With not yet a week gone in the young summer, Maine is experiencing a welcome reversal from the awful weather of a year ago, when a rain-soaked spring was followed by a summer that never seemed to let in the sun. After a warmer-than-usual spring, the summer of 2010 opened this week under hot and sunny skies, following a weekend that seemed closer to late July than mid-June.
The turnaround comes just in time for the 75th anniversary of the Maine state parks system, which has provided low-cost access to some of the best outdoor settings the state has to offer.
Maine’s first park, Aroostook State Park, was established in 1935. Today, the system comprises 32 state parks, including 12 state park campgrounds, along with 16 historic sites and three waterways.
Entering its 75th year, the park system has never been more popular. According to the Bureau of Parks and Lands, more than 2.3 million people visited Maine’s state parks last year, generating around $100 million.
And this year’s beautiful spring has gotten this special year off to a strong start for the parks system, with the state reporting a 27 percent increase over last year in day use and camping for the first two quarters of 2010.
Cumberland County is home to state parks that showcase some of the best and most iconic aspects of Maine. Two Lights State Park offers the rocky coast and its twin lighthouses. Scarborough Beach is the perfect spot for an ocean swim. Sandy Crescent Beach is marked by its grassy dunes. Sebago Lake State Park, one of the five original parks, opens up Maine’s second-largest lake for swimming, boating and fishing.
This year’s anniversary celebration is a reminder that decades ago, people had the foresight to put land aside for the enjoyment of those who live in or visit Maine. It is necessary that we respect that foresight, and pay it forward through our own stewardship of Maine’s open lands.
With state revenues plunging, it is hard to expect the state park system to receive the full amount of funding it needs. Fortunately, there are a number of ways for residents to help make up for the shortfall.
One is the Maine Volunteers in Parks, or MVP, program, which offers a variety of ways volunteers can help preserve Maine’s public spaces, from maintaining a section of hiking trail to assisting visitors at campgrounds or historic sites.
There are also volunteering opportunities through the Maine Conservation Corps, which conducts trail construction and watershed surveys, among other conservation efforts.
If you do not have the time or inclination to volunteer, then you can still act as a steward when you visit a state park. Whether you are camping for a weekend or just going for a day at the beach, take out what you bring in. Follow the park’s rules, and respect the wildlife that calls the park home.
Most of all, leave the park just as you found it, so that in another 75 years, Mainers will be able to look back proudly on our foresight.
Ben Bragdon, managing editor