Labor Day: Not a cloud in the sky; no parking spots left

HENRY JOHNSON, 9, of Cape Elizabeth, and his cousin, Julianne Coyne, 12, of South Portland, balance on the Slacker Wave Walker, a mobile tightrope system made from nylon webbing. The cousins were among the visitors who spent a portion of Labor Day at the Sebago Lake State Park day use area. (De Busk Photo)

HENRY JOHNSON, 9, of Cape Elizabeth, and his cousin, Julianne Coyne, 12, of South Portland, balance on the Slacker Wave Walker, a mobile tightrope system made from nylon webbing. The cousins were among the visitors who spent a portion of Labor Day at the Sebago Lake State Park day use area. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — So many people had packed up for a day on the shores of Sebago Lake. So many others had stacked up life jackets and hauled their boats there.

In fact, so many people showed up that the local state park had to temporarily shut its gates to traffic.

During the afternoon of Labor Day, the day use area of Sebago Lake State Park (SLSP) was closed to vehicles because parking had reached capacity.

It was the fifth time this summer that this has happened, according to SLSP Park Manager Matt McGuire.

The other times that parking spaces had been scarce this summer occurred on the weekend, he said. In fact, all of the parking closures for the day use area happened on Sundays: July 5 and another three Sundays in August, he said.

On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, it was a close call as parking almost reached capacity. But, the flux of people leaving and arriving balanced out. So, park officials were able to keep the gates open.

“We reached capacity today. So, we had to close day use to parking for about an hour and a half,” McGuire said on Monday.

While it was most likely disheartening for beachgoers who were forced to wait for available parking or ‘hoof it’ into the park, the high volume helped to bolster the season-end summer numbers of this ever-popular destination spot.

“This weekend has been great. It’s been very busy. The last few Labor Day weekends have been quiet,” McGuire said.

Weather plays a huge factor in the number of people who visit the day use area on Labor Day weekend, he said.

However, weather does not necessarily impact campground turnout because typically people reserve campsites months in advance as well as planning time off around those dates, he said.

“With day use, having such a good weather forecast, people were anticipating on coming,” he said.

The National Weather Service (NWS) had predicted as early as midweek last week that the sky would be cloud-free and there would be a zero chance of rain or thunderstorms for the duration of Labor Day weekend.

According to McGuire, in recent years, September tends to be the month when the number of SLSP visitors and campers catch up with statistics from the past.

In other words, there has been a shift from June to September when it comes to the number of people camping, spending a day at the beach, or launching their boats from Sebago State Park, he said.

However, July and August continue to be the busiest months for the park’s campground and day use area.

“June was slower for us, and July and August were very busy, he said.

“The schools are running later into June,” he said.

That affects the ability of most families to have free time to do a daytrip to the park or to go stay overnight at the campground, he said.

On Monday, the school-aged children were not bemoaning the fact they weren’t at the beach back in June.

Most were simply enjoying time in the sun and sand before another school day — or another school year — resumed on Tuesday.

At the East End Beach of the day use area, Henry Johnson, 9, of Cape Elizabeth, and his cousin, Julianne Coyne, 12, of South Portland, were playing on a Slacker Wave Walker, nylon webbing secured between two trees.

Monday was the last day before they walked into the classroom of their respective schools; and they were making the most of it, Henry said.

Along with another family member, they had arrived early in the day and they stayed until after dinnertime.

“It was really busy. There were lots of people at the beach. I should know, I’ve been here all day,” Henry said.

According to McGuire, in September, Maine residents tend to outnumber people from other states or country. However, during the month of July and August, the usage is split more evenly between state residents and nonresidents, he said.

“September is now our third busiest month,” he said, adding those demographics — particularly for the campground — are mostly senior citizens and individuals who are traveling.

“We are still gaining on our total for last year,” McGuire said.

He did not yet have the statistics for park usage for Labor Day weekend.

For the month of August, the day use had 46,220 visitors.

Prior to Labor Day weekend, 106,467 people had spent time at the park’s day use area during the summer season. That number for summer 2015 is six percent lower than it was last year, he said.

In August, the campground acreage was the recreation spot for 31,036 people. The total number of campers for the summer season is 75,097, which is also “down a little bit” from last year, McGuire said.

This trend is on par with the statistics for state parks in Maine, he said.

“Overall, the year-to-date number for all the state parks is 1,980,144 visitors. That’s down by 1.2%,” he said.

“We were up for the month of August, but down for the overall year total — so far,” he said, adding that trend is true for most state parks.

 

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