This is Maine. We go to the woods. We go to the ocean. We go to the mountains, to more than 6,000 lakes and ponds, more than 32,000 miles of rivers and streams. This is Vacationland, after all, and the number of people who visit each year is about 10 times the number who live here full time. What we all share is a passionate appreciation of the great outdoors, and we are constantly striving to spend more time there, whether that’s a few more hours or an entire season; whether in a pup tent, or a luxurious RV, often with more than the comforts of home. Or countless options in between.
Some people use a Maine campground as a place to live for the summer, a place from which they can explore all the state has to offer, including cities and towns, museums and historic sites. Others simply want to be closer to nature, and access to some of the most spectacular vistas in Maine is often through its campgrounds. Others simply enjoy the company. “My husband and I spent nearly every summer in an RV in Scarborough or Biddeford,” Elaine Merrill, of New Gloucester, now retired, said, “because we enjoyed our neighbors there so much.”
“Mainers are great campers,” said Richard Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners’ Association, headquartered right here in Lewiston. “And local folks will tend to [vacation] close to home,” he added. And there are an infinite number of camping options. Maine is, after all, home to some of the world’s greatest outdoor outfitters, including Cabela's and L.L. Bean. These outfitters sell everything from ultralight backpacking gear to tents that weigh less than two pounds; spacious family-sized tents with screened “porches” and room for multiple cots, heaters, tables and chairs. The right equipment can enable you to access the most remote corners of Maine -- public reserve lands where the camping experience is definitely primitive backcountry (http://www.maine.gov/doc/parks/index.html).
Simple pop-up, tow-behind campers offer a little more convenience and comfort than tents, and can be found at a local retailer as well as on eBay, for example, and priced as low as $100 or so, up to a few thousand dollars. They can be dragged anywhere there’s even a hint of road. On the other hand, a big, Class-A diesel pusher motor home, fully equipped with such amenities as 40” plasma TVs, convection ovens, Corian counters, washers and dryers, and selling for upwards of $300,000 might totally redefine “camping,” and are better suited to season-long use as a second home. In between, of course, is a wide range of trailers, fifth wheels, and self-propelled campers priced similarly to automobiles.
The camping industry may be worth as much as $10 billion to the Maine economy, according to some estimates, and early indications are that activity in 2012 will be robust. Abare said that reservations placed in the first calendar quarter were 10 percent ahead of last year’s pace. “The number of camping days appears to be pretty steady,” he said, with “people taking fewer but longer trips,” and with a growing percentage of Maine’s 25,000 campsites being converted to seasonal use. Traffic and activity were also “great” at 10 RV shows held earlier this year, Abare said.
Then there is the growing phenomenon of “workamping.” Sheila and Jimmy Sowder spent the 2011 camping season as staffers at Acres of Wildlife campground on Sebago Lake, in Steep Falls. The Sowders have lived exclusively in their RV for the past five years or so, spending winters in places like Death Valley, California, where they both worked at the national park. “It’s a great lifestyle,” said Sheila. “We get to see the country, meet some terrific people, have the fun of outdoor living,” and, she added, “earn enough” to supplement retirement income, while living like turtles, carrying their home with them wherever they go. The Sowders tow an ordinary car behind their RV, and, Sheila said, “We were able to travel all over Maine on our days off, and live in the woods while we were at work.”
Acres of Wildlife is a typical Maine campground offering amenities for tents, campers, rental RV units, and even cottages. There’s a restaurant and camp store, boats and activities for kids; and a dedicated staff of people who live their work. It’s a long way, literally and figuratively, from a fire ring on the shores of the Allagash, but it’s all part of camping in Maine.