Aroostook State Park endures dip in attendance

Posted Dec. 30, 2010, at 11:37 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 05, 2011, at 7:05 p.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Although there was a slight dip in the number of people who visited Aroostook State Park in Presque Isle this year, park officials say they have seen significant growth in the numbers of day-users and campers over the past few years.

Park Manager Scott Thompson, who mostly blamed rainy weather for the 2010 decrease, said he hoped the number of park visitors would grow again in 2011. He said that even with the decrease in visitors for 2010, revenues from the park were up.

Aroostook State Park, which was Maine’s first state park, is on State Park Road just off U.S. Route 1. It is open year round and features hiking trails leading up Quaggy Jo Mountain and swimming and boating on Echo Lake. There also is bird-watching, fishing, canoeing, camping; and in the winter, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and more.

Park officials planned events and activities this year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the state park system. Some of those activities, including the third annual “Take It Outside” Winter Family Fun Day and the Birding Festival, significantly expanded traffic into the park.

During the winter fun day, visitors could take part in activities such as ice skating, skiing, dog sledding, sliding and more. They also could watch ice sculpting and ice harvesting demonstrations.

“When we had our first winter fun day, we saw about 150 people,” Thompson said Thursday. “The next year, we saw about 300. This year, we saw 700. So it was a huge explosion, and it has become one of our most popular events.”

The second annual Birding Festival drew high numbers of people who flocked to the park to see the more than 100 species of birds there.

“We also saw very strong numbers during our fall foliage hikes,” Thompson said. “Our hike was one of the best attended of any other state park.”

Thompson said the Presque Isle park had an increase in use numbers in 2009, but despite the high attendance at park events this year, use numbers were down slightly, which Thompson blamed on the weather.

“We had a very bad January and February,” he said. “We had no snow at all, so we didn’t have anyone here skiing or snowshoeing. The weather was just awful.”

The park also started offering a Halloween Haunted Woods Walk a couple of years ago. About 1,500 people took part in the event in 2009. This year, approximately 450 people attended.

“Every day that we offered it this year, it was like monsoon weather,” Thompson said. “It was just steady rain and cold and high winds. We had to postpone one session, so that cut down on attendance, and the weather was just too bad for many people to come out with young children. We are hoping that we’ll see better weather for it in 2011, because a lot of people really enjoy that. Our volunteers help us make it a great time for everyone, and we get lots of compliments on it.”

The park expanded this year, thanks to the purchase of a 145.6-acre parcel next to existing parklands, bringing it to a total of 904 acres. The expanded land goes up and around the Presque Isle Snowmobile Club and heads west.

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 newly purchased land 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 has 30 campsites, which drew about 4,000 people this year, according to Thompson.

“Those are good numbers for a little park like this,” he said. “We saw a number of new campers and a great deal of people from out of state and Canada. It was great to see visitors coming in.”

Next year, Thompson said, park officials expect to offer the same popular programs and expand on them whenever possible. The new park acreage should help draw more visitors and allow for new activities.

“Everyone wants to be healthy, and we want to get people outside and active,” he said. “Our goal is to get people who have never set foot inside the park to go for it and see all of the activities that are available to them. We have a great spot, we have great support from the community and from volunteers. We want people to come out and enjoy what we have.”

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