This year Maine’s 12 state park   campgrounds saw a 7% increase in  camping visitors, from 219,019 to 234,843, even while overall park attendance rose just 3.9% (from 2,238,120 to 2,326,159).

After reaching a 20-year high mark in 2002 with 249,500 campers at state parks, attendance dropped below 230,000 for seven years, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Then in 2010 during the 75th anniversary celebration of the Maine state park system, the remote and sometimes wild state parks drew campers back, and 244,000 filled tent sites and RV spots from Freeport to Dover-Foxcroft.

And after a drop last year to 219,019, attendance soared again this year, with 234,843 roughing it in the woods.

Certainly the recent upsurge in camping visitors could be due to the sensational dry and sunny summer. But state officials think it could be something more.

“Camping is such a bargain during difficult economic times. It’s a combination of gas prices and extraordinary rates. Where else can you pay $15 to $20 a night to camp beside the ocean?” said Jeanne Curran, spokeswoman at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Add to that Maine’s state parks have gotten some serious TLC of late by way of a $2.7 million bond in 2007 and a $500,000 bond in 2010 that led to far-reaching upgrades, including the construction of 10 new restrooms and bath houses, and eight new playgrounds. And Curran said the ethic at state parks has changed in recent years.

“We have made a real effort to make them year-round with fall activities and winter activities. Camping is May through September but we have events all year long,” she said.