Campers Make Summer Home at Libby’s
Bill Simpson jolted his arms above his head and started screaming.
“Yeee!” he shouted after hanging up the phone with Ken Knight, the manager of Libby’s Oceanside Camp located on Maine’s southern coast. Knight had called to confirm the Simpsons’ summer reservation at the York Beach camp and notify them that for two weeks of their eight-week stay they’d be at site number 5 according to the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald News.
Simpson and his wife, Lynn, who live in Houston, Texas, knew exactly where site 5 was: 10 feet from a rocky bank that drops 20 feet to a sandy ocean beach. The spot has a seemingly endless view of the Atlantic that is flanked by the Nubble Lighthouse and a peninsula covered in million-dollar homes.
They’d been to Libby’s the past five years, but had never been lucky enough to park their 37-foot-long recreational vehicle at one of the 45 oceanside sites referred to by veteran campers as “the front.”
Some campers have waited years just to get a week at one of the spots on the ocean and there’s currently a 10-year waiting list to reserve an oceanside site for the entire summer. Libby’s is one of only four campgrounds on Maine’s southern coast that is on the water, according to the Maine Campground Owners Association.
“Several campgrounds consider themselves on or near the beach,” said Richard Abare, executive director of the campground association. “But the reality is that none are as close to the water as Libby’s.”
The campground is located on Route 1A in York and sits adjacent to Camp Eaton — a larger RV park that serves about twice the number of campers as Libby’s and is located across the street from the ocean. Libby’s has 95 sites and feels smaller; the whole park can be traversed in a couple of minutes. In addition to the 45 spots on “the front,” the campground has two other rows of sites which are all organized around a small office building.
In some cases there’s less than a few feet between RVs. The tight spaces around each camper are cluttered with picnic tables and beach chairs and everyone knows at least a handful of people on either side of their camper.
The Simpsons stopped at Libby’s on a whim in 2002 during a trip up the East Coast. They stayed only a few days that summer but have been rearranging their schedule and routes to come back every summer since then — and they plan to keep coming.
They found out about “the list” the second year they were at the camp and immediately put their name on it. But the majority of people with a seasonal oceanside site say they’ll have to die before they give theirs up.
“We keep waiting for that call for a seasonal, but who knows,” said Simpson, shrugging his shoulders.
Nobody’s roughing it at Libby’s. It’s more like an RV resort. Many of the vehicles are equipped with bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchen tables, microwaves and soft armchairs in living room-type areas. Libby’s also provides wireless Internet service to the entire park.
Ken Knight, the campground manager, prides himself on being the “room service.”
“I’ll keep coming back until I’m sure you’re in your comfort zone,” he said. “I know I’m not happy in a hotel until I’ve had room service at least once.”
Knight uses a modified golf cart with a small truck bed to navigate the campground. The back is filled with wooden boards he uses to help customers level their campers and other tools he might need to get people settled in.
“We’ve got a pretty dedicated following,” Knight said. “There are some people that I can’t wait for them to get here and I’m sad when they leave.”
The camp is owned by Norm Davidson, whose father opened Libby’s in 1923. Knight started working for Norm’s parents at the camp when he was 13, doing a lot of the same things he does now — leveling campers, mowing the lawn, picking up trash and helping customers.
Little else about the camp has changed either. When someone asks Knight a question he hasn’t heard before, he gives them a free cup of coffee. But that hasn’t happened in a couple of years.
“It’s amazing, it’s like family,” he said. “Norm’s mother had everything figured out. Every now and then I have this wild inspiration and change something and it doesn’t take me long to figure out why she didn’t do it that way.”
They tried using a computer to take reservations, but he said it wouldn’t let them do it the way they wanted so they got rid of it.
Sue Valente becomes a different person as soon as she’s within 10 miles of Libby’s. Her family constantly reminds her of it.
“I don’t care how stressed I am, once I hit the other side of the (I-95) bridge it’s like it’s all gone,” she said.
It’s a reaction she’s had since she was a child, going to the camp with her family. Her grandfather helped prepare the camp for its grand opening and her father was a cook at the restaurant that accompanied the camp before it was closed in the early 1960s.
But, despite their historical ties to the camp, her family still had to wait on the list to get a seasonal spot along the water.
“You have to put your time in no matter how long your family has been here,” said Valente, who lives in Tewksbury, Mass.
Dave and Claire Mellors’ site is only a few away from the Valentes’. They’ve been at Libby’s for the past 53 years and talk about it like it’s a part of their family. Their son Jimmy has been vacationing at the York Beach spot since the early 1990s.
“How can you beat this,” said Claire, gesturing toward the ocean.
Ed Graylow has been staying at Libby’s with his wife, Dorothy, for so long he can’t remember the first year he was there. It was sometime in the 1930s, guessed Graylow, who is 83. He’s brought nine different campers to Libby’s since he started going.
“There’s nowhere else to go,” said Graylow.