Fewer people overall visited parks (and the state in general), but more camped and spent more collective time than in years past.
POWNAL, Maine — Wednesday was a chilly day for a bike ride.
But James, a structural engineer from Rhode Island, took a beautiful lunchtime bike ride through Bradbury Mountain State Park. While he largely had the park to himself that day, James and many others have been taking a break by camping.
“We’ve camped in Maine state parks before COVID and they’re wonderful,” he said. “They’re great places to come and they’re great camping facilities.”
In 2022, more people spent the night than ever before.
Parks Bureau Director Andy Cutko explained the numbers tell a story. There were 3.28 million visitors to Maine state parks in 2022. That’s down slightly from 2021. But those fewer visitors accounted for 319,000 nights spent at one of the 12 parks with campsites, a number never before seen.
“As people started to go back to summer camps and sports camps, we thought we might actually see campground numbers drop a little bit,” Cutko explained. “But, that actually hasn’t happened.”
He shrugged and added that Maine enjoyed a gorgeous summer, ripe for visitors.
But the stats are reflected beyond the woods and public beaches.
Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said he believed Maine was benefitting from what he called “the slow tourism movement.”
In a similar trend to Maine’s park campers, people who commit to visiting anywhere in Maine are typically staying longer. Staying longer means they’re spending more money in more places.
“People want to get away from their busy, connected lives and then decompress a little bit,” Lyons said. “They want to go to a destination and spend time getting to know the local area through the local history, the local culture, the local food.”
Now that they’ve had a taste of Maine, they want more of it. Although, James thought it might also be simple economics.
“People spent a lot of money on equipment during COVID,” he said. “So, people bought bikes; people bought tents; people bought hiking boots. They want to still go out and use their expensive equipment that they purchased.”
Whether for a return to nature or a return on investment, “people from away” are returning, for longer than ever.
Campsite reservations for 2023 are available starting Feb. 1 for Lily Bay and Sebago Lake State Parks only, with the other park campgrounds taking reservations starting February 6. More information about state park camping can be found here.
The Maine State Bureau of Parks & Lands is hiring. A link to careers or seasonal jobs can be found here.
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