APPLETON, Maine — After a summer of logging thousands of miles in an SUV while racing from one Maine state park to another, it all came down to a final question.
Would someone in Harpswell take pity on a couple of strangers from Appleton who were anxious to get to Eagle Island State Historic Site before the end of the season in order to finish the Maine State Parks Passport Program?
Katie Glessner and Erik Perkins knew it was a long shot. But their desire to get to the Casco Bay island was worth a little embarrassment as they trudged from wharf to dock to lobster pound on the last Saturday in September, trying to convince anyone with a boat to bring them there. The tour boats already had stopped running for the year, and the duo had no boat of their own — although they packed a yellow inflatable sled, just in case.
“Failure was not an option,” Perkins said recently at the couple’s farmhouse home, recounting the lengths he and his fiancee went to in order to reach their goal. Those who complete the parks’ passport challenge, getting stamps from all 48 state parks and historic sites, receive a free season pass for next year. The program was started in 2010 by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands as a way to encourage families to visit the parks and historic sites and enjoy the outdoors.
While seeing beautiful parts of the state was great, Glessner said that for her, “it was about the goal.”
With so many state parks and so few weekends in a summer, the project also demanded a certain amount of endurance driving, including 1,100 miles in one weekend. The pair even received help changing a flat tire in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway area from some guys on a Masonic Lodge retreat.
The last weekend in September, the couple had eight parks to check off their list, in addition to Eagle Island. It was discouraging for awhile, as no one was willing or able to bring them. But that changed when Glessner said she saw Perkins running toward her.
“I’ve got a guy! He’s this close to taking us!” he shouted.
The guy was Tom “Toby” Butler, who helps run Erica’s Seafood in Harpswell. He said this week he thought it was crazy that the people on the wharf wanted to charge the duo $70 for the boat ride and $5 to park their car.
“I told them Eagle Island was closed, but I’d take them out,” he said.
The couple’s quest might have been a little quixotic, but Butler didn’t seem to raise an eyebrow.
“We meet people like that all summer long. You’d be surprised, the characters we get down here,” he said.
Once on the island, an ecstatic Glessner and Perkins ran to find the passport box, which unfortunately had also been removed for the year. It’s unclear whether the state will accept the photo they took of themselves on the island as proof they’d completed that part of the challenge. But still, they had made it.
“It felt pretty darn good,” Glessner said. “The boat ride back was much more relaxing.”
The couple offered Butler $50, but he turned them down.
“When we got back, he said ‘just go buy lunch [at the family business]. That’s payment enough,’” Perkins said, adding that he was able to give him $10 for gas.
As they ate their fried clams, they worked out their next moves — all the way to Grafton Notch and back. Eight parks later, their dog-eared, rained-on passport book was all filled out.
Now, Perkins and Glessner can focus on their next project — planning their wedding next year.
“It was a really cool experience,” Glessner said of their park adventures. “We were almost a little sad we were done.”