SOUTHWEST HARBOR—At Smuggler’s Den Campground, the phones have been ringing off the hook with people calling to reserve a spot for the summer season.
Many of them are hearing, “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything available during that time frame,” according to manager Rain Holbrook. “The phone’s just constant… In the early June timeframe, tenting is up more than usual.”
Finding a site for tenting or hooking up an RV, as well as staying in a cabin or yurt at the campgrounds around Mount Desert Island and the surrounding area, is becoming nearly impossible; yet another sign 2021 is shaping up to be a strong season.
“Tenters tend to be ‘fly by the seat of their pants,’” explained Holbrook. “They want to see how the weather’s going to be. Tenting seems to be up, and this is earlier for all of that.”
An announcement on the Mount Desert Campground website states all waterfront and view sites at the campground are booked through the months of July and August. Several other campgrounds that are mainly taking reservations online have a very limited supply of sites through June, July and August, if they aren’t fully booked.
“We’re sold out for RVs for the whole month of August already,” said Brett Metzger, who manages Bass Harbor Campground in Tremont near the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. “Both the yurts and the cabins are filling up. This August is filling up faster than normal. We’re about 20 percent ahead of where we were last year.”
Even though last year started out slow, Bass Harbor Campground had a strong season from July until they closed in October. Having the campgrounds in Acadia National Park closed seemed to help their business.
“We got a lot of traffic because of that,” said Metzger. “In July and August, we made up for a pretty crappy June.”
This year, the campgrounds of Acadia National Park are open, but capacity will be reduced by about 50 percent for health and safety protocols in continuing response to COVID-19. Campsites within the larger park campgrounds are sold 60 days from the booking date and have been filling up fast. According to Michael Madell, the deputy superintendent of the park, “we are substantially sold out for the first part of the summer.”
Duck Harbor Campground, the small, walk-in-only campground on Isle au Haut, sold out in two minutes when registration opened. Blackwoods Campground is completely sold out from when it opens on May 7 through May 25.
“The remainder of the holiday weekend is sold out until May 31 when there are just a few remaining sites available,” Madell wrote in an email to the Islander on Tuesday. “From that point on, there are a few sites to sell, but for one night only and on weekdays. Weekends are sold out through June 27th (which just went on sale today).”
Many campgrounds on MDI and the surrounding areas rely on returning customers from season to season. When the pandemic first hit last year, Smuggler’s Den extended as many reservations from the 2020 season to the 2021 season as possible for its return customers. According to Holbrook, the business still had to cancel nearly 400 reservations for the season.
When they opened in July 2020, most of their customers were RV campers. “We were very cautious,” said Holbrook.
Camping in an RV became more popular about five years ago among millennials. During 2020, the industry saw an increase in sales when people were looking to vacation away from home safely. People also took to the road via RV while working or attending school remotely, which made a strong wi-fi connection a selling point for campgrounds.
“A lot of the phone calls I get are from people asking, ‘how good is your internet connection?’” Metzger said about the increase in people under 40 years old and families who are booking RV sites.
According to the Wandering RV website, sales of RVs were up about 43 percent in 2020 over those in 2019. This is good news for Morgan and Colton Sanborn who own Timberland Acres RV Park in Trenton.
“If you talk to camper dealers, they are having a hard time keeping inventory,” said Morgan Sanborn. “I think people are just finding a safer way to travel.”
She has been taking reservations since February for this season, which opens for them on Mother’s Day weekend.
“I can’t stay off the phone; I wish I had three cell phones,” said Sanborn. “Just with the reservations and phone calls I’m getting, it’s looking even better than 2019.”
There are 90 nightly sites at the Trenton RV Park and a total of 230 sites, with 140 of those for campers who rent through the season. Many of the seasonal renters are people who live locally and rent their homes to visitors during the summer season. Perhaps many of them realized it was going to be a busy season from their own bookings, which made Sanborn’s life more hectic than usual earlier this year.
“I had a waitlist this spring for seasonal spots of 50 people,” she said, adding that lately there are a lot of calls about reservations for the Fourth of July weekend. “I feel like now people are really scrambling.”
In her conversations with other campground owners, Sanborn has found they are in the same boat as Timberland Acres with limited offerings left for the season.
“I don’t have full weeks available at this point,” she said, noting that anyone looking for a spot at this time needs to be very specific or very flexible. “I don’t have seven days in a row.”