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Maine's parks anticipate busy season

Category: UNSPECIFIED
Source: Bangor Daily News
Publish Date: Friday, May 23, 2008
Summary: Crews in Maine's state parks are gearing up for what is expected to be a busy summer season as more and more families choose to vacation closer to home due to soaring gas prices.

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By Kevin Miller

May 23, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- Crews in Maine's state parks are gearing up for what is expected to be a busy summer season as more and more families choose to vacation closer to home due to soaring gas prices.

Acadia National Park officials, meanwhile, are also preparing for a brisk Memorial Day weekend. Whether rising fuel costs will help or hurt Acadia, however, is a big topic of conversation at the popular vacation destination for New Englanders.

"People are speculating on the issue and what does this mean for us," said Jim Vekasi, chief of maintenance at the national park. "It will be interesting to see."

The true tourist season for Maine's parks and historic sites doesn't begin until schools adjourn for the summer, which will likely be later than normal this year due to the large number of snow days.

But visitor numbers at state facilities are already up, as are reservations at state park campsites.

Day-use of the parks is up 20 percent in part because of the longer cross-country skiing and snowshoeing season. But the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands has also accepted 500 more reservations at the state's 12 organized campgrounds than this time last year.

Patrick McGowan, commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation, said he expects those trends to continue as gas prices climb skyward.

"I think we are going to have a great year," McGowan said. "I think more people are going to be traveling in Maine ... We are very lucky that we have 47 state parks and historic sites that are a short drive from most of the population centers in the state."

In addition to the usual summer preparations, staff are also getting ready (OTCBB:GTRY) to put to use $7.5 million in voter-approved bonds for park improvements. Some parks will get new restroom facilities later this year, while others will receive critical maintenance or upgrades to infrastructure.

Four state parks -- Lake St. George, Lamoine, Popham Beach and Rangeley Lake -- will receive new covered group shelters with picnic tables and outdoor grills. New children's playgrounds will be installed at the following six parks: Bradbury Mountain, Lake St. George, Moose Point, Swan Lake, Two Lights and Ferry Beach.

The Bureau of Parks and Lands is also offering a new program that will award a free camping weekend -- complete with all camping equipment and gift certificates for food -- to 32 families who want to try camping.

Participating families will receive tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, camp stoves and other equipment to use for the weekend. An adviser will also show the first-time campers how to set up the tent, build a fire and perform other outdoor tasks for the first time.

"It's so that people can ... see how much fun it is to go camping" without having to buy equipment, said Will Harris, the bureau's director.

Families accepted for the program can choose among four weekends in July and August at six state parks. The program is part of Gov. John Baldacci's "Take It Outside" initiative to re-engage young people in the outdoors.

Roughly 2 million people visit Maine's state parks and historic sites annually, 60 percent of whom are Maine residents. Visitors to the popular oceanfront parks as well as Sebago Lake State Park account for the majority of park users.

But visits to Fort Knox have surged thanks to the popularity of the observatory on nearby Penobscot Narrows Bridge. McGowan said Camden Hills State Park has also become an "all star" in the park system.

At Peaks-Kenny State Park in Dover-Foxcroft, crews have been working for weeks to prepare and test water lines, clean up blown-down trees and ready the 56 campsites. Park manager Carter Smith said he began working in the park on April 13 and had to snowmobile in for the first two weeks.

Smith said last-minute campsite reservations are still coming in and he expects to be at or near capacity this weekend.

"The big opening hurrah is Memorial Day weekend and it looks as though we will be as busy as ever," Smith said.

Maine's best-known park -- Acadia National Park -- is also preparing for the first big wave of tourists this weekend. Vekasi said all roads, campgrounds and facilities are open and road construction in one area of the park has been suspended for the holiday weekend.

For information on Maine's state parks, or to make a camping reservation online, go to http://www.maine.gov/doc/parks.

kmiller@bangordailynews.net

990-8250

Newstex ID: KRTB-0135-25497513


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