CAMDEN — Maine’s state campgrounds usually are full to capacity this time of year, such as Lily Bay State Park on Moosehead Lake or Rangeley Lakes State Park.
Certainly there are crowds at Sebago, Mount Blue and Peaks-Kenny, just some of the lake-front wooded campgrounds in Maine.
When campers arrive at those parks, they usually pitch their tent, take out the camp chairs and Citronella candles and chill.
At Camden Hills State Park, however, more than 30,000 campers annually come here not to get away from it all but to be near it. Camden Hills, beautiful as its sweeping ocean views may be, is made more attractive specifically because of its proximity to the coastal buzz, entertainment, shops, pubs and crowds.
“It gets quiet this time of night here, around dinner time. Then around 7, people start returning,” said Donna Daigle of Watertown, Mass., who was camping there last week with her husband.
Jeff and Donna Daigle have been coming to Camden Hills State Park for eight years to attend the Rockland Blues Festival, taking place this weekend. Being camping addicts and fans of Maine, they now call Camden Hills one of their outdoor retreats. But it was the music venue that drew them here.
Most campers at the park use it in this way, as a jumping-off point for the busy coastal offerings or as a stop on a trip to or from Acadia National Park, said park manager Bill Elliot.
“Some state campgrounds have amphitheater programs, run by naturalists, but we have such quick turnover, people come for such a short stay, there’s no need. It’s not like Mount Blue or Sebago,” Elliot said.
In fact, back when it became a park at the time of the Great Depression, Camden Hills was a project of the National Park Service, same as Acadia. It was started in 1936 by the federal government before it was turned over to the state in 1948, Elliot said.
Today, hiking some of the 25 miles of trails is the top activity among campers. But touring downtown Camden is a close second, Elliot said.
Camden Hills is home to deer, moose and coyotes. But it’s the proximity to the hip shops, galleries and museums of the midcoast that draws visitors.
Jay Grimes drove from Storm Lake, Iowa, as he does to some outdoor destination each summer. The Camden campground was just a place to roll out his tent at night as he peddled across the midcoast and explored the local culture during the day.
“Maine is expensive. All I want to do here is sleep,” said Grimes.
The Daigles are an exception among Camden Hills campers.
Thursday, while virtually every other camper was gone from the park at dinner time, they were grilling their marinated lamb, enjoying happy hour beneath their tarp, looking into a backdrop of trees, happy to be out of the crowds.
“We live near Boston. This is a destination for us. We just spend so much time in the car. We don’t want to drive further,” Jeff Daigle said.
But even these avid campers are eventually drawn each summer into the hum of Maine’s small towns, away from the drumming of the woodpeckers.
“We go to Lincolnville, Belfast, Rockland, Camden. I love Belfast; I like to just walk around,” Donna Daigle said. “In Boston there is such a hustle and bustle. This has a nice, relaxed pace.”
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: