PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Twelve-year-old Casey Fournier admitted Saturday afternoon that she is not a big fan of winter activities.
“I tried skiing once, but I hated it, and I don’t like snowmobiling either,” she said. But with the Concord, Mass., resident’s family in the area visiting relatives and most of them off on a snowmobiling trip, Fournier’s cousins convinced her to try snowshoeing at Aroostook State Park.
“Its not too bad,” she said during the park’s third annual “Take It Outside” Winter Family Fun Day. “We’ve been doing it for about an hour, and it really isn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I love the trails here.”
Fournier was one of hundreds of people who were enjoying the park’s facilities during the daylong event, which offered visitors a chance to partake in activities such as ice skating, skiing, dog sledding, sliding and more. Those who wanted something a little tamer could watch ice sculpting and ice harvesting demonstrations
Gov. John Baldacci launched the “Take It Outside” initiative in mid-2007 to encourage children to spend more time outdoors. He urged government agencies and outdoor organizations to develop ways to get youngsters to overcome inactivity and spend more time outside.
In response, the state Department of Conservation and the Maine Recreation and Park Association tag-teamed for a series of outdoor recreation events that winter.
Past “Take It Outside” events at the Presque Isle park have been hugely successful, and it was obvious that this year’s fete drew an equal or larger number of people. The road leading up to the park, State Park Road, was lined with cars on both sides. Equally long lines were apparent inside the park at several stations, including on Echo Lake, where visitors could take dog sled rides courtesy of Heywood Kennel in Stockholm.
Rachel Lincoln, 24, of Bangor came to Aroostook State Park with a friend and her 2-year-old daughter, McKenzie. The trio was waiting in line for a dog sled ride.
“I grew up around here and I used to go to the [Can-Am Crown International] Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent all the time,” said Lincoln. “I’ve never actually been on a dog sled, though, and I wanted to experience it with my daughter. I love the outdoors, and I hope she will, too. We have already been over and met the dogs, and she let them sniff her a bit. I think she is going to like this.”
The sliding hill was especially popular with young children, who brought their own sleds or toboggans for a fast 200-yard run down the hill out onto Echo Lake. For the first time at the park, Andy Hutchinson, manager of Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport and a well-known naturalist, offered two nature hikes to visitors.
Saturday’s event also kicked off the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the state park system. The Maine park system began in 1935 when the Legislature appointed the first State Park Commission. In 1938, a group of local businessmen donated 100 acres to the state, which became Aroostook State Park, Maine’s first state park, in 1939. Today the park has almost 800 acres and offers numerous recreational opportunities.
Outside the warm-up area, Brett Mitchell, 9, of Caribou was enjoying a hot dog with friends. He had spent the day sliding, skating and riding around Echo Lake on a dog sled.
“That was awesome,” he said Saturday. “I came to this last year and had a good time, so I was anxious to do it again. I don’t have a snowsled, and I don’t know how to ski, so coming here for this [event] each year is one of my favorite parts of winter.”