Roll down the windows and slap on the sunscreen. Summer is cutting spring off with a gust of warm weather and budding trees, and for many Mainers, that can only mean one thing — it’s time to head up to camp.
Unfortunately, that lakeside cabin doesn’t look exactly as you left it in the fall. If you’re lucky, dust has settled and the windows are dirty. But prepare to be a tad unlucky.
“Be ready for the unexpected because something usually happens,” said Marie McSwine, who owns Beech Ridge Camps on Schoodic Lake with her husband, Wayne. Each year, they open their three lakeside cabins, scrubbing them clean for summer renters.
Maybe a red squirrel has burrowed through the insulation to build a nest in the closet.
Maybe a fallen branch ripped a screen.
It may be hard to believe, but the world still turns when you aren’t basking on your camp’s dock. Months of ice and snow have taken its toll.
OK, what’s broken this year?
First things first, if your camp has plumbing, turn on the water and take the air out of the lines.
“We had a crazy experience last year,” McSwine said. “My husband turned the water on early in the morning — he’s a truck driver — then went to work. Later, I went out to clean and I opened up the first door, and there was an inch of water on the floor.”
After you fix any pipe problems, however small or disastrous, make sure the building is sound and the appliances are working. There’s no point in cleaning if you have a construction project on your hands.
Time for a little elbow grease
“Once everything’s working, you have to come in and clean your cabin from head to toe,” McSwine said. “The walls, the floors, the bedding — vacuum, dust, all that stuff — clean the windows, the refrigerator, your stove, the bathroom, head to toe, clean the dishes, pots and pans, all the appliances, basically everything until it’s sparkling clean.”
That about covers it.
The McSwines primarily use LA’s Totally Awesome all-purpose cleaner; Kaboom shower, tub and tile cleaner; Windex for glass surfaces; and Dawn dish soap.
Russ Aldridge, owner of South Branch Lake Camps in Seboeis, always brings bleach and Pine-Sol when readying his eleven lakeside cabins for the summer. And he has a few cleaning tricks to share.
“Newspaper works best for cleaning glass,” Aldrich said. “It will clean it 10 times better than any paper towel you can buy.”
He also uses bleach and a Q-tip to clean spider webs out gas stove pilot arms. And to clean woodwork, he combines a cap of Pine-Sol with a gallon of water.
“It takes soot and smoke off wood and puts a sheen back on,” he said.
For the bathroom, he uses that same recipe plus half a cap of bleach. The combination keeps insects at bay for at least a month, he said.
Midcoast Caretakers, on the other hand, prefers using environmentally safe or “green” cleaning products. Owner Scott Keyes swears by Swish Kenco, an international cleaning supply company that has a shop right on Perry Road in Bangor.
“Nongreen chemicals are very toxic and can be harmful to your health,” Keyes said. “It’s not just hype. They’re dangerous.”
Keyes also reminds camp owners to bring along a good lime stain and rust remover. They’ll come in handy, especially in the bathroom — if you have one.
A camp is only as good as its fire pit
Maybe you disagree. Perhaps your camp is only as good as its dock; or your outdoor, fly-proof gazebo; or your stainless steel grill; or your horseshoe pit; or your outhouse. The point is, all these things are outdoors.
“Outside, you have to make sure the cosmetics are done,” McSwine said. “That the decks are swept and the picnic tables are all in the good shape. Clear your fire pit. Get paddles and vests ready for the boats.”
“At the lake or pond, you tend to get a little more wear than most places in the forest because of your exposure to wind and water,” Aldridge said. “You have to keep up to date with [fixing] paint, screens, stairs … with so many buildings, we’re always jacking and leveling something.”
And don’t forget the dock, if you’re so lucky to have one. They come in all shapes and sizes and materials, but in general, touch-ups with paint, stains and sealants should be done long before launching the dock so not to contaminate the water.
Aldridge checks the undercarriage of their floating docks, all 240 feet of them, to make sure the straps are tight before sending them out on the lake.
And before you reluctantly leave your newly cleaned camp, make sure to pick up all the trash and cleaning supplies, especially if you’ve left anything outdoors.
After all, what makes camp special is the pristine wilderness surrounding it.