Presque Isle event aims to draw people outside

Children and adults enjoyed the sliding hill at Aroostook State Park during the third annual Take It Outside Winter Family Fun Day in February 2010. Participants brought their own sleds or toboggans for a fast 200-yard run down the hill out onto Echo Lake. Hundreds of people came to the Presque Isle park to ski, showshoe, ice skate, take dog sled rides and more.
Jen Lynds | BDN
Children and adults enjoyed the sliding hill at Aroostook State Park during the third annual Take It Outside Winter Family Fun Day in February 2010. Participants brought their own sleds or toboggans for a fast 200-yard run down the hill out onto Echo Lake. Hundreds of people came to the Presque Isle park to ski, showshoe, ice skate, take dog sled rides and more.
Posted Feb. 17, 2011, at 11:41 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 18, 2011, at 12:08 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — An event geared toward getting more people outside and that has been responsible for introducing a larger crowd to everything Aroostook State Park has to offer is scheduled to take place this month.

The fourth annual Take It Outside Winter Family Fun Day will be held at the Presque Isle park on Feb. 26. Events will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Former 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.

Since the event was introduced at Aroostook State Park, attendance has grown steadily and park officials have expanded the event each year.

Scott Thompson, the park manager, said earlier this week that this year’s event will include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, along with expert ski and snowshoeing instruction for people who have never tried or for those who just want to get better. Additional activities include sliding, snowmobile tote sleds, dog sled rides, ice-harvesting demos, and guided nature and bird walks.

The park has arranged to have equipment on hand to lend to those who aren’t equipped with the necessary supplies, or people can bring their own skis, snowshoes and more.

Echo Lake again will be available for skating, depending on conditions, according to Thompson. Participants must bring their own skates.

When the event was first held, it mostly included skating, skiing and snowshoeing. In the past two years, park officials have added ice-harvesting demonstrations and nature walks, along with the dog sled rides, which have become very popular. Children have been especially fond of the sliding hill, which allows them to take a fast 200-yard run down the hill and out onto Echo Lake.

Thompson said park officials would provide a bonfire and a warming hut with hot chocolate and coffee. Lunch also will be provided.

This year, the event will serve as a springboard to help people in need. Thompson said that a drop-off area would be created so participants can bring nonperishable canned goods for the Feed The County initiative, an ongoing food drive run by Catholic Charities Maine in Caribou.

Thompson said that the winter fete has become a signature event at the park.

“The event has certainly grown to be a very popular winter event which keeps families active doing fun winter activities,” he said.

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.

Thompson credited the winter family fun day and the park’s new Birding Festival, held in June, with expanding traffic into the park. The park has more than 100 species of birds.

When the park first held the fun day, 150 people attended. The next year, 300 people came to the park. Last year, 700 people attended.

While attendance at park events has grown, so has the park. Last year, the park expanded by 145.6 acres to a total of 904 acres.

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.

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 fee for the coming event is $1.50 for those ages 12 to 64. All others are free. Park officials ask that participants make a $2 per person donation for the dog sled rides.

For information, call 768-8341.

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