From June 1 to 25, campers who stay at any Maine campground that is a member of the Maine Campgrounds Owners Association (MECOA) will be able to visit any Maine state park or historic site for day-use at no cost, Camden’s Herald Gazette reported.
The special promotion is being offered by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL), under the Maine Department of Conservation, and MECOA in recognition of the proclamation made by Gov. Paul LePage that June is “Great Outdoors Month,” according to BPL officials.
“We are pleased to partner with other campground owners to provide more opportunities for outdoors recreation at our state parks,” Will Harris, BPL director, said. “This should be good for both of our organizations, but most importantly, it’s good for the recreating public.”
BPL is a member of MECOA, which represents about 200 campgrounds, including the 12 Maine state park campgrounds, around Maine.
For the first four weeks of the month, campers at any of the MECOA campgrounds will be able to get a “Great Outdoors Month State Park Visitor Pass” that will give them a free, day-use visit to any of Maine’s 48 state parks and historic sites.
“All they need to do is present the pass at the park or historic site’s visitor booth for free admission, and they will get to enjoy some of the best that Maine has to offer,” Harris said. “That means ocean-front and lakeside beaches, fascinating historic locales, and beautiful, scenic places great for picnicking, hiking, swimming — all kinds of fun.”
The pass is valid only when signed by a MECOA member campground agent. It is for use by one vehicle and its occupants during a stay at a MECOA member campground from June 1-25.
This benefit also pertains to all campers at Maine’s 12 state campgrounds, Harris said. Anyone camping at a Maine state park campground during the same period is eligible to visit another state park or historic site, day-use facility at no additional cost during the dates they are camping. State campground campers must show their camping permit or rear view mirror hang tag to the park staff at the day-use facility as verification of their eligibility to have the day use fee waived.
Editor’s Note: David L. Berg, current chairman of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and immediate past president of the Northeast Campground Association (NCA), took a good look at the season ahead during the recent 46th Annual Northeast Conference on Camping & Trade Show in Springfield, Mass. A director of the Maine Campground Owners Association and owner of Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, Berg essentially sees good things for 2010.
RVB: As we head toward spring, what’s the campground sector look like.
Berg: I think it’s going to be a banner year. The shows are up substantially, reservations are up throughout the Northeast region and many other areas of the country. Units are starting to move again. Obviously, they are still low compared to three or four years ago. But it’s a big improvement over last year in the industry.
RVB: We don’t want to jinx anything, but do you think the campground sector will continue to escape the recession as it did last year?
Berg: Before I would say we are recession-proof, I’ve had years when I was down a little bit. But when everybody else is having terrible years as the economy gets more expensive, people look at the best value for a vacation, and camping clearly is that. Along those lines, camping is a recession-proof business. We had a banner year after 9/11 — the good with the bad — everybody got back to family camping. That wave has held to that day. When people can’t afford the $200-a-day ocean-front hotel, they’ll come back to the $40 RV site and bring their family and sit around the fire. This is going to be one of the years when we see that sight again.
RVB: What issues do you see on the forefront at any level – ARVC, NCA or your state – that are front burner this spring?
Berg: Advertising. Everyone in this business has to advertise and sell what we have and what we have to offer. We have to get out and work more with the state tourism areas and get camping in the state advertising. We’ve worked with Go RVing to get more campground shots. Gasoline is important. It does affect the motorized industry. Gas has leveled off some in the Northeast, and if it stays below $3 it won’t have a big impact on anything. Right now the stock market is going well. Peoples’ retirement accounts are starting to build again. All those things are important to the future of our industry.
People need to listen to their customers and make their parks better. The average customer wants it all. We have to make sure we keep our parks up, improve them, bring in the amenities they want and make them feel welcome.
RVB: What other factors are you monitoring on the horizon — for better or for worse?
Berg: The biggest issue over the last two years has been weather. In the Northeast region, we’ve had rain, and then we had rain, and then we had rain. In early March, we had nine inches of rain in two days. I’m hoping that’s getting out of the system and we’ll have some sunshine.
In respect to being recession proof, there are people who are far worse off. If you’ve got a reservation with a motel, you’ve got until 6 o’clock at night to cancel it. And if the sunshine isn’t showing for the weekend, you cancel it. In the camping world, you are paying a deposit and people will come. You have to give them things to do if the weather is bad.
But the biggest issue in Maine is taxes. We get taxed two or three times, depending on how your park is run. If you have seasonal (guests), they pay personal property tax. I have to pay property tax on the same land they are on. States are in a financial crunch and they are always trying to tax the tourists because they think it’s an out-of-state tax. In Maine, the vast majority of people who camp are local. So it has a severe impact on our economy when the legislature just thinks it’s an import tax. That’s what New Hampshire did. States are trying to put their budget woes on the backs of tourism.
Editor’s Note: This letter addressing recent legislation that would have banned boondocking — overnighting anywhere but at established public and private parks in Maine — was authored by Allen York, president of the Maine Campground Owners Association and owner of the Yonder Hill RV Park in Madison, Maine. It was published in Augusta’s Central Maine Morning Sentinel.
Commercial lots that allow free, overnight parking have become popular among owners of recreational vehicles. There’s no question that these parking lots serve an important purpose — in particular, they present tired drivers with an easy option to rest for the night. Allowing overnight parking helps keeps drivers safe so they can get to their next destination.
But these commercial lots that allow free parking to RVs illustrate a real and growing threat to many of Maine’s 275 campgrounds. Fact is, each time an RV stops for the night in a commercial parking lot, a local campground loses out on a customer. And these days, each lost customer makes a larger dent on a campground’s bottom line.
To address this issue, the Maine Campground Owners Association (MECOA), of which I am president, recently supported a bill in the Maine Legislature that in part called for the creation of a Web site and brochures to educate RV owners about alternatives to commercial parking lots, including the locations of approved free camping areas and campgrounds close to highway exits.
The bill that emerged from the legislative committee, however, was quite different: It simply proposed a ban on RV camping in commercial lots.
RV owners across the United States have complained that they felt the bill, sponsored by Rep. Anne Perry, was unfair and amounted to a black eye on Maine’s tourism efforts. MECOA encouraged Perry to withdraw the bill.
But that hasn’t stopped the outcry. Campground owners continue to hear directly from RV owners angered that Maine’s Legislature would consider such a law. I have received hundreds of messages that range from simple opposition to the proposed legislation to personal attacks targeting my business and vowing to never again patronize my campground.
It is unfortunate that these attacks have become personal in nature. What’s worse, I believe they mask a larger problem faced by some Maine campgrounds. Many of Maine’s campgrounds are struggling to operate their businesses in a difficult economic environment. The cost of running a campground rises every year, as state regulations and an evolving industry force owners to make changes to their facilities, from wastewater upgrades to more facilities to accommodate campers. Our campground alone has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on such upgrades in recent years.
We also hoped to draw attention to a Maine law already in place that requires an entity that serves five or more camping parties, in exchange for direct or indirect compensation, to be licensed as a campground. As such, it would be required to follow the same rules and regulations as the state’s other campgrounds, from waste requirements to regular water testing. Since this law already is in place, why isn’t it being enforced at the state’s parking lots which are being used for RV overnight stays?
Before it was pulled from consideration, the bill addressed enforcing that law. However, enforcement was pushed down the line from the owners of the commercial parking lots to the individual camper — and that wasn’t our initial intent. Similarly, we did not want the proposed legislation to target Maine businesses allowing camping in their parking lots during events such as races, festivals or fairs.
We hoped the proposed legislation would alert citizens — from legislators to camping enthusiasts — that campgrounds located near these big commercial parking lots are struggling as more and more RV owners opt to save a few dollars by pulling up for the night at a lot that charges no fee and offers no services beyond a vacant patch of asphalt.
Maine campgrounds offer more than a place to park: We offer a wide array of recreational activities and entertainment for the whole family, from fishing and boating to music festivals and theme weekends. We want to keep our industry healthy, ensuring that RV owners exploring Maine have wonderful campgrounds to visit for years to come. But to keep Maine’s campgrounds open and thriving, we must rely on RV owners to continue pulling in each night and taking advantage of everything we offer.
The Yonder Hill Campground in Madison, Maine, used to be filled to capacity every summer night with recreational vehicles. But that was years ago. RV owners have found they can skip the $36 campground fee and park overnight at the Skowhegan Wal-Mart for free.
The campground’s owner, Allen York, said he often sees 25 to 30 RVs parked at the Wal-Mart.
In recent years, he said, there has been a cultural shift in how RVers travel, influenced in part by websites that use searchable databases to guide RVers to free parking spots, according to the Central Maine Morning Sentinel, Augusta.
“What has happened is nothing short of a phenomenon,” York said. “All of a sudden, we are looking at empty lots when we should be in the prime season.”
The owners of the state’s 275 campgrounds are pushing legislation that would ban RVs from parking overnight at commercial lots, such as Wal-Mart. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee voted 8-2 to endorse the bill, L.D. 114, which may come up for a vote in the House this week.
Proponents say the measure would help local campgrounds and RV parks stay in business and also allow the state to recoup nearly $1 million in lost state lodging taxes. They say it’s unfair that licensed campgrounds must comply with regulations, such as supplying drinking water and waste-removal facilities, while parking lot owners don’t.
For the campground owners, the enemy is Wal-Mart, which has a national policy allowing RVs to park overnight in most of its parking lots. While Wal-Mart doesn’t charge a fee, it does make money when people shop at the stores.
“It’s Goliath versus David,” said Rick Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association, which has 220 members. “This is the monster versus the little guy.”
Wal-Mart by tradition has offered free parking to RV owners as part of an effort to serve communities, said Alexandra Serra, a lobbyist for Wal-Mart, which has 24 stores in Maine. She said the company has never had any problems with RVs staying on its Maine properties and welcomes them.
Nevertheless, Wal-Mart is not fighting the bill, she said. “Wal-Mart is going to do whatever the Legislature tells us to do, of course, and happily so.”
While Wal-Mart is staying on the sidelines, RVers around the nation are mobilizing. News about the legislation has spread via the Internet on message boards and newsletters. People are sending e-mails and making phone calls to legislators, Gov. John Baldacci’s office, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine tourism offices.
If it passes, Maine would become the first state in the nation to ban RVs from commercial parking lots. Similar bills in Montana and Nevada were defeated after protests from RVers, according to a press release by the Escapees RV Club, a Texas-based club with 32,000 members nationally.
“If this legislation passes, it may well set a precedent for the rest of the country, and we could see our freedom to choose where we park permanently revoked!” the club said in an electronic newsletter.
The callers are delivering a simple message: If the Legislature passes this bill, RVers will no longer to come to Maine. “I like Maine. I want to visit there. But I don’t want to be told I have to pay to camp,” said Jim O’Briant of California, who administers www.overnightrvparking.com, which tells RVers were they can park for free.
The site lists more than 30 Maine locations where RVers can park overnight for free, including L.L. Bean in Freeport, Dysart’s truck stop in Hermon, DeLorme in Yarmouth and the Kittery Trading Post.
The Wal-Mart in Scarborough is not listed because the town has a municipal ordinance banning overnight parking. David Labbe, a senior official at the Kittery Trading Post, said that allowing RVers to park in the store’s lot is just good customer service. For many RVers, the store is a destination stop, he said.
“They are on their way from Florida to Canada and want to get off the highway and park in our parking lot, which is safe and convenient,” he said. “And they are on their way the next day. What’s wrong with that?”
But York said he’s seen RVers park at Wal-Mart in Skowhegan for four or five days at a time. He said they sometimes come to his campground wanting to pump out their waste tanks, but he turns them away.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, said state law requires that businesses obtain campground licenses if they receive compensation from four or more RVs at a time, either directly or indirectly. She said the law is difficult to enforce.
She said that local police, though, could easily enforce an outright ban. Her bill calls for a one-time warning followed by a $100 fine. She said there have been isolated incidents of RVs at parking lots dumping waste into storm drains.
She wants RVers to feel welcome in Maine, she said. But if RVers avoid the state because they aren’t allowed to park for free, that’s not a great loss.
“If they are parking one night in parking lots, they are not staying in Maine,” she said. “They are driving through.”
Private campgrounds and RV resorts in Maine and across the country are collectively moving ahead with capital improvement projects this year, despite the recession, according to a survey conducted among private park operators and industry officials by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“Our members are forward-thinking, and they are actually anticipating an upswing in camping and other affordable outdoor recreational activities this year,” said Richard Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association.
Among the campgrounds making improvements are these:
- Balsam Cove Campground, Orland: The owners of this campground, located on Toddy Pond, are investing more than $400,000 in improvements, which is being used to upgrade 63 campsites with new water, sewer and electrical hookups; the addition of five pull-through sites with 50-amp electrical hookups; and 10 other new campsites with hookups. Other improvements include a 25-by-50-foot pavilion to accommodate outdoor dinners and arts and crafts classes. The park has also added a small gazebo at the waterfront for bands and other entertainment as well as a pirate ship and sand box in the children’s play area. The money is also being used to pay for new horseshoe pits, road improvements and additional campsites.
- Bayley’s Camping Resort, Scarborough: This 727-site park is finalizing a $3 million expansion that includes the addition of 200 new, 2,500-square-foot campsites and 100 upgraded campsites with 50-amp electrical service and wireless Internet service. The park has also built new fishing docks and a new restroom facility and created a new access road and new walking trails.
- Narrows Too Resort, Bar Harbor: This 200-site park, owned by Chicago-based Equity Lifestyle Properties (ELS), has just completed a multimillion dollar renovation project that included reconfiguring the property to optimize ocean views and drainage; redoing all campsites and equipping them with 50- and 100-amp electrical service; building a new clubhouse, store and bathhouse; and remodeling the arcade building and resetting its cabins so that they are a stone’s throw from the ocean. “With the reconfiguration, there are several sites that have the feeling you’re virtually hanging over the ocean. They are quite spectacular,” said Pat Zamora, an ELS spokeswoman.
- Paradise Park Resort, Old Orchard Beach: This park is investing $650,000 to expand from 172 to 230 sites. All of the new sites will have water and sewer service, 30- and 50-amp electrical service and cable television hookups. The park is also adding a new pool and spa along with a new 1,800-square- foot bathroom and laundry facility. “Our 2009 outlook is very strong,” said park manager Jim Halle. “Reservations are ahead of 2008 and we have seen an increase in demand for our park model rentals versus past years.”
- Pinederosa Campground, Wells: The owners of this 162-site campground have recently completed construction of a new 84-site campground that will open in May. The new campground features a meandering layout unlike any other campground in the area. All campsites in the new park feature water, sewer, cable TV and 50-amp electrical service.
- Sand Pond Campground, Sanford: This park, which has 1,900 feet of waterfront, plans to spend about $150,000 in a park expansion this year that will include the addition of 50 spacious campsites with water, sewer, Wi-Fi and 50-amp electrical service; an in-ground swimming pool; new playground equipment; a large community fire pit and a baseball field. Last year, the park spent a similar amount adding another 25 campsites as well as a 40-by-90-foot covered pavilion, which can seat up to 300 people for outdoor functions.