A Tale of Two Camps

When COVID-19 hit, I quarantined in Eastern Massachusetts.

Biking around the woods, I noticed something strange.

There are two campgrounds near my house. One is full. Lots of people pitch tents or park trailers at a place called Maurice’s.

A short bike ride away is a much bigger campground that’s almost entirely empty.

Why? It’s the topic of my new video.

The empty campground is run by the state.

It has great facilities: a new paved road, new bathrooms, etc. Signs direct people to campsites, even to group camping, but there are almost no people. Dozens of picnic tables are turned upside-down.

What a shame. This would be a great place to spend time during the pandemic.

I asked one of the few people camping, “Why is this place so empty?”

“Everything is sold out,” he responded.

Indeed, signs do say, “Camp is Full.” But the camp is the opposite of full.

“I think it’s so empty because of COVID,” said another camper.

“Why would COVID-19 make it empty?” I ask. “It’s camping! You got lots of room.”

She agreed, saying she’s also wondered about that.

We asked the Massachusetts Department of Parks why its camp was largely empty. They didn’t respond. We kept calling and emailing until, nine days later, someone told us that they’d “had difficulties hiring seasonal employees.”

Really?! This summer, Massachusetts had the highest unemployment rate in America. The state offers to pay workers up to $25 an hour, including benefits. Yet, they can’t find people who’d work outdoors in a beautiful place in the summer?

Maurice’s Campground managed to hire enough staff. They have to because Maurice’s is privately owned. If they don’t please customers, then they can’t stay in business. “If there was no staff, we were the staff,” says owner John Gauthier.

Gauthier innovates. Sometimes campers have helped clean the camp or staff the office. To save water, he charges customers 25 cents for six minutes in the shower. At the state camp, water is free; campers can waste all they want.

The government bought the property in 2019 for $3.6 million. Last year, the camp’s revenue fell thousands short of its operating costs. Now it loses even more money because it’s largely empty.

Such clear demonstrations of the difference between public and private are everywhere. But few people realize the reason why.

Recently, The New York Times published an op-ed by “Sex in the City” actress Cynthia Nixon about her dismay over seeing her kids’ public school’s “chaotic … and profoundly unsafe approach to reopening.” By contrast, her Netflix production company was totally ready.

She’s become a politician, so she blames “underfunding.” She doesn’t mention that New York’s government-run schools spend more than $20,000 per student.

Her production company was ready because it is private. The bosses spend their own money. Spend it well, and they profit. Spend it badly, and they’re out of work. That focuses the mind.

Governments spend other people’s money. No one spends other people’s money as carefully as we spend our own.

The owner of Maurice’s Campground tries harder, and because of that, he serves many more campers than the taxpayer-subsidized camp.

“It’s kind of unfair,” I say to Gauthier. “You have to compete against the government, which is losing all this money.”

He answers, “Yeah, it’s not a great scenario, but what can we do?”

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

14 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Camps

  1. John, just a suggestion from someone who has been watching you for years….way before the internet. Why not have the unemployment office clerk in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ask each unemployed-getting-a-check person “Have you looked for work this week?” and when the person says “Yes, I couldn’t find any.” have the clerk hand them an application for a job at the camp to complete before they get their check?
    Wow, one less person on unemployment, the camp gets staffed, and instead of losing money for the Commonwealth, it is now making money.
    Wow, me, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts………I just need an accent.

  2. wellfleet hollow:
    thank god Mass state bought the campground! it would have been sold to developers and deforested and more homes and crowding and pollution.
    the Payne family owned it…the costs to keep it up, repairs, taxes, etc plus I heard they were elderly or some passed…the state thank god took it over to turn it over to a clean, inexpensive campground.
    this is the first season its open and we don’t need overcrowding in the area. you’ll want to move from there if the pristine area is ruined. The fence? thank goodness. the old one was falling apart and an eyesore. And yes, there are many many homes who are have fences so what’s the deal? It was a mess before they put the new one in, which will probably be there for the next 25 years or til it rots.

    so now the state is being blasted for doing a good thing? now families/campers have a nice clean place to go that they can afford.
    get your facts correct…plus no more stories on the area – everyone who lives there likes the quiet and doesn’t want crowds of people.

    you should have talked to susie the campground mgr who usually is therer.
    we know the area very well. its quiet and charming and not set up for lots of traffic or big rv’s or campers.

    its in a residential area but was considered a main thoroughfare so the fence keeps it private for both neighbors and campers alike.
    They are trying to be good neighbors and considerate of the land, the environment, the animals that live there…and not have it become an ugly loud over populated campground like some others.

    1. But nobody is there and nobody will work there.

      Maybe The Government should build some Affordable Housing there instead. Wellfleet sure could use the DIVERSITY.

  3. It took nine days for our “public servants” to answer a simple question from a famous journalist. I’m a journalist too. More often than not, my questions are never answered by public officials.

  4. I belong to an online camping group. When the Covid shutdown hit, many of them were forced out of campgrounds which were closed by the states. Many had no place to go as they were long term residents (more than 1 month) and in some areas they were only given a few hours notice before they had to move. Each state had different regulations and travel was being prohibited in many places. State campgrounds were tightly closed for a long time in most states and people just plain did not trust them to be available or to honor their reservations. As anyone knows who has tried to call a state agency for information during this time, you might as well pound sand. Private campground owners generally live on site and as John points out, this is their livelihood.

  5. Many of our citizens don’t realize this is how government works. For
    some reason, the politicians, who are supposed to represent our best interests, not spend our tax monies frivolously. Of course, payoffs allow them to amass fortunes!!!

  6. The government needs to change the way they had out unemployment. Currently, if you made a good salary, you’re punished for taking a lesser paying job. Say you earned $5,000 a month. Your unemployment benefits may pay out $2,000 a month (this varies widely by state). If you accept a job that pays $1,750 a month, in some states you can still collect unemployment benefits, but only the difference between the benefit amount and the money you earned, so in this case $250. Now you’re getting the same amount, but working all month. The pandemic caused a much larger issue by paying people more than they were making at their previous job. Employees who made $2,550 a month (around $15 an hour) could collect state unemployment, plus an additional $2,400 a month from the Federal government, for a total of more than $3,000 in unemployment benefits, making it more profitable to sit on the couch.

  7. Chipman Cove

    Ditto comment number 3. We’ve had our property since 1942 so are thrilled that parcel was not sold for development and happy that some lower cost options are available for those who want to enjoy the nature here. I hope that a COVID vaccine will allow the labor supply here to be better balanced with demand in the future, as I know some overseas workers did not come this summer due to health concerns. Are state employers allowed to hire seasonal workers under the US program for Eastern European temporary employment visas or is that advantage only available to the private sector here?

  8. The DCR is notorious for the methods to “conserve” land. By understaffing intentionally, claiming there are no applicants, when none were posted as available seasonal positions, baker tossed a hiring freeze for all who couldn’t telecommute, they turn profitable land use into a disaster. When they lose enough money they begin by shutting it down. This achieves 2 things…getting the land at cut rate prices, vs. Selling it to a private company for a profit, the owners get to “feel good” for “conservation” which is a better way to swallow the loss of money had it been sold privately, and the dcr gets to whine about not enough help. The goal of the dcr, James Montgomery, through out the state has been to UNLOAD ALL FULL TIME WORKERS, keep a bare minimal crew of remaining full time year around staff, and replace it with non benefited, psuedo afscme coverage, no retirement employees.

    Think I’m kidding? Investigate ALL the properties and watersheds. This is state wide.

  9. Somehow I’m missing something. We are shown a state campsite is open, nearly pristine, hassle free, with plenty of privacy, and working “facilities”, which we should eschew for a crowded trailer park where showers are rented by the minute.
    Maybe it’s because my idea of camping involved tents and propane accessories, but I thought, this time, your tutorial on the advantages of private enterprise came up a little short.

  10. Now do libraries. I can shop at a local bookstore but local libraries are still closed to the public. The buildings have been closed since March but librarians still getting paid.

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