Staycation getaway: Ailing economy a boon for campgrounds
Massachusetts campgrounds are filling up fast this summer as travelers shun expensive vacations and spend their down time close to home.
Reservations at Massachusetts' 28 state forests and campgrounds this year are up 14 percent over 2007, said Wendy Fox, spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Many private campgrounds south of Boston report that reservations are up this summer. More visitors are coming from New England than other parts of the country, and many are staying longer than usual.
“Even though gas prices are high, people are still traveling,'' said Paula Carroll, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Campground Owners. “They're just traveling closer to home, and they might be staying a little bit longer to justify that fuel.''
As the word “staycation'' enters the lexicon as a symbol of diminished travel ambitions, campground owners report healthy business in 2008. Many campgrounds are reporting reservations for July and August rising 4 to 6 percent, said Carroll, whose association represents 84 campgrounds in the Bay State.
“They were pretty much overflowing,'' said Carroll, former owner of Camper's Haven in Dennisport.
The Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort in Foxboro, which has more than 400 campsites, has been operating at 88 percent capacity this season, Marketing Director Kristine Daniels said. That's an increase of 4 percent from last year.
“People are looking for more affordable vacations and staying closer to home so they don't have to spend the gas money,'' Daniels said.
The occupancy level at the Pinewood Lodge campground in Plymouth is running near capacity on weekends and at about 40 percent of capacity during the week, owner Jim Saunders said. Advance bookings for the fall season also are strong.
Reservations for full-size RVs are down at Normandy Farms this year, Daniels said, while reservations for travel trailers in the 20-to-30-foot range are up.
Another factor helping campgrounds this year is the continuing weakness of the U.S. dollar, which makes it more expensive for U.S. travelers to go overseas.
Campers are more likely to come from within Massachusetts than in the past, Daniels said, although the campground is getting more visitors from Canada this year.
Pinewood Lodge's Saunders said European business also is growing.
Undaunted by gas prices and lured by favorable exchange rates, Europeans are renting oversized recreational vehicles from manufacturers such as Cruise America.
“They're not batting an eye at gas prices,'' Saunders said.
Reservations are up 8 percent from 2007 at Sandy Pond Campground in Plymouth. For the second straight year, the campground has seen an influx of Canadian visitors, owner Richard Doonan said.
With campgrounds fuller than usual, camping supply stores are doing brisk business this summer.
Since Memorial Day, Eastern Mountain Sports in Hingham has seen an uptick in sales of backpacks, tents and sleeping bags, floor supervisor Diane Silverstein said.
Although it's not clear if record-high gas prices are responsible for the trend, less technical equipment suitable for families and first-time campers is popular this year, Silverstein said.
“People go on their first trips and they don't want to make a big investment until they know that it's something they want to do (in the future),'' she said.
The REI at Hingham's Derby Street Shoppes has been selling more of what assistant manager Chris Hark calls “family camping'' gear. That means bulky equipment designed more for comfort than reducing weight.
Unlike hikers, families are more likely to bring RVs to campgrounds and bring bulkier equipment such as REI's $359 Base Camp 6 tent, which sleeps six.
“You can fit everybody in there and the dog, it's easy to set up, you can stand up in the tent, and it keeps the bugs out,'' Hark said. “Lots of people take that to Wompatuck (State Park).''
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