DCR sees booking surge at state campgrounds

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-28-2024 4:42 PM

It seems people from all over are anxious for warmer weather to arrive as bookings at the three state camping locations in Hampshire and Franklin counties are filling up fast, mirroring a trend at state-run campsites throughout Massachusetts.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation reports that at least 756 total reservations for the upcoming season had been made at Daughters of the American Revolution State Forest in Goshen, Erving State Forest and Mohawk Trail State Forest in Charlemont as of March 22.

Across Massachusetts, more than 10,000 reservations were placed within the first 24 hours of reservations opening to the public on March 6, nearly doubling the figure seen on last year’s first day of reservations. To date, DCR has booked nearly 16,000 reservations across all its campsites in the state.

“One of our goals at DCR is to get more people outside, exploring our state’s beautiful natural and recreational resources, because we know how important it is for our physical and mental well-being,” DCR Commissioner Brian Arrigo said in a statement. “Receiving over 10,000 reservations in the first 24 hours of opening them to the public is a testament to how special our properties are and how much people look forward to spending time in them.”

According to DCR’s statistics, DAR State Forest had at least 315 reservations, Mohawk Trail State Forest had at least 392 and Erving State Forest had at least 49. This nearly matches last year’s totals for the season.

The Erving State Forest campground has 27 campsites, each equipped with a picnic table, pedestal grill and fire ring, according to DCR.

The DAR State Forest campground offers 51 campsites each with accessible flush toilets, showers, a picnic table, pedestal grill, fire ring and food storage locker.

“As soon as it opens everybody has to sort of jump on [a] four-month window,” said Janice Martin, assistant supervisor at Erving State Forest. She mentioned 25 of the facility’s 51 campsites were closed down in 2020 to accommodate social distancing during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Mohawk Trail campground includes 46 drive-in campsites, six vehicle-free campsites, one group campsite and six rustic cabins, according to DCR. Three of the cabins have a wood-burning stove, serving as both a heat source and cooking surface. Last year, the campground underwent a $1.4 million renovation, including a new water system, road repavement, bathroom upgrades and chimney restorations.

DCR has 25 campgrounds that are open this year from April to October, depending on the site. Reservations can be made up to four months in advance of an arrival date. However, they must be made through ReserveAmerica, a third-party company. Same-day camping is available until 2 p.m. through ReserveAmerica, but DCR cannot accept walk-in camping.

Campers can find a DCR campsite near them by visiting mass.gov/camping-at-massachusetts-state-parks.

State camping promotion

During Arrigo’s presentation at a virtual meeting of the 13-member stewardship council earlier this month, DCR staff shared a 1958 photo of a family camping at Nickerson State Park, a 1,900-acre expanse in Brewster that has more than 400 campsites.

“It’s always helpful to center ourselves and think about the traditions that get created and that go on for generations, and for us to be able to provide those spaces is so important,” Arrigo told council members. “Seeing — and for you all hearing — that we received over 10,000 reservations in the first 24 hours is just a real testament to how special so many of our places are.”

Council member Jack Buckley of Middlesex County said the agency, which relies on the Legislature for its funding, needs to promote the high level of interest in its campgrounds.

“It’s just the tool to let people in my view — particularly the Legislature — know how much demand there is on our state park system,” he said.

Buckley mentioned news reports that he hears about how fast concert tickets sell out.

“I think it would be nice if the people in the public and the Legislature heard how popular DCR is,” he said. “Not quite as popular as Taylor Swift, but that’s a lot of demand in a 24-hour period. Those are the small things that I think we need to plant in people’s minds.”

House Democrats in April will release a redrafted version of Gov. Maura Healey’s fiscal 2025 budget. In her proposal, Healey recommended a 1% increase in the DCR budget, to $159.1 million. The agency’s budget has risen sharply in recent years — in fiscal 2021, for instance, DCR got about $97 million.

DCR recently kicked off its campaign to attract lifeguards and swim instructors to work at its beaches and pools this summer.

Water safety staff can earn between $22 an hour and $27 an hour, Arrigo said, and the state this year is again offering early sign-on and retention bonuses of $1,250 for staff who remain in good standing and agree to work through Labor Day weekend.

Applicants must be 16 years old by their hire date, and have completed lifeguard training and be certified in first aid and CPR. DCR offers free lifeguard training classes through May for candidates who commit to working prior to the start of the summer.

“We’re really looking forward to having a great summer season and the first step of that is making sure that we have the staff to be able to handle all the people and all the visitors who enjoy our beautiful spaces so that effort is underway,” Arrigo said.

State House News Service reporting was used in this report. Reach Domenic Poli at dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120.