Pier pressure

By TONY GIAMPETRUZZI  |  August 8, 2007

We don’t want them to have to go to Hampton Beach, do we?”

Those are fighting words because, for those not in the know, Hampton Beach is New Hampshire’s equivalent to OOB.

The Powder Horn ladies don’t care what kind of highfalutin Victorian courtships went on here a hundred years ago, and they’re opposed to town trying to emulate the era.

“They’re going by pictures from the 1800s; they look gothic, nothing modern,” says LaPlante of the Grand Victorian and other construction. “Prices are so high, no one can afford to go down there. Yes, the stores did need a little cleaning up, as far as what they sold and stuff like that, but it’s really just awful.”

Not that she has anything against hotels, per se, just the new ugly ones blocking the sun from hitting the beach. Besides, she points out that she’d much rather be in a campground among her peers than among the shore condo dwellers.

Womack agrees. “We (come here and camp) because we enjoy being in a campground. It’s totally different (than staying in a hotel). People do love being right on the beach, believe me because I spent a lot of years down there, but the lure of camping is a different world,” says Womack, who started coming to Maine in 1961 and bought a trailer at Powder Horn in 1986.

“If people look down on this kind of vacationing, I’d say ‘you don’t know what you’re missing.’ I lived for 18 years in Florida, and my kids never came, never once — and they certainly could afford it. But, they come to Maine every year and stay with their mother.”

In a trailer.

Seven miles of beach
LaPlante’s story is similar. She bought her first trailer at Powder Horn in 1983 — “it was like the house that Jack built, and I’m sure they were glad to see it go,” says Womack— and upgraded in 1996 to a trailer built in 1984, but in much better shape.

Many in town agree that certain aspects of Old Orchard Beach — frequent street fights outside dive bars, and the ubiquitous, if not sometimes vulgar T-shirt shops — have blighted an otherwise family-friendly, affordable seaside destination, but they also say that there’s no reason to force out one demographic to make room for another.

Jason Ahearn is among those who believe that the two cultures can survive together, and his campgrounds, are actually reflective of what’s happening overall in OOB.

Ahearn, 31, says that his campgrounds, Powder Horn and Hidden Pines, are really snapshots of Old Orchard in general. The difference is that the people who stay at one of his 225 campsites simply love to camp.

“There’s a large population who stick to this standard of vacationing affordably because they are school teachers or mill workers or have blue-collar jobs, and they definitely have comprised our base from the very beginning,” says Ahearn. “Those who do have a lot of money do it for the community and the intimacy and just spending time with their family in that way. There is something unique about this experience. Most of the people who are here remember their childhood, and going on camping trips with their families, and those are the memories that people remember forever.”

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