a BIPOC yoga instructor,” Niver said. “So, I’m happy to be able to change that idea of what a RV park experience can be.”

Camper Fannie Kitchen area. Photo: Supplied/BR

Be careful, however: A weekend at Boheme Retreats may make you want to re-examine your entire life and move to the area full time, or to become a lifelong adventure-seeker, which, according to Niver … is entirely the point.

To learn more about Boheme Retreats and to book a camper, visit the website here.

C. Zawadi Morris

About the Author: C. Zawadi Morris

C. Zawadi Morris is an award-winning journalist and a Chicago native who moved to Brooklyn in 1997.
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