Searsport Shores Campground turns 50 this year
This summer the largest lodging facility in Waldo County is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding in 1964. At the height of the summer season it swells to the size of a small town, providing spaces for more than 600 people to camp on its property along the shores of Searsport.
The aptly named Searsport Shores Campground, which welcomes visitors with its whimsical mermaid billboard, has changed hands only a few times over the last 50 years. It was founded in 1964 by a New Hampshire man before he sold it after only a small number of seasons to Commander Joshua Treat, who owned the campground for the next several decades.
In 1994 having left the Outdoor Sports Center in Concord, N.H. after a career of 30 years, Zaven Koltookian bought the campground "on a handshake" and moved to Searsport.
Koltookian said in those days the campground had become seriously overgrown, electrical wires were being held up by rope, and it had only one 20-by-20-foot building — about half the size of its current front office — that included all the necessary amenities from showers to a bathroom, store and front office.
Koltookian brought his daughter Astrig Tanguay and her husband Steven Tanguay along to help manage the campground. Astrig said, despite the needed maintenance to utilities and a large amount of tree trimming, the campground had a great layout.
That first year was rough, Astrig said. The family lived in a small pop-up style trailer and come July they were still the only ones in the campground. There was no internet back then and the schedule was kept on large cardboard sheets.
"It took a lot of work to get people to come up this far to camp," Astrig said. "We tried our best to make this the cleanest and most beautiful campground in Maine. We needed to keep guests here for longer stays of five or more days."
The campground survived those early days under Koltookian and Tanguays management, booking many guests who had previously visited the site. These days Koltookian says most of the guests are still repeat visitors and some are second generation guests who came as children and are now bringing their families back.
Over the years Koltookian and the Tanguays have worked to expand the number of camping spaces and to bring in new amenities like Internet service. They have also increased the number of buildings to include a larger office, more showers and a cabin for their weekly "artist in residence" programs.
Steven Tanguay says since the time they took over management, the campground has offered many weekly activities and educational programs for visiting families visiting — like the artist-in-residency program. Each week a new artist takes up residency in the small cabin built on the campground site. This year during the last week in June wood carver Tom Cote was the guest artist. He is working to start a "carving camp" at Searsport Shores to teach basic carving techniques each year.
The campground also hosts the annual Fiber College event each August. This year the world famous Gee's Bend quilters will attend with an exhibit of their celebrated quilts. The Gee's Bend quilters are a group of women who live in the isolated hamlet of Gee's Bend, Ala.
Koltookian and the Tanguays are still working hard to expand the activities available at the campground. They have acquired 100-acres of wooded area, across Route 1 from the campground, where Steven is partnering with students from Searsport High School to cut mountain biking and hiking trails.
The campground is also in the process of constructing several small cabins based on "tiny house" designs near the artist in resident's cabin. Steven said they would likely serve to house writers, artists and students who are seeking solitude to finish projects.
Astrig credits the campground's experienced staff with much of its success, saying, "We have developed a really dynamic staff, which is our number one reason for success."
As the campground heads into its next 50 years Steven says they hope to continue to work with local businesses to offer more programs and benefits for its campers and to bring more money into the local economy. Steven says the campground already partners with some local restaurants and with the Penobscot Marine Museum.
As for Koltookian and the Tanguays they say they are looking forward to many more years of living and working at Searsport Shores.
"I'm reminded daily how special it is to be here and live here," Astrig says. "We've lived and worked together since the campground opened and that has helped create a wonderful family dynamic."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of previous Searsport Shores Campground owner Joshua Treat.