Back in 1999, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife took what had become a static, predictable event — the annual moose-permit lottery — and hit the road.
No longer would the drawing be held in Augusta each year.
Instead, it turned into an annual barnstorming tour of sorts and gave prospective hunters across the state a chance to attend the lottery in their own backyards.
Since then, it has been held in venues far away from the state capital, in Millinocket, Boothbay Harbor, Old Town, Bucksport, Scarborough, Presque Isle, Rumford, Phippsburg and Kittery.
And on June 18, it’ll head to extreme northern Maine, to Fort Kent, where another large crowd should gather to learn if this is their lucky year … finally.
The drawing will be held at the University of Maine-Fort Kent’s Sports Center and will begin at 6 p.m.
At first glance, the moose-permit lottery drawing may seem like an unlikely spectator event.
Picture this: A seemingly endless parade of state representatives, senators, town officials and DIF&W staffers walks to the podium. Each reads 50 or 100 names off a sheet of paper (often mispronouncing either names or towns, or both).
Repeat the parade as necessary, for a few hours, until the identities of a couple thousand happy hunters have been unveiled.
Sounds like more fun than a guy should be allowed to have, eh?
As it turns out, yes. And then some.
What has transpired over the past decade is that the annual lottery has evolved into far more than an announcement of moose-permit holders.
Instead, in some years it has turned into a festival of sorts, in other years it has resembled a miniature outdoor expo. And in still others, it has seemed more like a banquet than a lottery.
And at each progressive venue, the moose permit lottery has become a bit more unpredictable, a bit more fun, and has offered attendees a few more entertainment (and culinary) options.
Last year’s lottery, held at Kittery Trading Post, may have been the most varied, and busiest, that I’ve attended.
Food was plentiful. Live music was played. Shopping opportunities abounded. And the food was plentiful. Did I already say that?
Having spent a good deal of time in Fort Kent over the past several years, I can assure you that this lottery will be no exception to the pattern.
Here’s a secret about Fort Kent: Town residents love staging big events. They love taking little events and turning them into big events.
And in Fort Kent, everything, it seems, is worth celebrating.
Fort Kenters, I may not have mentioned, are very, very good at celebrating.
Go to the annual muskie derby and you’ll learn that fact in a hurry. Head up for the Can-Am Crown Dog Sled races and you’ll vow to return. Every now and then a big-time biathlon event comes to the town’s world-class facilities.
Heck, Fort Kent even held a snowplow parade last year to celebrate the long-awaited arrival of spring.
According to a DIF&W press release, a planning committee of local officials and citizens from the St. John Valley and Aroostook County will be formed to help organize the drawing, and the Greater Fort Kent Chamber of Commerce will help promote the event.
And while some past drawings have faced space limitations that dictated a smaller event than at other, larger venues, that won’t be a problem at UMFK.
“Since the drawing will be held in a large facility at the UMFK campus, there will be plenty of opportunity for local businesses, including sporting businesses, to promote Aroostook County and exhibit their products,” DIF&W commissioner Roland “Danny” Martin said in the news release.
Martin encouraged business owners to join forces with organizers and the DIF&W and place trade booths at the event.
From first-hand experience, I can tell you that the more booths, exhibits and vendors there are on hand, the more fun the event will be for attendees.
Many head to the lottery to see if their name is called, but the presence of plenty of booths and exhibits (and food … have I mentioned that yet?) will make for an enjoyable event, even for those who have no stake in the drawing.
In addition to local vendors, DIF&W personnel, including staffers from Augusta and local biologists and game wardens, will be on hand to talk to attendees.
If you’re interested in becoming active in the event, either as a member of the planning committee or as an exhibitor, contact Andrea Erskine at the DIF&W by sending e-mail to Andrea.Erskine@maine.gov or calling 287-5201.