One of the cabins at Wheaton's Lodge in Forest City. The lodge, like many other sporting camps in Maine, are facing a huge loss of business as a result of out-of-state visitors having to quarantine before they can arrive. Credit: Courtesy of Wheaton's Lodges

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HOULTON, Maine — One might think that sporting camps and wilderness lodges around Maine would be the ideal locations for people to escape COVID-19, with their remote locations and focus on outdoor activities seeming to be perfect ways to practice social distancing.

But in fact, many of those businesses are facing a looming crisis.

“My phone is ringing off the wall,” Harvey Calden, president of the Maine Sporting Camp Association, said. “I’ve got camps calling me saying ‘if we don’t get this straightened out, I am definitely bankrupt and I am out of business.’ It’s very, very serious.”

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The reason for such concern is that some sporting camps see a majority of their business in late spring through early summer — the period of May 15 to July 4 — during prime fishing weeks. While the lodges remain open, most of their customer base comes from out of state, and guests would have to quarantine for 14 days after arriving before they could enjoy all aspects of the camp.

“Even if we can only take in Maine people for the month of June, that’s only 10 percent of our business,” said Calden, who in addition to being president of the Maine Sporting Camp Association is also the owner of Tim Pond Camps in Eustis. “That’s not even enough to pay the insurance and taxes.”

Sandy Patterson, who runs Wheaton Lodge in Washington County’s Forest City, estimates that up to 96 percent of her customers are from out of state.

“Our greatest living is made between May 15 and June 30. That 45-day window sustains us for a long period of time,” Patterson said. “We had solid books throughout the season, and now it’s just falling apart.”

While Maine has begun reopening businesses under Gov. Janet Mills’ multiple-stage plan, the 14-day quarantine rule for out-of-state visitors is expected to remain in place until the end of July or possibly the end of August.

“We were prepared and really kind of ready to shut down in May,” said Patterson. “But having June and July also stripped from us is just outrageous, and doesn’t help anybody.”

Other lodges have been slightly more fortunate in being able to scrape by. Mt. Chase Lodge in Aroostook County has converted itself into a food delivery service, relying on the quality of its dining service and its proximity to the town of Patten to stay afloat.

“We’ll be able to stay on top of it because we’ve been doing delivery meals around town. We’ve had to kind of adapt,” Lindsay Downing, owner of the Mt. Chase Lodge, said. “But a lot of the more rural sporting camps are going to have a harder time because there’s nothing that they can do to make up that lost income. I think it’s going to be a pretty dark time for the sporting camp industry if things don’t lighten up.”

To counteract a potentially devastating spring season, the Maine Sporting Camp Association has submitted a proposal to the Department of Economic and Community Development, to be forwarded to the governor, wherein customers arriving from out of the state could “self-certify” that they have quarantined for the requisite 14 days prior to their entry into Maine, allowing them to enter and travel to lodges.

“The [Maine Sporting Camp Association] believes this certification proposal is consistent with the goals to mitigate the spread of the virus. Compliance with COVID-19 guidance is largely based on trust and the MSCA is confident clients of member lodges can be counted on to help mitigate the virus,” the association said in a statement issued May 1.

“I don’t think the governor realizes how much of a seasonal business we are,” Calden said. “If we lose that period of time, we’re just done.”

Watch: Janet Mills outlines her plan to reopen

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