August Environmental Column From Maine DEP: Closing Your Camp With Care

August 30, 2011

Samantha DePoy-Warren, Maine DEP Spokesperson/Director of Education & Outreach

A note about In Our Backyard: In Our Backyard is a monthly, staff-written informational column developed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and available to the press and the public. E-mail your environmental questions to or send them to In Our Backyard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

Closing Your Camp With Care By William Laflamme, Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Summer in Maine is a season that’s always too short and while it seems like just yesterday camps were being opened for those days filled with fun in the sun, it’s already almost time to start closing them up again for the winter months ahead.

During this yearly winterizing ritual, it’s important to consider possible effects to the environment. Some advanced planning and care can make all the difference in helping you do your part to protect that land and water quality you so cherish.

First on the camp closing to-do list is to prevent pipes and fixtures from freezing. Unless the structure is heated year-round, most owners drain the water and plumbing system including drain pipes, toilet tanks and faucets to ensure they won’t freeze. It is a good idea to leave faucets open and drain plugs removed from sink traps after draining. Some people use regular antifreeze to protect plumbing, but antifreeze is toxic and threatens ground and surface waters, not to mention the danger to pets if they drink it. Adding antifreeze to plumbing fixtures is not necessary, provided all the fixtures are completely drained. If you can’t do this, use low toxicity antifreeze to minimize potential harm.

Another concern is wintertime damage from rodents like mice and squirrels. Again, you don’t need to use pesticides or poisons. To prevent these unwanted guests, inspect the building inside and out to make sure there are no openings –including your chimney– for rodents to enter and also to remove all food that might lure them in. Speaking of things to remove, make sure to take out hazardous chemicals like cleaning products and pesticides so they don’t freeze and explode when the mercury drops.

Each winter, hundreds of gallons of pricey home heating oil are lost at seasonal Maine camps, polluting nearby lakes and ponds and creating a mess for camp owners to return to in the spring. Fuel oil tanks can be protected from ice or snow damage that could lead to leaks with the installation of a filter protector by a licensed oil technician.

Outside chores include disconnecting hoses from outside pipes to prevent freezing, swelling and breaking of pipes and making sure that shorefront areas will not suffer ice or wave damage. That may involve stabilizing any eroding areas with vegetation or rock riprap. A stable shoreline and healthy shrubs, ground cover and grass help keep eroding soil from harming water quality. Anything more than minor maintenance and repair near the shoreline may require local and/or state permits, so contact your municipality’s code enforcement officer or call the Maine Department of Environmental Protection at 1-800-452-1942 for assistance.

Getting the camp ready for winter sadly means doing the same for the boat. If removing docks and boats from the water, store them in an area that will not kill vegetation. Boat motors and other power equipment should be winterized away from the water. When changing lubricating oils, collect the oil and bring it to a recycling facility for proper disposal. Drain the boat’s fuel tank and use the fuel in your vehicle or other equipment, or use a stabilizer to ensure that the fuel is preserved until next spring. Wash boats away from the water too, preferably at a commercial car wash, as many detergents and motor oils contain chemicals that can pollute the water.

Following these simple rules when winterizing will go far in protecting the natural resources we all enjoy and ensuring you can get right to relaxing when you return to camp in 2012.

This column was submitted by William Laflamme, an environmental specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Land and Water Quality.