AUGUSTA — A popular capital-region state park is reopening its group shelter after the structure was destroyed by vandals two years ago.
The group shelter at Damariscotta Lake State Park in Jefferson, located about 20 miles southeast from Augusta, has been rebuilt and is open again starting this season, according to Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) officials, under the Maine Department of Conservation.
Constructed mostly by BPL staff, the new shelter has been greatly improved over its predecessor with more features appropriate for group use, the BPL said in a press release.
“We hope to see this new group facility as well used as the old one was, and we hope it will become an important community resource,” Mike Leighton, BPL regional supervisor, said. “The new shelter is nicer than the one before. We’re very glad to be able to rebuild it and reopen it, especially given the current state budget.”
“The new shelter is beginning to see more and more use as our park visitors begin to realize that it is finished and available,” Kurt Shoener, park manager, said. “Damariscotta Lake State Park has a lot of features that make it a unique, regional park, and this is just one more important feature.”
Damariscotta Lake State Park is a popular, Midcoast day-use park located on 12-mile-long Damariscotta Lake. The park features a sandy beachfront for swimming and canoeing, picnic area, playground, a new restroom building and the new group shelter. Last year, more than 25,000 people visited the park.
The old group shelter was a sturdy, timber-framed structure completed in 1976, six years after the park opened in 1970, Shoener said. Entirely built by park staff, the shelter “saw a lot of use and very much was a part of the community,” he said. Family reunions, meetings, school functions, birthday parties — all kinds of activities were held there, Shoener said.
The structure was burned and destroyed by vandals in June 2009, leaving only charred timbers and a burned roof.
“The park was not singled out,” Shoener said. “Not only did our shelter burn, but also the town dugout and grandstand. It certainly was the biggest incident of vandalism for the park, if not the park system.”
Funded through insurance money and a private donation, construction on a new shelter began last year, with a new slab, steel uprights and pre-fabricated trusses. Finishing and grading work was completed entirely by BPL staff, with new cabinetry built by Don King, BPL maintenance coordinator, Shoener noted.
“We definitely had a big hand in constructing it,” the park manager said. “We had an opportunity to take what we had and improve upon it and bring it up to Maine state parks construction standards.”
Shoener described the shelter, with its new electric lighting, as more open, brighter, and more visible to the park staff and the public.
“It has a grand view of the lake,” with a lawn area in front, he said. “We’ve actually had people set up a function tent and hold a wedding reception there.”
Other features include a sink with hot and cold water; granite counter tops; new cabinetry; a 4 foot-wide group grill; eight picnic tables; a wheelchair accessible road with access to the shelter; and a new bulletin board nearby.
With the park’s brand new restroom facilities, part of the November 2007 bond construction, “we really are in great shape in terms of buildings,” Shoener noted.
The old shelter was used regularly two to three times a week, but the new shelter isn’t yet seeing that kind of use, the park manager said. At $50 an event per day, the group use fee is “more than reasonable, it’s a huge bargain,” he said.
With the park’s convenience to main roadways, Shoener said he especially would like to attract more extended family events and weddings, adding that “we do everything possible to accommodate caterers” and to promote their businesses. He also would like to see the shelter used for cultural events, such as concerts and appropriate exhibitions.
Shoener said he hopes that the park, and particularly the new group shelter, once more becomes a community center for the region.
“Once people know about our group shelter and the amenities we have to offer, I’m sure it will catch on,” he said.
For more information about Damariscotta Lake State Park, call the park at 207 549-7600.
For more information about Maine state parks and historic sites, go to: http://www.parksandlands.com.