Libby Camps, located in the North Maine Woods near Ashland, derives at least 75 percent of its business from out-of-state guests. Photo courtesy of Libby Camps

For more than a century, sporting camps in the deep woods of Maine have been a remote tourist destination for fishermen and hunters. But this year, during the coronavirus outbreak, many sporting camp owners wonder how much longer their industry can survive.

Sporting camps typically open in early May with the start of the spring fishing season. This year the opening was delayed until June 1, and then changed to May 18, under Gov. Janet Mills’ four-stage plan to reopen the state’s economy during the pandemic.

Many camps have yet to open, however, and some camp owners will not open at all this year.

Like many in Maine’s tourist industry, the sporting camp owners say they are hampered by Mills’ executive order requiring non-residents to quarantine for 14 days upon entering the state. For many camps, out-of-staters account for the vast majority of their customers.

“Where else in the world is there a safer place to be than in a little log cabin in the woods? The 14-day quarantine will devastate the sporting camp industry,” said Harvey Calden, president of the Maine Sporting Camp Association.

Calden has owned Tim Pond Camps in western Maine for 40 years, but he will not open this year because 90 percent of his guests come from out of state. The camps may stay closed for good, he said.

At Nahmakanta Lake Wilderness Camps to the east of Moosehead Lake, Don and Angel Hibbs have seen repeat customers for 25 years. When the governor changed course and announced earlier this month that camps in 12 of Maine’s rural counties could open last week, Don Hibbs called past clients from around Maine informing them Nahmakanta would open Memorial Day weekend. As a result, the sporting camp will have some Maine guests.

But with the bulk of their clients – on average 70 percent – non-residents, Hibbs said the 14-day-quarantine makes filling the camp impossible. And in such a remote location where Nahmakanta is located just south of Baxter State Park, he said it makes no sense.

“How many non-residents have a second home in Maine where they can sit for 14 days?” Hibbs said. “It’s not going to kill us financially. We can ride this out. But it’s not good.”

The state once boasted 300 sporting camps, but today there are about 50. Many of them have repeat business year after year. Most hold no more than 15 to 20 guests who stay in a dozen cabins that are spread far apart, usually along a lake or river.

“Here in Forest City, you can definitely social distance in this community. We have 20-plus lakes to explore. You go out on the lakes, you never see another soul. That is why people come here,” said Sandy Patterson, co-owner of Wheaton’s Lodge in Downeast Maine, which derives 95 percent of its business from non-residents.

“But if there continues to be non-resident travel restrictions, it will devastate us. We are pretty much x-number of paychecks away from losing everything.”

Matt Libby, the fifth-generation family member to run Libby Camps in the North Maine Woods, said non-residents make up at least three-fourths of his business, and as of last week, he still had a lot of them booked for June, hanging onto hope the quarantine would be lifted before he opens June 1.

“If on June 1 it hasn’t lifted, we’ll push them to July,” Libby said, and added, “If I had to close today, it would bankrupt me.”

Matt Libby plans to open Libby Camps near Ashland on June 1. Photo courtesy of Libby Camps

Libby said having the guests social distance while staying in the sporting camps’ 10 cabins would be easy – but having non-residents quarantine in Maine before arriving is not.

“I know two different guests who have summer homes in Maine who have already moved here. They are planning to come here in June. But that’s very rare,” Libby said.

Scott Balough, from Lexington, South Carolina, had a June reservation at Libby Camps with a fishing buddy from New Jersey. And when flying during the pandemic seemed unsafe, Balough simply planned to drive up through New Jersey to get his friend – a total of 1,100 miles that would take him 18 hours. Balough was determined to experience again this “bucket list” remote fishing adventure he shared with his wife, Wendy, last summer.

In the end, Balough worried that he or his friend could infect the staff and guests at Libby’s.

“Matt was expecting a modification on the restrictions to the quarantine. But it was in the back of my mind, I’m picking a guy up in New Jersey, a hot spot, and maybe he’s infected, or maybe I’m asymptomatic,” Balough said. “If I infected these guys in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t want to screw it up for (Matt’s) family. I just said I’d do it next year.”

Other business owners in Maine have been angered about the restriction on non-residents. On May 15, the owners of two campgrounds and two restaurants in southern Maine filed a federal lawsuit challenging Mills’ reopening plan – claiming it was unconstitutional because the 14-day quarantine restricts people’s right to travel freely from state to state.

Kate Foye, the director of legislative affairs and communications in the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, did not return repeated emails with questions for this story regarding the 14-day quarantine for non-residents.

Sporting camp owners also have been frustrated by the state’s inability to post safety protocols in a timely manner. The protocols, which every business is required to follow during the pandemic, are specific to each industry.

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development’s COVID-19 prevention web page states: “New industry checklists will be distributed ahead of each staged opening to allow businesses to prepare.” But the safety protocols for sporting camps were not released until two days after they were allowed to open.

Libby and Bosebuck Mountain Camps co-owner Wendy Silvia – among others – asked repeatedly for these protocols, even leaving voice messages and sending emails to the DEC, but they got no response, or were told to check back.

At Bosebuck Mountain Camps on Aziscohos Lake in western Maine, staying open this year will be difficult given the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state guests. Co-owner Wendy Silvia said the 103-year-old sporting camp could be forced to close for good.

On Aziscohos Lake in western Maine, Bosebuck Mountain Camps will open June 1, but for how many guests is unclear, Silvia said. The future of this sporting camp that has welcomed fishermen for 103 years also remains uncertain.

Last week, Silvia cleaned the 12 cabins and main lodge by herself, because she had already canceled her May guests after the governor said sporting camps could not open until June. Silvia’s staff then went on unemployment.

“When will we open? That’s a good question,” Silvia said. “I might be able to limp along this summer, but we have all our huge expenses in the fall. I won’t have the money to pay those bills.”

Calden, the association’s president, estimated half of Maine’s sporting camps will close for good this year. Silvia thought that was a fair guess.

“I’m not sad for myself. I’m sad for the state of Maine. It is going to lose a tradition that has been an integral part of the state for more than 100 years,” Silvia said. “You’re not in it to make money, but to be custodians of a historic camp and to provide an experience you can’t get anywhere else. But we can’t survive being shut down during our high revenue period. We should be put on the endangered species list.”


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