Debra Lennon, founder of Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport, stops outside a “shepherd’s hut,” one of the Unique Retreats at the campground. Tammy Wells Photo

KENNEBUNKPORT – Fresh air, the great outdoors, and a chance to have a vacation experience in a year where relaxation often hasn’t been possible is drawing folks to campgrounds.

Whether you’re “glamping” in a Conestoga wagon, a vintage VW bus with all the amenities, relaxing in your own RV in a familiar campground, or pitching a tent, campground owners say it’s a wonderful way to enjoy a carefree relaxing holiday.

“I think people feel safer in a campground,” said Debra Lennon, founder of Sandy Pines Campground, near the Goose Rocks Beach section of Kennebunkport, on a recent tour of the 60-acre property.

David Berg, of the executive committee of the Maine Campground Owners Association, which represents 190 licensed properties, said campgrounds are open and welcome anyone wanting a fun, safe experience.

“After all, everything you read tells you being outside is far more safe than being inside, and after folks were on lockdown all spring, they really look forward to the camping experience,” said Berg, who owns Red Apple Campground in Arundel.

The interior of the Tradewinds glamping tent at Sandy Pines Campground, one of several camping options at the property. Sandy Pines Campground Photo

Sandy Pines Campground was created four years ago when business partners Lennon and Tim Harrington bought the former Salty Acres Campground that offered tent and RV camping – and expanded it in a big, cool, fun way.

There is still room for those who prefer the tenting or RV experience. But there’s “glamping,” too – glamorous camping that offers a form of tenting that is far from roughing it. Tents sport real beds, comfy pillows – luxury in the great outdoors. As well, the 280- site campground officers Unique Retreats – including a turquoise trailer called Fannie, a VW bus called Sunny Daze, a shepherd’s hut, and several more. All sport queen- or king-sized or king-sized beds, heat and air conditioning, indoor seating, linens, and outside fire pits. There are cottages and hideaway huts too – and for those who don’t have the gear, there are Rookie Camper packages for two where everything is provided.

There’s a heated saltwater pool, open by reservation, and given the coronavirus this year, campers must bring their own chair poolside, said Lennon. There’s a playground and games like ping pong, cornhole and volleyball.

Red Apple Campground in Arundel is offering self-contained RV sites this camping season. Tammy Wells Photo

Lennon is a founder of the Kennebunkport Promise, an initiative that signals a shop, restaurant, hotel, or campground has adopted strict cleaning protocols, offers hand sanitizing, looks at ways to maintain social distancing, and others ways to help people stay safe. In return, they ask folks to wear masks inside or where social distancing is impossible. They ask those who are sick or have been or exposed to coronavirus to visit another time.

Lennon said Sandy Pines has adopted added measures to make matters easier and safer for campers – an express check in online foregoes the need to stop by the front desk, a texting feature for guest services, and a drop box for keys upon departure.

Berg, speaking for the Maine Campground Owners Association, said most members have taken the steps needed for cleaning, sanitizing, social distancing and masks. And he said increasing the number of people allowed at outside gatherings from 50 to 100 has helped.

He said some campgrounds are doing well – others are struggling a bit.

He said owners, particularly in southern Maine, usually have many gusts from Massachusetts, but the requirement for a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine has kept numbers down. The closed border with Canada has had an impact, too, he said.

“Some are doing very well as they have pivoted and are trying to do what is needed to attract more local customers or folks from the states that have no restrictions,” Berg said.

Red Apple Campground, operated by the Bergs for 23 years, is accepting self-contained RVs this season – no tents or pop-up campers. The campground sports 140 sites on 15 acres. There’s a heated pool, horseshoe pit, and a recreation hall with televisions, board games and more.

Lennon said business is brisk, particularly on weekends. For those looking for a later summer get away, Sandy Pines is offering a discount for two-night mid-week stays for two people, through Labor Day.

The campgrounds will be open through Indigenous People’s Day (formerly Columbus Day) Oct. 12. As well as Red Apple and Sandy Pines Campground, there are others in the area: Hemlock Grove Campground bills itself as offering a northern Maine atmosphere with southern Maine convenience. Bentley’s Campground is currently offering only RV sites. Both are on Route 1 in Arundel.

“Camping is a wonderful way to spend quality time in a safe environment with your family, ” said Berg, of MECOA. “If folks have a little patience and are kind to one another and follow the steps put in place at our various member parks, they will have a wonderful experience and want to come back again and again.”

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