Vt. private campgrounds frustrated with out-of-state restrictions

Published: May. 28, 2020 at 5:44 PM EDT
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Privately-run campgrounds are open in Vermont, but with strict regulations including an occupancy cap and ban on out-of-state campers. But some owners, including an Upper Valley campground near the New Hampshire border, say the rules simply aren't working.

"Business is not good. It is the worst I've ever seen it," said Michael Scruggs, who has owned the Quechee Pine Valley KOA campground for 10 years. He says the 92 sites are usually full from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and during the fall foliage season. But not this year. "Social-distancing has always been camping. That is what people go camping for -- to get away."

Only three of his sites are currently taken. Right now, private campgrounds in Vermont are only allowed to cater to Vermonters, and the maximum occupancy needs to stay under 25%.

"It's kind of like our own private campground," said Paul Tegen, who is visiting the Quechee campground with his wife, Debbie. The Manchester, Vermont couple say part of the camping experience is meeting people who are traveling from all over. "I think at this point it is getting a little crazy. I mean, in a park like this with 25%? We are in a self-contained unit. Other than seeing you in the last day, we haven't seen anybody for a week unless we go off property, and then you go off property and everybody from out-of-state is here anyway."

WCAX decided to put that to the test. We stood at the entrance for 60 seconds and counted about a dozen out-of-state cars driving by. The New Hampshire border is only a couple of miles away. At the nearby Quechee Gorge, a popular tourist destination, half the cars in the parking lot were not from Vermont.

"You know, I go back and forth every day in New Hampshire. I just got done building a swimming pool today in New Hampshire," said Den Porter from White River Junction.

"We'll go down to West Lebanon and the parking lot of full of Vermonters," Scruggs said, which he says points to a obvious problem with the rules -- while cross-border commerce continues, camping does not.

A quick informal survey on the other side of the Connecticut River at one of big box stores in West Lebanon showed there were dozens of Green Mountain State license plates.

Governor Phil Scott this week said that higher COVID-19 rates in other states like New Hampshire are state policies. He's concerned travelers from areas where cases are still soaring could trigger an outbreak in Vermont.

Reporter Adam Sullivan: You know the cliche -- one bad apple spoils the bunch?

Michael Scruggs: Yeah, I think that is pretty easy for people to say who are getting paid.

Scruggs' campground has started taking reservations from non-residents who are coming after June 15th, but as the business continues to bleed revenue, he's concerned that date will be extended. "The small business guy is really taking it on the chin," he said.

Campground owners here say they have been staying in touch with local lawmakers to keep them appraised of their situation, but they say as the campsites remain closed, they need less words and more action.