White’s Marina on Lake Pennesseewassee in Norway. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

NORWAY — Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have had an immediate and drastic effect on Maine’s economy. Seasonal recreation businesses around Oxford Hills are warily watching the calendar to see if Governor Janet Mills will ease restrictions or extend the state’s civil emergency beyond May 15.

Campgrounds, kids’ summer camps, marinas and others all promise to be affected. By the end of April recreational businesses are normally in final preparations for a busy summer season. But in the age of COVID-19 many still do not know if they will be able to open.

Western Maine’s lakes are dotted with sleep-away camps that welcome children for two to eight week stays starting in June. Many accommodate as many as 200 at a time and employ 100 or more seasonal workers. Statewide, the industry contributes more than $200 million to the economy.

Seeds of Peace, the acclaimed international camp located in Otisfield, already announced in early April that it would not open this year because of the coronavirus threat. Other camps are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Gregg Parker, co-owner/director of Camp Waziyatah on McWain Pond in Waterford. “It may be that we hold a truncated season this year or perhaps host smaller sessions. But it’s also possible we may not be able to open at all.”

Camp Waziyatah’s 2020 season is scheduled to start on June 28 with sessions running through August 20. Even a best-case scenario for operations will bring disruptions for the camp, counselors and campers, as a number of employees and attendees are from other countries. Parker said hiring for the season is set but even if conditions in Maine are safe for operations, international travel to get here may be difficult.

Most summer camps are preparing while in limbo, awaiting direction from the governor and Maine’s Center for Disease Control. According to Ron Hall, executive director of Maine Summer Camps, most of the association’s members can wait it out for several more weeks before deciding what, if anything, they will be able to do for business this year.

Campground owners are in a similar situation – they need to be ready to open as usual but have received no indication that they will be able to.

Greg Kyllonen, who owns Hebron Pines with his bother Dale and their wives, is already losing money because he has not been able to open their nine-hole golf course yet this year.

“Normally, golfers start coming to play as soon as the snow is gone,” Kyllonen said. “But we’ve had to keep the course closed this spring.”

Hebron Pines Campground is scheduled to open May 15. It hosts family events like weddings and reunions as well as car shows and even historical reenactments. Kyllonen said they are ready to go but everything hinges on the state easing restrictions and then customers feeling confident enough that the health crisis has passed to venture out for vacations.

White’s Marina in Norway is open under the same restrictions as other essential businesses. Their service department is open and boat owners with extra time on their hands have been pulling their boats from storage and getting out on the water earlier than normal. Owner Randa White said that while the showroom doors are locked prospective buyers have made appointments to try out boats. But she said it’s too early in the season to know what impact coronavirus may have on her business.

“We are still in our slow season,” White said. “It’s too early to know.”

The marina does boat sales, service and storage. It employs four full-time and three seasonal workers. In that regard it has stayed business as usual, although White says they have had to juggle schedules because of schools being closed.

She said people coming to the western lakes region to open their summer camps has been good for their business. It remains to be seen how her sales season will go.

One issue that could cause White’s Marina to take a financial hit? If kids’ summer camps are unable to open.

“We store and service probably 30 boats for summer camps,” White said. “If they don’t open, then that will end up hurting our business this year.”


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