Maine State Park Campsites Filling Fast
Even with an impressive winter that seems reluctant to relinquish its hold, some people are making plans for the coming camping season in Maine.
Camping reservations at Maine state parks have hit an all-time high for this time of year, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.
After two months of taking reservations, the total is up by almost 300 to 4,511, compared to the 4,213 filed by this time last year, according to Mainetoday.com. Some tourism experts speculate that more people in the region will travel shorter distances this summer to save fuel and money, at this time of high gasoline prices and a slow economy.
"I think possibly with the increase in the cost of gas, people are looking to take their vacations closer to home," said Will Harris, bureau director, "as well we think they should — this is Vacationland, after all."
The reservations total is for Maine's 12 state parks with campsites — which stretch from Aroostook State Park in The County to Cobscook Bay Down East and Bradbury Mountain in Pownal. They reflect an increase in the number of nights reserved, so far clocking in at 21,084 nights, up almost 700 from last year at this time.
Patrick McGowan, commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation, noted that many state park users are residents who check a 10-day forecast and then make camping reservations.
"Those numbers are good indicators," McGowan said. "What really drives us is the weather."
Richard Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association (MECOA), said reservations from Canadians are up, particularly along the seacoast. Abare suggested that reflects the strength of the Canadian dollar vs. the U.S. dollar.
One trend he's seeing is that people are staying for longer trips, such as three- or four-day weekends. These visitors are taking just one trip, instead of two. That likely comes from people trying to save on driving time and gas, he said.
A number of campsite owners are suggesting that visitors who haul campers stay for a weekend, then leave the campers in an overflow lot. They can return for another weekend of camping, and save on the gas needed to haul their campers back and forth.
Several of Maine's state parks will see some infrastructure improvements, thanks to a $7.5 million bond passed by voters last fall. The improvements and a new program, the Take it Outside initiative, are aimed to attract Mainers to the state parks, McGowan said.
"We're really trying to encourage people to get back into their parks," he said. "They own them, they belong to them, they support them with their taxes."
Harris said that L.L. Bean and the Coleman Co. have donated camping setups that they hope to use to introduce families to camping. The eight setups include everything a family of four would need for camping — tents, sleeping bags, ground pads, camp stoves and cook sets. And the bureau has an agreement with the Maine Conservation School, which will provide some of its staff members as sort of camp counselors to help the families learn some camping skills, Harris said.
While the exact application process has yet to be worked out, the goal is to have up to eight families using the gear each weekend at state parks. Providing the gear takes away most of the upfront investment cost of camping.
"We're trying to make it more bomb-proof," Harris said.
Harris said getting into the outdoors could be a real stress reliever for families.
"It's so easy to get pretty down when the economy's down," Harris said. "Virtually within 20 to 50 miles of anywhere (in Maine), there are outstanding parks and recreational opportunities that people in the state can enjoy."