A new Tuscaloosa business is bringing an elevated camping experience to the Druid City.

The Tuscaloosa Glamping Company defines glamping as "a form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping."

Heather Shipley is a retired UA business communications instructor, Beachbody coach, and the co-owner of the Tuscaloosa Glamping Co.

She says that she got the idea to start the business with her husband after seeing her friend use a similar service.

"A friend of mine from high school stayed with a similar business in Georgia," Shipley said. "She had posted pictures and my immediate thought was, that would be really cool to bring that to Tuscaloosa."

Shipley began researching the new business idea and decided she didn't want to do what other people have done.

"So I kind of just got to work and started doing research and all that," Shipley said. "But I knew a lot of companies do this and they're more pop-up. So they'll set up, you stay in it, they take it down."

"Time, freedom and just being with my family is huge. So we envision this to be more like an Airbnb, like a permanent campsite that people can stay at any time and we don't set it up and take it down. It's just there."

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Tuscaloosa Glamping Company has a partnership with Tuscaloosa Parks and Recreation (PARA) to use Van de Graaff Park for their first tent.

"The campsite itself has a restroom and our site is right there on the water," Shipley said. "There's a dock so you can paddleboard or canoe or anything like that. There are trails out there, there's also a historic bridge -- I think it's Alabama's oldest bridge -- but there's a ton of people who walk over the rocks and explore tons of trails so it's really fun."

Each tent has a unique name and coordinating design. Currently, Tuscaloosa Glamping Co. only has one tent set up for use called Yaycation, but Shipley says more tents will be available in the coming months.

"We're at Van de Graaff now and we're going to be expanding to Sokol Park," Shipley said. "[Tents in] Sokol Park will probably be [available] in winter 2021."

Each campsite comes with "a 16.4-foot waterproof canvas bell tent", full-size bed platform, memory foam mattress, bed sheets, decor, solar string lights, a battery table lamp, unique seating for two, a first-aid kit, a fire pit with a cooking grate, camping coffee and indoor games like tic tac toe and Connect 4. Each tent sleeps up to five people with the addition of three twin mattresses. Without any add-ons or extra perks, a one-night stay for two people costs $225.

Tuscaloosa Glamping Co. also offers add-ons, some of which are provided by other local businesses with whom they partner. Add-on options include an air-conditioning unit or generator depending on the time of year, gourmet s'mores, outdoor games such as cornhole and Jenga, paddle boards, firewood, luxury picnics provided by Picnic Tuscaloosa and breakfast delivery from Heritage House (Closed Sunday) or Another Broken Egg Cafe.

Shipley says that since she knows the difficulty that comes with starting a business she tries to support other local businesses.

"I've been an entrepreneur for the past, you know, at least three to five years," Shipley said. "And I just think it's important to support one another in our community."

Shipley says that glamping is an amazing way to make unplugged memories.

"Honestly just after a year and a half it's been really hard for most people to really offer something that you can unplug and just get back to having true conversation and enjoying nature," Shipley said. "It's truly an experience you're creating memories with your family or whoever you go out there with that are going to last a lifetime."

Shipley says that she enjoys running her business and providing people with unforgettable memories.

"I find joy and I feel like in every single setup I try to put a personal touch for that actual person," Shipley said. "There was a couple -- and it wasn't part of it -- but I got them chocolate-covered strawberries. So we always just try to welcome everybody with our chalkboard and a little something extra. The biggest thing for this is I just want people to be able to reconnect and to have a stress-free time and experience with their family. They are able to literally drive up to the campsite and not have to do anything."

Shipley says that they plan to have at least three campsites available by September 2022, but have ideas for at least five. All tents will eventually be added to the Airbnb app so that guests can make reservations.

Anyone interested in booking a stay should go to the company's website.

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