In the pine-wood forest of Charlestown lies 3,100-acre Burlingame State Campground, a somewhat-hidden economic driver that for years has brought people to the Ocean State. On its busiest weekends the park, which also encompasses Watchaug Pond, takes on the appearance of a small town.
Equipped with 775 camping spaces and 11 cabins, its weekend population can reach 4,500 campers, or a 57 percent increase in Charlestown’s 2010 census population of 7,827. Last year, 58,332 people visited the park.
“We’ve been busy this summer, especially with the weekends,” said Kellie Williams, who works at the campground’s check-in station. “During the weekdays this year has been slower than most but the weekends can get full.”
She faults some of the weekday absences to the campground’s updated reservation system, through which customers now can go online or on the telephone to book reservations in advance. Five or six years ago, the system didn’t exist. “We used to be on a first-come, first-served basis. Sometimes, people would start moving in on Wednesday to make sure they had a spot for the weekend. Now, people wait to the last minute and you can choose any weekend at your convenience,” Williams said.
But regardless of whether the weekdays are booked or not, the park’s impact is felt along Rhode Island’s central south shore.
At Michael’s Food Mart on Route 1, Charlestown, Burlingame can have an overwhelming effect on business. “Located where we are, we are a seasonal business to begin with,” said Chelsea Frade, manager of the all-purpose store and filling station, “but the effect the park has on us is obvious. The campground has  sites and if you multiply that by five or six people per family, it adds up quickly.
“Our deli gets very busy in the summer – it’s closed in the winter – and aside from [gasoline], we also stock a lot of firewood and propane tanks,” Frade said. Last fall, the building underwent construction in order to add an outdoor ice cream stand, which Frade says has performed well. “People go camping but on vacation stopping for a grinder or an ice cream is what they like to do.”
Inside the park sits the camp’s privately managed general store. For parents it’s a place to get anything, from cereal and souvenir mugs to sleeping bags and dog food. For children it’s a chance grab a toy or to play a video game. Manager Howard Bentley has been there for 11 years.
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