Bridgton adopts Salmon Point marketing plan

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

With 12 sites to fill next season at the Salmon Point Campground, the need for some aggressive marketing by the town has become apparent.

Bridgton Selectmen agreed Tuesday to spend $2,500, and possibly twice that, to immediately begin advertising the seasonal campground in national camping magazines and on the Internet. It’s all part of recommendations made early on by the Community Development Committee, but it has become more urgent with the decision of several longtime campers — some of whom are upset by the town’s recent scrutiny — to pack up and move on.

The town has created a marketing committee led by Recreation Director Gary Collelo, helped by Assessing Assistant Dawn Taft, Campground Manager Ted Sawyer, Executive Assistant Georgianne Fleck and Anne Krieg, Director of Planning, Economic and Community Development. On Tuesday, Colello outlined a plan that would include creation of a separate website touting the appeal of the 66-site seasonal campground on Long Lake, off Kansas Shores Road. The website would be linked to an active social media campaign, with advertisements bought on Facebook tied to users who list RVing or camping as one of their interests. The target area for new seasonal campers would come primarily from New England, since that is where most current seasonal campers reside.

The plan also includes joining the American Camping Association, which would list the campground with detailed information on its operation and amenities. Other magazine ads and camping memberships with Good Sam’s Club and Woodall’s North American Campground Directory might follow, in which the campground would be officially rated following a site visit.

One of the best advertisements, said Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz, is word of mouth, and he detailed the committee’s plan to begin a referral program in which current campers would receive a $100 credit for each family they referred who agreed to sign a lease to camp there next season. Under Berkowitz’s thinking, a maximum of two referrals would be allowed, but resident Mark Lopez suggested not capping the number of referrals in order to better the chances for success.

Selectman Chairman Doug Taft urged the committee not to put all of its efforts into one area, such as the Internet, but to spread their advertising and marketing dollars among different media.

Selectman Bob McHatton’s suggested that the town could agree not to raise fees for the next few years, as a way to help prevent longtime campers from leaving.

“Our number one priority is to stop the exiting of campers before we think about bringing new ones in,” he said. Since the CDC’s report came out two years ago, citing the campground’s less-than-appealing aesthetic appearance and other deficiencies, “It’s creating a lot of hostile situations that did result in us losing some of our campers.”

The current fees charged for both waterfront and nonwaterfront sites are “right in line” with what private campgrounds are now charging, said McHatton, who visited several private campgrounds in the region with fellow Selectman Bernie King. The town would be safe in agreeing to hold off on increasing fees for a few more years, he said. “It may bring us some security to stop the exiting of campers.”

Not everyone agreed with McHatton’s assessment, however. Member Ken Murphy said it would be unwise to freeze fees when future operational costs aren’t yet known. Along with the need for marketing, Selectmen have recently also been discussing but have not yet acted on several other costs, such as dredging of the lagoon, fixing the bridge and metering the sites. They did recently agree to buy a second washer/dryer at the campground.

Berkowitz reminded selectmen they recently agreed to operate the campground on a seasonal basis, as it has been run since the town took over ownership in the 1980s. Resident Glen “Bear” Zaidman suggested dropping the term “transient” in favor of “day” when referring to campers who lease sites on a short-term basis.

Selectman Paul Hoyt, who leases a site at the campground and therefore recused himself Tuesday from the board during its discussion, noted that $5,000 in marketing funds earmarked for next year would better be spent up front than waiting. “We’ve got 12 sites to fill,” he noted, from both departing campers and the board’s earlier decision to create six new sites for next season. Berkowitz said the committee could always come back to the board for more funds as their marketing campaign proceeds.

Selectman Ken Murphy said, “It pays to advertise,” and said the town should begin including marketing funds in its budget every year from now on.

Resident Mike Tarantino, who recently resigned as chair of the CDC, told the board they’d easily spend $5,000 on advertising. ‘What you’re talking about is chicken feed. You’ll use it, believe me.”

Watercraft changes

Bridgton lacks a mooring ordinance, and at least one of Salmon Point’s campers has used that lack to their advantage, Berkowitz told Selectmen, in recommending amendments to the lease agreement that would ensure that all watercraft, either moored or docked, be subject to a fee.

“We don’t charge for moorings, and that became a loophole,” said Berkowitz, noting that one camper had been “mooring” his personal watercraft just two feet off shore.

The board agreed to change the language as follows: “Whether the watercraft is docked or moored, or the watercraft is owned, loaned or leased to the site lessee, the site lessee shall pay the appropriate watercraft fee to the campground manager.”

The fees are $250 for a motorboat, and $125 for a personal watercraft such as a Jet-ski.

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