by Nick Kaye
of The Weekly Staff
ORLAND — Don and Joyce Nelson had never gone camping in an RV when they decided to purchase Shady Oaks Campground in Orland. Don, born in Cherryfield, had served in the military for 20 years, including two tours in Vietnam, and worked at PepsiCo. Joyce, born in West Forks, had worked as a lab technician for 30 years. “We thought, wouldn’t it be fun to do something together,” said Joyce. They picked up a phone book and began to call every campground in the area, asking if they owners would like to sell, until they found Shady Oaks.
Since the couple took over Shady Oaks 25 years ago, they have completely renovated the campground. All that remains of the original premises is the frame of the restrooms. They have constructed 70 campsites, five rental cabins, a recreational hall, a laundry facility, a swimming pool, sewers and more. Divided into subsections with names like “The Village” and “The Estates,” Shady Oaks feels more like a permanent community than a campground.
“Most people say, don’t you know it’s just a campground?” said Joyce, “but for us, this is family.” Many of the visitors have been returning to Shady Oaks each summer for up to 20 years — and not just to vacation. Don and Joyce have become acquainted with fishermen, artists, plumbers and more, who work during the day and return to their RVs at night. They’ve mourned the deaths of visitors but also celebrated the arrival of their children and grandchildren.
Owning and managing Shady Oaks was such an inspiration to the couple that they decided to embark on their own RV adventure several years after purchasing the campground. “We thought, if we’re going to run a campground, then we need to figure out what it’s like out there,” said Don. When Shady Oaks closed at the end of the summer, they drove to Indiana, purchased a small fifth-wheel RV and hit the open road.
The Nelsons now spend their winters at the Voyager RV Resort in Tuscon, Arizona. Although the Voyager Resort is on a completely different scale, with near nearly 3,000 visitors, it provides them with the same sense of community they enjoy during the summer at Shady Oaks. The couple even hosts labor day weekend reunions, where winter campers from Arizona come up to Maine to enjoy the RV experience on the other side of the country.
“It’s been a dream, really,” said Joyce of their experience with the campground. They’ve had to work hard to keep up with the increased demands of campers who have moved from small pop-ups and trailers to high-tech RVs, but the experience has proven extremely rewarding. Every Sunday morning, they make a big stack of pancakes, brew a pot of coffee and watch the campers, with smiles on their faces, line up for breakfast. It’s scenes like this the Nelsons live for.
Shady Oaks Campground is open May 1 through Sept, 30 each summer. For information or to arrange a stay, visit ShadyOaksCampground.com or call 469-7739.