GOULDSBORO — The Acadia East Campgrounds are only a couple of minutes walking distance from Route 1, but they seem much farther away.
“It feels a lot like Acadia back here, lots of granite,” says Tom Tash, co-founder and CEO of Pocket Parks, which opened its first location in Gouldsboro on June 27. “We were getting this place set up and saw rabbits, turkeys, even a fox.”
Pocket Parks aims to simulate backcountry camping, which is not allowed within Acadia National Park. That means no mowed lawns or 25-foot campers. Just a tent among the trees and a small fire pit.
“We’re not claiming to be a true backcountry experience where you’re hiking 10 miles into the woods, but we want the campsites to feel similar to that,” says Tash. “You’re not going to be stacked on top of one another.”
There are currently four individual campsites, with plans to expand to eight by the end of the summer. Each offers a secluded spot to set one or two tents, along with a small pit for fires. Booking, check-in, and check-out are done online. The entrance is monitored on video at the company’s headquarters in Winthrop. Tash says the online process and Gouldsboro location allow increased affordability. The campsites start at $32 per night.
“We try to be pretty hands-on with our customers and let them know about the campground. I try to make sure they know what’s in the area,” says Tash. “There are some beautiful communities here and we want to make sure the area thrives.”
Tash founded Pocket Parks last year with friends Jason Ridley and Zach Pushard. Tash, originally from Lincoln, previously worked in outdoor recreation and marketing. Ridley and Pushard, from Winthrop, owned a landscaping company. The trio purchased nine acres of land on what had once been a work camp setting up telephone lines, and spent three months clearing out a small parking area, building a privy and establishing paths to the campsites.
Tash says there is an increasing demand for backcountry camping.
“Right now things like Instagram and Facebook are driving people to the outdoors, and they want to have that more rugged experience. Here you don’t have that noisy sensory overload.”
While the campsites are secluded, there are still some trappings of civilization.
“There is still cell service,” says Tash. “Most people can’t fully unplug. So here you can still have that relaxing experience and check your email once an hour instead of every five minutes.”
In the campground’s first week Tash says he’s seen young families and plenty of solo campers.
“The most surprising thing to me has been the number of younger women who have booked and are sort of pioneering this solo camping experience,” says Tash.
Acadia East is considering the testing ground for Pocket Parks expanding to other locations. In addition to planned locations near Big Bend, Joshua Tree, and the Grand Canyon, Tash says the company is hoping to establish backcountry campgrounds near Mount Katahdin and the White Mountain National Forrest.
“Some people might say ‘I can walk into the woods anywhere and drop down a tent. That’s what we want people to leave here thinking, and that’s the culture we want them to see.”