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ROCKPORT, Maine — Just a few weeks ago, the phone at the Megunticook Campground in Rockport was ringing off the hook, for all the wrong reasons.
Gov. Janet Mills had called for campgrounds, and most other things in the state, to close because of the coronavirus pandemic, and said they could open up on June 1 to Maine residents only. Canadian, and many other international tourists, who make up a growing share of visitors to the Rockport campground, were not allowed to come to the country. And when Mills announced that all out-of-state visitors would need to quarantine for two weeks for safety reasons, it had an immediate effect on business.
“I had people canceling hand over fist, beginning in April,” said Catherine Plourde, who owns the campground with her husband, Scott Warren. “We’ll survive this — but it was painful. Scott would come in and I’d have my head in my hands.”
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But the state announced last week private campgrounds could open to Maine residents for Memorial Day weekend. The past few days have brought a different — and much more welcome — hubbub, as some of the nearly 300 privately owned campgrounds around the state welcomed visitors once again.
“We had a nice weekend,” Plourde said Monday afternoon. “We had a few families here who were off-the-charts happy to be out and about. They brought their own volleyball and thoroughly enjoyed the volleyball court. Played flashlight tag at night and enjoyed the oceanfront. It’s wonderful to see people enjoying the grounds and the outdoors again.”
That thought was echoed by Billie McNamara, the operations manager of Loon’s Haven Family Campground on Trickey Pond in Naples.
“It was amazing to have people back here and camping,” she said Monday. “It was really emotional, actually, to have people here and seem so happy.”
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McNamara has encouraged the state’s campgrounds to band together at a time when many of them are struggling. She has started a “ Discover your own backyard” campaign to urge locals to visit new places right here in Maine.
“We’re just marketing it like crazy, trying to get the word out,” she said. “You can stay on the rocky coast near Acadia. You can go to Old Orchard Beach and stay on the beach. You can go to the Maine woods and experience that.”
Among the Mainers who were eager to do just that were Shay and Nick Hansen of Cape Elizabeth, who came to the Megunticook Campground over the weekend with Reagan, 10, McKay, 7, Bodi, 4, and Ellie, their excitable rescue dog. While relaxing in front of their cabin on Friday, they said it had been a long spring, and they were ready to be somewhere new and do something different.
“We love it. It’s so beautiful here,” Shay Hansen said. “It’s a change of scenery from our home — we’ve been there awhile. This is so fun and we’re super pumped about camping.”
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Rachel and Hunter Umphrey of Old Town, with kids Zoe, 6, Leo, 3, and Fiona, 11 months, were also enjoying the cool ocean breeze and the sun-dappled stream that ran behind their campsite, a welcome relief on a day that saw temperatures climb into the 90s.
“We had cabin fever,” said Hunter Umphrey, an assistant Maine attorney general. “We haven’t been out of the house much.”
“We haven’t left,” his wife chimed in.
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The pandemic has brought some operational changes to the Megunticook Campground, including causing the owners to close the playground, pool and welcome center, and to put a halt to the popular Saturday night lobster bake tradition. They have had to set up an online portal so they can check guests in and sell them ice, firewood, s’mores fixings and beer without a face-to-face transaction.
Plourde and Warren don’t expect it will be smooth sailing, thanks to the barrage of changes and the financial hardships from all those cancellations. They estimate that at least 50 percent of their income is from out-of-state and international tourists. But with the campground finally open, they can breathe a little easier.
“We’ve been saying since the beginning of this COVID thing, camping is really the ideal for social distancing,” Plourde said. “The good news is that we’re open now.”
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