Maine families who have never camped will have the opportunity to experience the fun of family camping in a supportive way with the First-Time campers raffle, sponsored by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Now in its fifth year, the First-Time Campers program will offer 44 families a free weekend of camping this summer at one of 11 Maine state park campgrounds, said Park Manager Fritz Appleby of Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal. Appleby is organizing the popular program for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL), under the Maine Department of Conservation.

“It’s a great program, a great opportunity for families or anyone who wants to get out and camp for the first time,” said Appleby. “There’s nothing to be afraid of — it’s a lot of fun, and we show our First-Time Campers how to be prepared to have fun.”

“Camping is one of the best ways for families to have fun outside,” Will Harris, BPL director, said. “We are pleased to be able to provide Maine families the opportunity to get outside and enjoy some of the best of what Maine has to offer in our state parks.”

The First-Time Campers program will randomly select 44 Maine families to win a free weekend of camping. The raffle is open only to Maine families who have never before gone camping. Each selected family will get the free use of camping equipment, receive gifts from sponsors and be supported throughout the weekend by park staff.

One of those fortunate families also will be the grand-prize recipient of a $1,000 gift certificate from the program’s major sponsor, L.L.Bean.

“Our sponsors, particularly L.L. Bean, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, go out of their way to help us make this a successful program,” Appleby said. “Maine is all about the outdoors and the camping experience, and why shouldn’t Maine families enjoy all that?”

The unique program, part of BPL’s “Take It Outside” initiative, is designed to encourage Maine families to experience the rewards of summer camping at Maine state park campgrounds. This year, the program is sponsored by L.L.Bean, Kittery Trading Post, Hannaford, and Wicked Joe Coffee.

The selected families will get the use of camping equipment for the weekend, plus receive up to four sleeping bags to keep, Hannaford gift certificates and complete support from park staff in setting up, using and taking down camping equipment. Participants must provide their own provisions for the weekend.

In the past, selected families have commented in a followup survey on how much they enjoyed their camping weekend.

“It’s really helpful, and the rangers/staff are all friendly,” wrote one participant. “That’s why we’re going to camp again.”

“My family had the time of their lives on their camping trip,” said another First-Time Camper. “It was a memory for sure.”

Raffle applications are available online. They will be accepted until Thursday, May 31. The recipient families will be chosen in a random drawing on Friday, June 1, with the families notified the week of June 4. There will be four weekends of camping from which the lucky winners can choose, from July 13-14 to Aug. 3-4.

The state park campgrounds include: Bradbury Mountain in Pownal; Rangeley Lake in Rangeley; Aroostook in Presque Isle; Camden Hills in Camden; Sebago Lake in Naples; Mount Blue in Weld; Cobscook Bay in Edmunds Township; Lamoine in Ellsworth; Peaks-Kenny in Dover-Foxcroft; Lily Bay in Beaver Cove; and Lake St. George in Liberty.

For more information about the First Time Campers program or for an application, call Appleby, park manager, Bradbury Mountain State Park, at 688-4712 or go online to: take-it-outside.com.

For more information about Maine state parks and historic sites, go online to: parksandlands.com.

Courier Publications sports staff can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401 or by email at sports@courierpublicationsllc.com.