PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A popular state park in Aroostook County that has expanded its programs and offerings to the public over the past few years is again making an expansion, but this time the growth is physical.
Aroostook State Park in Presque Isle is increasing in size with the purchase of a 145.6-acre parcel located next to parklands.
The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, under the Maine Department of Conservation, purchased the parcel, which is appraised at $115,000. The department used $60,000 split between Land for Maine’s Future funds and federal Recreational Trails Program funds, along with a $55,000 donation of value from the parcel’s Massachusetts owner, Nancy Askin, according to bureau officials.
The purchase will increase the park’s size by 25 percent and provide multiple, high-value recreational opportunities.
An expansion celebration will take place this weekend at the park, followed by a guided fall foliage hike, bureau officials said Tuesday.
The land purchase will enable the park to provide more scenic hiking trails and more land for hunting. It also will ensure protection of an existing trail used for cross-country skiing that extends into the park.
The park is already a popular spot for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, camping, fishing and birding.
Maine Department of Conservation Commissioner Eliza Townsend said Tuesday that bond issues for state parks, along with the Land for Maine’s Future program, have allowed the state to modernize and expand Maine’s state parks.
The expansion of Aroostook State Park comes on the heels of expansions of state parks in Rangeley and Camden.
“This expansion at Aroostook State Park is part of a coordinated strategy to boost tourism and quality of life in all parts of Maine,” said Townsend.
The Presque Isle park, Maine’s first state park, was established in 1938, three years after the Legislature formed the Maine State Park Commission, through a donation of 100 acres made by local businesspeople.
The park now consists of 904 acres and is one of 12 state parks with campgrounds and one of 33 state parks overall. As of August, 9,668 people have visited the park in 2010, according to the Department of Conservation. There also has been a 23 percent increase in the number of camping overnights this year over last year.
Kim McLaughlin, 28, of Presque Isle recently moved to the state full time after years of summering in Maine with her family. She had never been to Aroostook County before relocating to the area from Massachusetts for work.
McLaughlin said she didn’t even know there was a state park in Presque Isle until she moved here, saw the signs and did a bit of investigating.
“I asked my co-workers about it, and that was when I heard that it is a pretty popular spot,” she said Tuesday. “A few friends took me hiking there last fall, and I just loved it. I spent all winter there, pretty much. I love to snowshoe there, and I think I am going to try cross-country skiing this winter.”
Mike Brewer, 20, of Presque Isle also is a frequent park user. He said Tuesday that he and his friends often go swimming and canoeing on Echo Lake in the summer.
“Its also fun to tent out in the park once in a while,” he added.
The park has reeled in more visitors over the past few years with more events that draw attention to the facility and all it has to offer.
The second annual Aroostook State Birding Festival was held in June, drawing a larger crowd this year than in its inaugural year. Hundreds of people flocked to the park in February for the third annual “Take It Outside” Winter Family Fun Day, where Aroostook County residents and visitors got a chance to ski, snowshoe, ice skate and take sled dog rides around the park. An annual Haunted Woods Walk at the park around Halloween also is a big draw.
A Park Expansion Celebration and press event will be held at 10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 19, at the state park shelter.
At 10:30 a.m., pre-hike activities will take place, with the guided fall foliage hike to begin at 11 a.m.