WELLFLEET — Flowers border the trailer where Katie Nelson has lived for the past four summers. Rocks and antique bottles collected at the beach surround the garden. Her boyfriend’s neon clamming waders hang on a tree.
Their trailer at Maurice’s Campground is as homey as can be, which is fitting because it is the only permanent home she and Shawn Arsenault have known for four years.
“We love it,” said Nelson. “We don’t have to leave until October. All our neighbors are so nice.”
They accept the fact that, come October, they will again have to move into a hotel, paying $500 a week. That’s about what a winter rental costs, if you can find one, she said. Even though Nelson grew up in Wellfleet and works year-round at Cumberland Farms in Orleans while Arsenault plies the waters for shellfish, they cannot find anywhere better to live.
“We are on every housing list — even elderly housing, because my boyfriend is 64,” she said. “We were thinking of moving to Vermont, but I don’t want to leave my job and my family.”
A short walk away on the cart paths that crisscross Maurice’s 21 acres, a man talked on the phone with his daughters, who live in Jamaica. He was sitting in his car, a Bible open on the dashboard.
This man, who said he works for Mac’s Seafood and the Furies cleaning service, did not want to give his name to a reporter because he worried it would affect his employment status as an H-2B temporary worker visa holder.
He said he rents a trailer at the campground for $160 a week, which he can afford with two jobs. The privacy of living alone is sheer luxury, he said, compared to what he has endured in employer-owned housing: three people in one small room, and 8 to 10 people in a house with one bathroom.
“The H-2B housing situation is awful,” said the man, who has been coming to the U.S. for 10 years. “I hate sleeping in a room with men who I don’t really know.”
The housing available to him and his fellow visa holders is “deplorable,” he said.
‘A Hard Way to Live’
The Outer Cape has eight campgrounds and all but two provide at least some housing for local workers. That is why the town of Wellfleet just voted to spend $6.5 million to buy Maurice’s Campground (the purchase must be affirmed by a debt exclusion vote on Tuesday, Sept. 20). It’s for Nelson, Arsenault, and about 60 other workers that officials hope to keep Maurice’s operating for six years while they plan for an affordable housing development at the site.
Camping is an affordable way to spend the summer here if you can get a reservation. Most campground owners want to keep spots open for vacationers. Wellfleet Hollow Campground, which is state-owned, and Dunes Edge Campground at 386 Route 6 in Provincetown ban all-season camping entirely.
Coastal Acres Campground has 193 sites in Provincetown, including about five spots with people living there for the entire summer, according to manager Anna Kuzia. “We don’t encourage it,” Kuzia said. “It is a hard way to live for several months.”
The owners of the Atlantic Oaks Campground in Eastham tell a similar tale. Katie Nussdorfer and her husband, Dan, took over from Dan’s parents. She said 28 of 100 sites are occupied continuously from May through November by just one renter. Most of these all-season campers are retirees on summer vacation. Some have part-time jobs. Otherwise, there is a two-week limit for campsites.
“We get a bunch of inquiries from people looking for long-term,” Nussdorfer said. “We have gotten into situations with people who are homeless, and that has been difficult.”
Jana Harrison Currier, owner with her husband of North of Highland Camping Area in North Truro, said 20 to 30 of her 237 campsites are available to all-season renters. “We could probably fill it with all seasonal workers,” Currier said. “But it’s not what we do. It was founded by my husband’s parents. It has always been a vacation spot, and that is what we want it to be.”
Adventure Bound Camping Resorts owns 220 sites at two Truro campgrounds, Horton’s and North Truro. About 35 of those are rented all season to working people, said the manager, who declined to give his name.
Joanie Carney and her twin sister, Jeanne Carney, bought the largest trailer available, 38 feet long, at Horton’s last fall. This is their first summer here. Joanie works as a baker at Jams and returns to her trailer by noon. It has an outdoor shower, a spacious deck, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and four TVs.
“It is so beautiful and serene,” she said.
Just down the dirt path from her, James Lynch is working out the kinks of camping. He purchased a trailer at Horton’s last fall. A bartender and waiter at Waydowntown in Provincetown, Lynch also works part-time as a front desk clerk at the AWOL Hotel.
He said he scored when he managed to buy a trailer on a site. There is a long waitlist for sites, so you need to buy a trailer that already has a space. Rent for the space alone is $9,500 for the season, according to the manager.
Lynch’s dilemmas include almost zero storage space. He keeps a refrigerator and filing cabinet outside under a canopy. He spread outdoor rugs on the dirt. It looks homey. But the rugs also keep the dust out of his small indoor space and can be swept free of needle-sharp holly leaves. He has learned that a trail of Dawn dish soap deters earwigs.
Lynch said his RV delivers about two minutes of hot water.
“This is Green Acres, and I want to live in the big city of Provincetown,” he said. “Sometimes it is very nice. I go to the beach. It is calming. Some say the first season is the hardest.”