Northeast Economy Gives Camping a Lift

July 8, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

If the economic downturn has an upside, it’s outside.

Rhode Island’s five state-run campgrounds have enjoyed a 10% increase in camping permits from last year, said Robert Paquette, the state Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) chief of parks and recreation.

Rhode Islanders, more than out-of-staters, he said, account for the increase, the Providence Journal reported.

“It’s a reasonable vacation. It’s cheap. That’s one of the reasons. And you’re not traveling far. You can go to Burlingame and feel like you’re somewhere else.”

And although the state has doubled its fees for parking at saltwater beaches, he said, “we don’t charge to get into our freshwater parks. They’re a place to go for relief from the heat.”

While the rest of Rhode Island sweltered Wednesday (July 6), breezes played in the Burlingame picnic grove while vacationers and day trippers splashed in the cool waters of Watchaug Pond.

The Robbins brothers, Gavin, 10, and Kaleb, 13, of Pawcatuck, Conn., did some castle construction at the water’s edge and watched their younger sister, Lana-Lyn, 5, while their mother, older sister and cousins lounged at a snack-laden picnic table. Stefanie Robbins, 27, said her party of three adults and seven children drove 25 minutes and spent maybe $10 ($2 for the picnic table and the rest on gas) to have fun and go swimming.

“I refuse to pay to go to the beach,” said Kathleen Pettengill, 57, of Westerly, who brought her two granddaughters and a friend’s nephew to the Burlingame picnic beach for the day. McKinzie Mathews, 11, of Westerly, and Kendra Liverman, 7, of Virginia, would check in and drip for a few seconds on their grandmother’s beach blanket, but Whyatt, 4, snoozed under her umbrella, still in his Body Glove flotation jacket. Pettengill said she remembers putting her own daughters down for naps on the same beach 30 years ago.

As a Westerly resident, she said, she has access to Westerly town beaches, but she would still have to pay for parking. And the state beaches, despite the parking fees doubling this year, aren’t as well maintained anymore. “Remember when you were little and went to the beach and there were rake marks in the sand?” Pettengill said she avoids the saltwater beaches now because she doesn’t like to encounter cigarette butts and underage people smoking.

Bette Ann Dickinson, 60, of Exeter, said she likes the freshwater beach at Burlingame because it accommodates “both kinds of people,” old ones like her and her visiting sister-in-law Sunny Dickinson, 71, from Ocala, Fla., who can sit in the shade, and young ones like their combined five grandchildren who can splash all day in the sun without beginning to exhaust the fun that’s available.

Jo-Anne Cristina, 53, said she comes to the freshwater beach because “we have a lot of young children, and they don’t get knocked down by the waves.” She and her group from Pawcatuck, Conn., came in three cars, she said, which would have cost $24 per car for a weekday at one of Rhode Island’s saltwater beaches. The picnic area costs $2, and that’s only if you reserve a table.

“Free is lovely,” said her daughter Nicole Tebbets, 28. She said her two children, 5 and 11, “stay in the water the whole time.”

Sisters Darlene Hall and Shirley Ritchie Scuncio brought their mother, Mary Ritchie, 80, of Dillsburg, Pa., and their grandkids.

“It’s nice,” Scuncio said of the picnic beach. “It’s a nice safe place for the kids.” Plus, it’s only 10 minutes from where Scuncio, 53, lives in Charlestown.

Samantha Creighton, 19, of Warren, is camping at Burlingame with her son, father and uncle for the rest of the holiday week and stopped to try the picnic beach, which they could see from the campground beach on the other side of the pond. They chose Burlingame because New Hampshire is “too far,” said her father, Ben Creighton, 49. “It’s cheaper,” said her uncle, Bart Creighton, 52, of East Providence; and “It’s nice, it’s clean, and people are friendly,” said Samantha.

At least one Connecticut family is camping at Burlingame State Park this year because of the economy. Kevin Meehan, 47, of Wilton, Conn., checked in Wednesday with his son, Logan, 8.

“We used to go to Willows as a family,” Meehan. The 15-acre estate has rooms, apartments and a restaurant just north of the Burlingame campground they chose instead.

“This is a way for us to get away and do it for less money,” said Meehan, who also booked 10 days at Burlingame in August. Heating their 200-year-old house this winter, he said, cost $10,000. By camping at Burlingame, they can spend their days at the pond and switch to the saltwater beaches after 4 p.m., when the parking booths close.

“We don’t have to get a beach resort place,” Meehan said. The beach is eight minutes by car, and they can still play mini-golf.

“Thankfully, the price of camping didn’t go up,” said Amy Lima, 32, of Exeter, who works on the state parks staff in the summer. She sees camping as a great value.

“For 20 bucks,” she said, an out-of-state resident “can camp, swim for free, walk to the beach, and use the camp store and playground.” Just parking at a saltwater beach on a weekend, she said, is $28.


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