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Lebanon campground pushing to expand as an option for short-term, seasonal workers

  • Pat Brems, of Jaffrey, N.H., adjusts his fish finder before taking to Mascoma Lake for a day of fishing in Lebanon, N.H., Thursday, August 29, 2019. Brems said he spends most of his summer at Mascoma Lake Campground. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nadine Goyette, left, and her husband Leo, say their farewells to Donna and Bob Caplin, of Vernon, Conn., as they depart after a four day stay at the Mascoma Lake Campground in Lebanon, N.H., owned by the Goyettes, Thursday, August 29, 2019. The couple is seeking zoning approval to add water, sewer and electric hookups for 18 new campsites. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

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    Traveling nurse Kasha and James Sheiffele, of Traverse City, Mich., got married in July, sold their house and bought a camper before coming to stay at Mascoma Lake Campground in Lebanon, N.H., while she works at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. "I knew that if we didn't do this we'd regret it when we got older," said James on Thursday, August 29, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Hope Goyette, 10, middle, helps her mother Nadine hang Halloween decorations in the Mascoma Lake Campground office as Marilyn Knight works at the desk in Lebanon, N.H., Thursday, August 29, 2019. Because the campground closes for the season on October 14, the Goyettes throw an early Halloween celebration on Labor Day weekend. Knight, who lives for seven months of the year in Fort Myers, Fla., stays at the campground and works part-time in the office. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 8/31/2019 10:08:27 PM
Modified: 8/31/2019 10:08:24 PM

The setting, quiet and restful, boasts sweeping views of verdant hills. Sorry — all available space is booked through October. More than 90% of the guests return every year. And the waiting list is full of people hoping to get a crack at the first opening.

Is it the exclusive Twin Farms in Barnard, where rooms can run $3,000 per night? Or maybe the luxurious Woodstock Inn & Resort, where an “unlimited golf” package can set you back $424 per night?

Try Mascoma Lake Campground, where you can park your 40-footer Wildwood DLX or Keystone Alpine RV for $113 a week. There you could barbecue and roast marshmallows in your own fire pit, or wander over to the rec hall to take in a bingo game or embarrass yourself at karaoke.

“A majority here are blue-collar,” Nadine Goyette, who with her husband, Leo Goyette, bought the Mascoma Lake Campground in 2013, said proudly. “We let people know we are a family place. We don’t want to be a party campground.”

The campground overlooking Mascoma Lake near the Enfield town line has turned into such a popular colony of seasonal residents — some with homes nearby — that the owners of the 30-acre property are seeking zoning approval to expand capacity 23% by upgrading space for 18 RVs on top of the 78 already dotting the hillside above Route 4A.

“We’ve had tremendous growth,” Leo Goyette said of their experience since buying the park six years ago from then-owners Paul and Jane Raymond. “When we bought it we had 22 open seasonal RV spots. Today we have a waiting list of least 20 people. We’re turning people away.”

Goyette said the demand is being driven not only by vacationers and retirees who use the campground as their summer idyll — it also offers 13 docks with 26 boat slips on the lakeshore across the highway — but also from seasonal workers such as traveling nurses who work at area hospitals and journeymen contractors who pull in with their trailers because, with an apartment vacancy rate of under 1%, finding a short-term rental in the Upper Valley is all but impossible.

Last year, eight spaces at Mascoma Lake Campground were occupied by seasonal workers. Although this summer some of those spaces shifted to long-term campers, the Goyettes see the demand growing for more seasonal worker space.

“We’ve been having to refer them to other campgrounds, which is why we want to expand,” Goyette said last week as he pointed out the upgrades he and his wife have undertaken since 2013, which include renovating the rec hall, laying down new paving, outfitting new restroom and bath facilities, adding a barn for maintenance equipment and a wooden play structure with touches of a castle that was built by Amish carpenters from Pennsylvania.

Kasha Sheiffele, a registered nurse from Michigan on a three-month assignment in the inpatient surgery unit at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said that traveling nurses often struggle with places to live because of the unpredictable nature of their peripatetic profession.

“It’s hard for us to find housing because we find out where we are going to work on such short notice, less than a month before we leave,” said Sheiffele, who arrived with her husband, James Sheiffele, at Mascoma Lake Campground in their 28-foot Coachman Catalina with their two pitbulls, Cara and Chewey, on Aug. 10. “I think it’s great that they are expanding — luckily another traveling nurse was leaving, so we were able to take over their spot.”

Sheiffele said she and her husband, a journeyman contractor, like the welcoming vibe extended to them at Mascoma Lake by other residents, with whom they’ve already shared a glass of wine around the fire pit while enjoying preseason Patriots games on TV (the sites are wired for cable). In the couple of weeks the newlyweds have been in the Upper Valley — they had just returned from their honeymoon on Aug. 6th before journeying to New Hampshire — they’ve already hiked Mount Cardigan and in Franconia and just returned with their ATVs at Jericho State Park.

“We’re trying to hit it all,” Sheiffele said.

In addition to spaces with water, electricity and sewer hookups that can accommodate 78 RVs or campers up to 40 feet in length, Mascoma Lake Campground includes 12 tent sites, two rustic cabins (electricity but no plumbing), two “tiny houses” (250 square feet each) and one A-frame house that are permitted for year-round occupancy.

Only about 10 acres at the campground are devoted to space for RVs and trailers and Leo Goyette said the plans call for “repurposing” space currently assigned for the tenting area because “we want to be as minimally invasive as we can” to the wooded portion of the property.

Nonetheless, because it is classified by the city as a campground under a special exception, the Goyettes need to win approval from the Lebanon Zoning Board of Adjustment before going ahead with the project. The Goyettes are scheduled to go before a ZBA hearing on Tuesday to seek a waiver of the landscape plan because “strict conformity would pose an unnecessary hardship,” Leo Goyette said.

They are also seeking a stormwater and drainage waiver because most of the campsites where they plan to accommodate larger RVs already exist and require only the addition of utility hookups and the roads to be widened for access.

The Goyettes, who previously lived in Newport, where Leo worked in the highway department for the town and LaValley Building Supply, and where Nadine continues to run her own transportation company for students with special needs. The two were avid seasonal campers for many years and said they enjoyed the “campground experience” so much that they decided to try to find one to own and operate.

Working through a broker, they were “sold” on Mascoma Lake Campground when they toured the site posing as potential campers and felt good about the other residents they met.

“With all the campgrounds we looked at, when we came here it was the campers that were the great thing about it. They were, like, ‘You need dinner? Join us for dinner!’ ” Nadine Goyette said.

Mascoma Lake Campground is open from the mid-May to mid-October, with residents retreating to either their homes in warmer climates for the winter or even to other residences in the Upper Valley. Despite the row house-like closeness of the camper spots, some with gardens and fountains and many with electric golf carts parked outside, neighbors live pretty much in harmony and there is no need to play the sheriff, according to Leo Goyette.

“In six years, I’ve only had to ask two people to leave,” he said.

Bruce and Cheryl Sweet, who lived in Lebanon for 40 years — Bruce worked at Carroll Tire in Lebanon and Cheryl worked at Thermal Dynamics in West Lebanon — would spend their weekends at the campground before they relocated to Florida last October. Now they return for the summers.

“We liked coming out here because it was convenient,” Rachel Sweet said from the porch of their Keystone Retreat camper while her husband held Louie, a mostly hairless Chinese crested dog, even though their home was only a short distance away near Exit 15 on Interstate 89. “It’s like a family.”

Patrick Brems, a retired maintenance worker from Jaffrey, N.H., with a flowing mane of shoulder-length ivory hair and a Santa Claus beard, said he initially stayed at the campground — towing a small pop-up tent on a trailer behind his Honda Gold Wing — when he visited Lebanon for a motorcycle rally three years ago.

“Before I left, I bought a camper,” said Brems, who was taken with the fishing on Mascoma Lake, showing a visitor photos on his phone of the bass and pickerel he had caught last week. “Life is better on the lake.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.




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