CAMDEN, Maine — The summer of 2010 is going to be the best RV season Maine has seen in a long time, according to Richard Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association.
Abare said Friday that many campgrounds are booking up, RV retailers are moving merchandise and people are getting outdoors for their vacations. The overall impact of RV campers in Maine this year will exceed $775 million, Abare said.
“There is more than one factor that is the cause of this. The economy has people looking at less expensive ways to vacation. It’s our health telling us we need to be outdoors and it’s the desire to spend time with family. And you say, ‘How can you do them all at once?’ Go camping,” Abare said.
About 3.8 million tourists visited Maine last year, according to Pat Eltman, the director of the Maine Office of Tourism. The office expects more visitors this year.
“I think we are going to have a much better season this year than last. I think camping will be off the charts. The weather has been great,” Eltman said. “The good weather is going to bring more visitors to Maine, and we are thrilled to have them.”
A woman who only identified herself as Mrs. Statema (“I’m old fashioned,” she explained) said it took awhile for her and her two daughters to convince her husband to buy their RV, which sat on the edges of a massive green field in Camden Hills State Park on Friday morning. But 10 years ago Mr. Statema gave in.
Their first year, the couple spent three months in the vehicle, traveling from their hometown in Cape Cod to Vancouver. This trip, she said, was her third time to Camden.
“We love Camden,” she said.
She and her husband looked at some local real estate while in the area, though she is not sure they could ever permanently depart southern New England. But she loves to visit the midcoast town.
“It’s kind of a gypsy life,” Mrs. Statema said Friday. “I think it’s fun.”
Mrs. Statema renovated her RV to have a bed, as she said the pull-out couch was just too uncomfortable.
The couple attested to the affordability of on-the-go camping.
“It’s just what we need: not too big, it’s easy to drive and if I want to cook, I cook,” she said.
Across from the Statemas were Rick and Diana Lewis. The couple pulled their silver Airstream RV from their hometown of Bridgton.
“It’s a nice getaway and you don’t have to go very far,” said Diana Lewis. “We’re Mainers and we are just now discovering the state — parts we hadn’t seen before.”
According to Abare, about 70 percent of RVers in Maine are Maine residents.
Bill Elliot, the park manager in Camden, said the addition of RVs to the park is a new one, starting in 2007. He said in the 1960s “most families camped with station wagons and tents,” but now families expect electricity, sewer, lights, picnic tables and the wireless Internet that the park offers.
People who vacation in RVs are a bit less finicky in some ways, Elliot said.
“It lengthens out the season. RVers tend to camp in the colder months,” he said. Most of the park use in April, Elliot said, was by RV campers.
Camden’s park has 45 RV hookup sites — about half of its total 106 campsites, and some July and August weekends will be completely booked.
“Our camping totals are doing well. I think we were up 5 percent last year — and it was poor weather,” he said.
Weather is important. According to Abare, the industry is more weather- and gas price-dependent than it is economy-dependent.
Debbie Ehrlenbach is the manager of Timberland Acres RV Park in Trenton.
“I think people are just doing what is in their hearts and not listening to the news,” she said. “The news has scared them in the past few years about the way the economy goes. And I think the gas prices — they were over $4 a few years ago and that was cost-prohibitive. With the gas prices down that has made it more cost-effective for them to come.”
Ehrlenbach said she is already penciling in plenty of reservations and business seems to be looking up.
“We’re pleased with the amount of reservations we have this summer, and the caravan groups that come from across country are full. The past couple of years that hasn’t been the case,” she said.
Ehrlenbach said caravan groups are tours that companies organize for vacationers, for a price.
The Trenton campground took this year to renovate. This year Timberland Acres added a playground, among other upgrades. This addition, Ehrlenbach said, was to fit a trend she and her parents, who own the park, noticed.
“For a while it was young families camping. Then for a long time it was just older people. Now young people are coming back,” she said. “I think for young families it is an economical way to spend time together.”