From Our Readers | Love Letters to Camping

As one of the founding families of Windham, my late parents had about 200 acres of land adjoining Sebago Lake Basin that had been farmed for many years. In 1957, when I was seven years old, my father and a friend created a tenting area to accommodate the growing number of campers coming to Maine. There were seven of us kids who helped to clear lots in the woods where roads were built, including one leading down to the shore where we made a parking lot for families to use while swimming and boating.

We started small but added more lots each year as demand grew. When more and more campers came with trailers, we added electrical and water hookups. My older sister and I helped Mom with the signing in of campers and tended the small camp store. When Dad built a big A-frame behind the office, it became a “rec” building, with Ping-Pong tables and sports equipment. It was our responsibility to sweep the A-frame each morning. Afternoons, however, were for swimming! We rode our bikes down to the water and spent hours there. Evenings we often had a fire in the “rec hall” with folks gathered around—and the occasional guitar. The campground was a great place to meet other teenagers; we would organize hayrides and set up impromptu dances by the jukebox. One of the most popular events was when a Native American couple presented a program about their history in the area and related stories of “the old days.”

This was back when North Windham was still rural and not the commercial hub that it has now become. We closed the campground in 1987, after 30 years of operation, when insurance regulations became too onerous. Commercial plazas now stand where our campsites once were.

—Elaine (Manchester) Herlan, Rochester, New York

On a tiny island a few miles off the coast of St. George, we tied up our dinghy to a tree and pitched our tiny two-person tent on the rocky shoreline. With only one campsite on the island, we were lucky enough to have it all to ourselves. As the sun set into the most glorious golden hue, and after nearly ten years of dating, he got down on one knee and asked me the question I had been waiting for. Just the two of us with a bottle of champagne, two glasses to cheers, a tent with the fly off to stargaze all night, a fire to keep us warm, and the rest of forever to be filled with adventure. I couldn’t have dreamt up a better camping experience if I tried.

—Taylor Watts, Freeport

When my husband died, I had no idea how I was going to continue to raise our three daughters, but I knew I had to take them to Maine. Loading up my two-, five-, and eight-year-old in the car and making the nine-hour drive that first year was a leap of faith, but it became a vital part of our healing and growth as a family. By our second summer in Brunswick, I was gaining confidence in the day-to-day realities of single motherhood, but I realized I had never taken my girls camping alone. I felt adamant that I did not want the upbringing I had imagined for them to be compromised by our situation, so after a trip to Renys and a call to Wolfe’s Neck Farm, I had a tent and a reservation.

We had a gorgeous site on the coast and a perfect Maine summer night, but I was nervous as I set up the tent and got a campfire going, as there was no script on “going camping alone with three kids.” I don’t remember what we ate, and I’m sure I didn’t sleep much, but when we woke up to the sounds of the waves and the farm I felt more confident. I had done it. We had done it. That was our first camping trip as a family of four, and it shifted my perspective about the possibilities for my family.

—Stacie Galiger

Dear Warren Island State Park,

We would be lying if we said you were the first. In fact, it took 11 others before we fell into your loving arms. You were the 12th Maine state park our little family had camped at in four years. There is a total of 12, but we saved you for last. Why? It wasn’t because of a lack of attraction; we were just shy of the thought of camping on an island with a three-year-old and a one-year-old.

Yes, it was true that there wasn’t anyone left at the party that we hadn’t dated yet. To be honest we had danced with multiple parks a couple times before this leap of faith. From the second we dropped our bags at site number five, though, it was hard to remember those last 15-plus camping trips with the kids. Even though you only charged us $42.70, your ocean-front home made us feel like millionaires for three days.

No amount of money could have made our family feel more special than you did during this summer pandemic getaway. The trip is somehow always talked about like we just got back on Sunday. Our experience is burned into each memory, and the stories are not aging. No matter how rich you are, the one thing you can’t buy is time. For a weekend, you froze it, you made us not only see all your beauty, but more importantly, we saw each other.

—The Rubys, Portland

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