WINTER HARBOR — Tom and Crystal Roberts of Belfast first came to the Schoodic Woods Campground in the eastern Hancock portion of Acadia National Park last summer, the facility’s first full season in operation.
“We were just trying to get out to go camping,” Tom said.
They ended up loving it.
They stayed five days the first time, watching the New England Patriots’ opening game on the campsite Wi-Fi.
They came back for a full seven days this year.
Since the opening of the campground in late 2015, businesses in the village of Winter Harbor say, nearly unanimously, that they have seen an increase in visitors like Tom and Crystal. Business owners also point to the launch of a Schoodic ferry service that crosses Frenchman Bay in early 2016 as a contributing factor to increased tourism on the peninsula.
Though multiple store owners and managers said they couldn’t identify people who were in town for the campground or the ferry, necessarily, nearly all said they saw an increase in business.
But as more tourists start visiting the peninsula, questions about infrastructure weigh over residents. Business owners pointed to both a lack of needed services, such as a Laundromat, and the layout of village roads as problems exacerbated by more visitors.
According to Shawn Cloutier, the supervising park ranger at the Schoodic Woods Campground, the campground saw an overall increase in campers this season — from 5,816 campsite rentals in 2016 to 6,403 in 2017.
As of Aug. 20, the campground had received 17,299 visitors this summer, up 19 percent from last year, he said.
“We do try to push as much business into the local economy as we can,” Cloutier said.
Peter Drinkwater, who owns the 5&10 and works in local real estate, said he’s seen an increase in customers at his Main Street store.
“I don’t know if it’s because of the campground or it’s because the park’s promoting this part more than they used to,” Drinkwater said.
Christine Kramp, a cashier who “does everything” at Winter Harbor Food Services, said the campground’s opening definitely made a big impact on the grocery store’s business. Kramp is a longtime resident of the village.
“It’s kind of a flip-flop deal,” she said. “It does bring a lot of people, but the town isn’t really built for a lot of people … we were just a small, little fishing town.”
On the Gouldsboro side of the park, both The Pickled Wrinkle and Me & Ben’s reported large increases in customers in the past two years, as well.
“With the campground, people get exposed to the area,” said Works of Hand owner Robert Fisher. “They love it, they want to come back.”
But not all businesses have reported an increase. Some on the eastern side of the peninsula have said all the tourist traffic flows past the historic downtown area and toward businesses closer to Prospect Harbor.
“They turn left to go to the park and then they go back out,” said Bob Hammond, who runs Winter Harbor Artisans and Antiques. “They don’t even know Winter Harbor exists.”
He said while business is up for him, foot traffic is down from last year, despite high numbers of campers at Schoodic Woods. He attributes higher sales to improvements in his inventory and return customers.
“We were told the impact of having 300 people a night there, but we haven’t seen that,” he said.
Beth Clark, the manager of J.M. Gerrish café, said one of the problems facing the town is a lack of basic services. She said her business has definitely increased from the campers and ferry riders, but the wave of customers has also highlighted a need for laundry and shower services.
“The infrastructure of the town is going to have to grow,” she said.
At the same time, she said, it’s hard for businesses to open up for only a few months each year.
Showers are not available to campers at the Schoodic Woods Campground, because the facility’s funders wanted to send that business into the community. Rangers give out a card for inns and other campgrounds that offer showers nearby, ranging from 1.6 to 13 miles away.
While Winter Harbor is seeing a resurgence in business opportunities, some say the town is still recovering from decades-long setbacks that hurt the village.
“We’ll never have that year-round business that our town really needs,” Drinkwater said.
A number of factors contributed to economic issues in Winter Harbor in the past 15 years, he said — the closure of the town’s Navy base in 2002, the closure of the Winter Harbor Grammar School and the 2009 closure of the Ocean Woods Campground, which was purchased by Burt’s Bees co-founder and Gouldsboro resident Roxanne Quimby for redevelopment in 2016. That facility could open as soon as spring 2018, according to Quimby’s son, Lucas St. Clair.
Drinkwater said he’s planning to increase his inventory in preparation for more customers once Quimby opens her campground.
Farther north in Maine, a former property of Quimby’s also seeks to bring economic opportunity through nature tourism. Proponents of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument have pointed to Winter Harbor in the past as evidence of the financial opportunity protected lands bring to small towns. The area is more than 87,000 acres donated to the federal government by Quimby and designated a national monument by the Obama administration in 2016.
Regarding Winter Harbor, St. Clair said out on Schoodic Peninsula he has noticed more automobile traffic.
“It’s definitely a good example of what can happen in rural Maine when there’s infrastructure for recreation,” he said. “It’s happening in Winter Harbor and in the Katahdin region.”