OLD TOWN, Maine — As snowflakes fluttered slowly to the ground all around them on Saturday, Lorie Bubar of Bangor and her two children, Joshua and Daniel, slid to a silent stop and clambered out of the dog sled they’d been riding in.
Bubar couldn’t believe how fast the dogs ran. Daniel smiled. And Joshua summed up his first dogsled ride enthusiastically.
“It was fun,” he said. “Can we go again?”
That was a common sentiment Saturday, when more than 100 people gathered for a Winter Fun Day at Hirundo Wildlife Refuge under cloudy skies, steady snow and temperatures that struggled to top 10 degrees. Among the activities on tap: an ecology walk, nordic ski races and a variation of curling, using paving stones instead of authentic curling stones, on nearby Lac d’Or.
As you might imagine on such a crispy day, the warming hut was also a popular destination.
That’s where Dick Moran of Hampden and his family headed after their dogsled ride. Once inside the crowded building, they bought a round of hot chocolates and thawed out for a few minutes.
The kind of activities staged at Hirundo was the draw for Moran, who is trying to share a part of his own childhood with his kids, 9-year-old Annie and 11-year-old Felix.
“I grew up on a farm and was outdoors all the time,” Moran said. “That was my childhood — riding bikes all summer long and playing baseball. That’s how I grew up.”
Moran said he realizes his children have a lot more entertainment options, and he wants to make sure they appreciate the outdoors.
“In today’s day and age, with all the iPads and electronics, I want to keep these guys outdoors,” Moran said. “It’s easy to stay inside and look at a screen, but to get outside and breathe the fresh air [is good]. It was a bit of a struggle [today] because I thought it would be too cold, but I think everybody’s glad we came.”
Kim Moran, Dick’s wife, grew up in New York City, but said in most weather, she loves Maine’s outdoors. It can get to be a challenge, though.
“We both really enjoy going to [outdoor events], but I just don’t enjoy being freezing very much,” she said.
As for Felix and Annie, both listed the dogsled ride as a highlight of their morning.
“It was really fun,” Felix said. “It was cool they could carry all of the weight. The [musher] said that each dog could carry, like, 150 pounds.”
Just 5 miles off Interstate 95 on West Old Town Road, Hirundo Wildlife Refuge is popular among those who have grown to know it — and a mystery to many others, Rad Mayfield said.
Mayfield serves on the refuge’s board of trustees and teaches at Old Town High School. He said even students who live in the area may not know about the refuge or what it offers.
“Some [of my students] live out here and have never been here,” Mayfield said. “The other day in class I said, ‘We’re having family day. You can come out on Saturday.’ And a couple of people said, ‘Where’s Hirundo?’”
Staging events such as Saturday’s Winter Fun Day helps Mayfield and others introduce people to the refuge. He said that many times, people who visit once like what they see.
“There was a guy here earlier who was leaving, he had to take his kids because it was too cold for them,” Mayfield said. “But he said, ‘We really like this place. We’ll be back.’ I think it really is a matter of letting people know it’s here, right in their backyard, and it’s an easy place to go.”
Gudrun Keszocze, Hirundo’s naturalist, explained that the refuge was established by Oliver Larouche and his family. In 1983, Larouche and his wife deeded the land — now 2,400 acres — to the University of Maine. It’s run by the Hirundo Wildlife Trust.
“Two-thirds of the area is really wetlands, because we border Pushaw Stream and also Perch Pond and Perch Stream,” Keszocze said. “We are a nonprofit organization, and we are run by a board of trustees.”
This year marked the fifth edition of the Winter Fun Day, Keszocze said.
“We started really small, with 20 people,” she said. “Last year we had 130 people stop by to take part.”
And in the past, suitable winter weather was hard to come by.
“Sometimes, in the past, we’ve had to cancel the event,” Keszocze said. “We’ve always had a lack-of-snow date. But this year, just in the nick of time, we’ve had this snow.”
And after the event, even more snow. All of which should make Hirundo and its trails even more of a winter wonderland.