A reggae festival set for this weekend at Fort Knox State Historic Site in Prospect will offer attendees a chance to do something few have ever been able to do before: legally drink a beer in a Maine state park.
Ellsworth-based Fogtown Brewing Company will set up a beer garden inside the fort for attendees 21 and over at community radio station WERU-FM’s Reggae at the Fort event, set for Saturday evening at Fort Knox.
There has been a strict no-alcohol policy at Maine’s more than 50 state parks and historic sites for decades, but the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands has relaxed some of the rules around the consumption of alcohol within state parks over the past year.
“It’s something that people have wanted for a long time and have been asking for for a long time, especially when it comes to weddings,” said Jim Britt, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the agency under which the Bureau of Parks and Lands operates. “It’s a revenue generator, and it allows us to let people have even more wonderful, memorable times within our parks.”
The loosening of the rules only pertains to specific events, such as music, theater or dance performances, or weddings and private parties. Britt said individual event organizers will have to contact the park where they want to host their event, and the park staff there will then contact state officials to get a special events permit for the interested party, which comes with a fee. Bars and beer gardens must adhere to standard safety regulations, including using licensed, certified bartenders and a cordoning off a designated drinking area.
The rule change comes a few years after the Friends of Fort Knox, the organization that since 2012 has managed the site, found itself facing criticism after allowing members of the Maine Army National Guard to hold a private dinner that offered alcohol, despite rules in place then that prohibited drinking in state parks.
Britt said that not every park in Maine’s system may be suitable for such events, but that many of the 48 state parks and historic sites are.
“It won’t work for every park, but if it can work, there’s no reason we shouldn’t,” said Britt, who said a few trial events were held at a parks this past winter before official rules were put in place. “If you want to get married at a state park, you should be able to have a bar as long as it’s safe.”
For Fort Knox in particular, the site hosts a busy slate of events from spring through fall, ranging from a Civil War reenactment and a pet show to the wildly popular Fright at the Fort, a Halloween event held each October and which last year attracted a record 5,000 people on its second-to-last weekend.
“Part of our long-term goal is to have more of our events be things that outside organizations take the reins on,” said Michael Locke, who with executive director Dean Martin is one of two employees of the Friends of Fort Knox. “Fright at the Fort alone is just a huge task, as is our pirate weekend, so the more that we can partner with great local groups like Ten Bucks Theatre or WERU, the better it is for everybody.”
The ability to offer alcohol at the Fort and at other parks and historic sites will help parks offer more opportunities for events, thus increasing revenue, according to Locke.
“It just brings us more in line with the way things are today,” he said. “And in our case, we’re really an amazing spot to offer live music. The acoustics in here are just incredible.”