AUGUSTA, Maine – Mike Wilusz, Fort Knox State Historic Site park manager, and his staff were starting to close up shop Wednesday when a wonderful thing happened.
Celeste Hanson of Detroit drove up, got her Maine State Parks Passport stamped with her 48th park stamp and received her ultimate reward of a 2012 Maine state park season pass.
Hanson, 37, and her daughter Caroline, 14, became the first family this year to visit all 48 Maine state parks and historic sites. They join an elite group of “48-ers” as the fourth family so far to complete the challenge since the passport program began last year.
“It’s very nice to do it at least once in your life and then pick out your favorite parks and visit them again,” Hanson said Thursday during a phone interview. The best part of taking part in the program was seeing the whole state of Maine, “from Fort Kent to Kittery,” she said.
“We were at the booth and actually held up traffic, we were so excited,” Wilusz said. “I’ve never met anyone who has been to all 48 state parks and historic sites. It’s the first time I’ve issued a season pass.”
Wilusz said the completed passports looked well-worn, and Hanson acknowledged that the booklets were covered with notes and addresses. “The passports looked used, like someone had handed them down from their grandmother,” the park manager said.
The Hansons, who were making their third visit to Maine’s most popular historic site, each had her passport stamped and received a season pass. The second pass is being given to a friend to enjoy – “I’m not the only one who will get to see the state of Maine,” Celeste Hanson said.
The Maine State Parks Passport Program was launched in May 2010 by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL), under the Maine Department of Conservation, as a way to encourage families to visit Maine’s 48 state parks and historic sites and enjoy the outdoors. Last year, more than 2.6 million people visited Maine’s parks, the largest number in history.
The passport program involves giving children and adults a “parks passport” free of charge, available at participating parks and historic sites. The passports, printed under the sponsorship of 11 Maine businesses and organizations at no expense to the state, contain a descriptive page for each of Maine’s 48 state parks and historic sites, with sections for notes and a stamp, plus additional information about the Maine state parks system and the passport sponsors.
Passport participants go to each state park, open a special wood box at the control station and then stamp their passports with a distinctive stamp for each park. As they accumulate stamps, participants can win park-related prizes, such as a park patch and a water bottle up to the free season vehicle pass for completing the passport.
“We’re excited to have our first two 48-park completions of the year with our Maine state park passport,” Will Harris, BPL director, said about the Hansons’ accomplishment. “We encourage everyone to get out and use the passport and visit as many of our parks as they can.
“We want everyone to remember that completing the passport is an accumulation and doesn’t have to be done in one year,” Harris continued. “The idea is to have a good time and see as much of Maine as you can.”
Celeste Hanson said she first heard about the program on a TV newscast and was interested in seeing the state because she and her daughter had never before toured Maine. They started around Memorial Day and completed their adventure in about two and a half months.
“I can’t remember them all,” Hanson admitted, but added her favorite sites were Eagle Island State Historic Site, the island summer home of North Pole explorer Admiral Robert E. Peary, Popham Beach and Fort Popham, to which they have returned, and of course, Fort Knox. Caroline also favored Eagle Island and Lamoine State Park.
The most impressive aspect of the adventure, Hanson said, was that “the state parks were all diverse, some beaches, some camping and hiking, some forts.”
“Now we’ll just go to the ones that are close by,” the new “48-er” said.