LIBERTY, Maine — Hundreds of people braved the cold Sunday at Lake St. George State Park to celebrate the 75th birthday of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands with a youth ice fishing derby and dog sled rides.
The excited youngsters running around on the ice and snow mostly were celebrating the chance to bait a hook with a wriggling fish or snuggle with a sled dog.
“We are extremely pleased with the turnout,” said Gary Best, the assistant regional manager for the bureau. “It’s all about getting outside and having fun. Sometimes you forget what’s in your own backyard. We just want people to rediscover their parks.”
The park system was established in 1935 when the Legislature established the State Park Commission. Three years later, Aroostook State Park was the first to be created, when a group of local business owners donated 100 acres in Presque Isle in 1938.
According to the governor’s office, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands today has grown to consist of 48 state parks, including 12 campgrounds, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, the Penobscot River Corridor, 15 historic sites, 260 miles of state-owned or leased trails and 460 boat launch facilities.
Gov. John Baldacci on Thursday declared 2010 to be the Maine State Parks Year.
“Our Maine state parks are a vital part of what makes Maine a great place to live in and visit,” Baldacci said before announcing the proclamation. “State parks give Maine people and visitors alike a reason to be happy and healthy, providing recreation while conserving important locations in our state.”
Greta Ahlefeld, 5, of Liberty, was getting her recreation by rediscovering the fun of ice fishing and explaining to an onlooker how it works.
“The flag goes up and we get the fish,” she said, looking toasty in a pink snowsuit.
When asked which part is her favorite, Greta didn’t hesitate: “Putting the bait in!” she said.
By 11 a.m., nearly 100 children had signed up for the derby, and more cars were pouring into the snowy parking lots all the time. Even though temperatures were above freezing this week, there was still about a foot and a half of ice on the lake, according to Craig Turner, a volunteer who had bored about 150 ice fishing holes starting at 6:30 a.m.
Schools of salmon, bass and perch lurked below the lake’s white surface, but it seemed that a lot of families were having a good time well before any red flags flew up.
“It’s just to get them out and have fun and enjoy winter,” said Greta’s mom, Kate Ahlefeld, of Liberty. “It’s better than staying inside.”
Meanwhile, a bundled-up Isabella Stasulis, 4, of Rockport, and her brother Logan, 20 months, got a quick lesson from Turner in how to bait and set the trap.
“She’s a good little angler,” Lynn Stasulis said of her daughter. “We were excited to get out in the nice weather and do some fishing and dog sledding.”
Away from the lake, the sharp yips of huskies heralded the arrival of a sled dog team. Sarah Begin, 9, of Damariscotta, and Calista Pagurko, 8, of Whitefield, waited in line for their chance to ride.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” Sarah said.
“It’ll be a lot of fun,” she said.
For information on 75th anniversary events, visit the Web site www.parksandlands.com.