I was probably around 7 or 8 years old the first time my parents took me to Fort Knox. What I clearly remember was it was one heck of a good time and it was the first of many such trips. The highlight of each visit was exploring the dark passages and “dungeons,” with or without flashlights.

Back in those days, you could incarcerate someone by closing the heavy, iron-barred dungeon doors. I did, and my poor little brother is probably scarred for life. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the dungeons were really powder magazines.

In the fifth grade, our class studied the state of Maine and my big assignment was to write a paper on Hancock County. I devoted much of that report to the wonders and history of Fort Knox. Our teacher, Mrs. Bates, told me my report was excellent but, because of my cardinal error — Fort Knox is in Waldo County — she gave me only a C.

This minor setback did nothing to diminish my life-long fascination with the fort. Eventually, I was invited to serve on the board of directors of the Friends of Fort Knox, a nonprofit group formed in 1991 to save the pre-Civil War era fort from the effects of 100 years of neglect, i.e., very serious deferred maintenance.

It was the heroic efforts of George McLeod and John Hyk, and later the Friends, that have made the fort a must-see attraction in Maine. Without Hyk and McLeod, I believe, today, Fort Knox would look much like Fort Popham — which is to say little more than a granite ruin.

Unfortunately, in the mid-2000s, the FOFK board of directors fought its own Civil War. Ultimately, I resigned from the board in anger and vowed never to return to Fort Knox.

But last Friday, after a 12-year hiatus, I broke my vow to meet Dean Martin, the new FOFK executive director. I was impressed.

Martin started his new job Sept. 1, just six weeks before the onset of the annual Halloween extravaganza, "Fright at the Fort." Talk about taking a job with a steep learning curve! Yet, from all reports, this year’s "Fright" was a resounding success, with more than 15,000 visitors.

For a new hire to pull this off, albeit with lots of help, is pretty extraordinary; a true “trial by fire.” Given Martin’s background, his ability to hit the ground running should not be a big surprise. Prior to taking the FOFK job, Martin spent 24 years in the Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. His military career included deployments to Kuwait and Iraq, where Martin piloted medevac helicopters and saw the kind of hostile fire that can really ruin your day.

Later in his career, Martin was the chief operating officer at a military hospital. These experiences probably made keeping track of 100 or so volunteer ghosts and goblins seem like pretty tame duty!

The fort is closed for the winter, but when I arrived, Martin and his administrative assistant, Michael Locke, were hard at work in the Torpedo Shed, now known as the Visitors Center. The big white board over Martin’s desk was covered with his lengthy “to do” list.

Reading that list gave me a pretty good idea what he was up to. For example, the day before, he successfully negotiated a new three-year lease with the state of Maine. The automatically renewing lease empowers the Friends to continue to staff and operate the fort and to use the fort facilities as a venue for events that raise money for operations and maintenance.

To that end, a full slate of fundraising events are on tap for 2019. I also learned that a couple of weeks earlier, Martin made several trips with his pickup truck to collect a very generous donation from a local businessman.

Accordingly, the historic enlisted men’s quarters are now serving as the temporary warehouse for a new assortment of lightly used, high-end, Halloween props for next year’s Fright!

While we talked, Martin gave me a tour of the (very cold) fort. It brought back a lot of memories. In some ways a lot has changed in the last 12 years: On the plus side, more areas of the fort are open to the public.

Other changes are less positive. Apparently, the state decided to spend its very scarce resources (our tax dollars) installing what seems like miles of iron safety fencing. It is ugly and wholly inappropriate from a historic perspective. And things like cedar roof shingles, that were OK 12 years ago, now need replacing — a never-ending cycle.

In other ways things at the fort are much the same: water infiltration problems caused by roof leaks continue unabated, as evidenced by the icicles that hang from the vaulted brick ceilings and that cling to the massive granite walls. Every year, leaking water further erodes the miles of mortar joints and loosens bricks. Several giant granite blocks have been displaced by frost action. Despite the efforts of the Friends, it seems the fort’s “to do” list is getting longer, not shorter. But Martin says he is on it, and I believe him!

Did You Know:

The Public Utilities Commission just approved a rate hike for CMP. Unbelievably, the rates for the electricity delivered to residential and small business customers are going up by 16 percent, a huge increase. Specifically, starting Jan. 1, the default “standard offer” rate jumps from 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour to 9.0 cents.

For a typical household, this increase will add $5 to $6 to your monthly bill. The need for an increase seems strange. With all these new windmills and solar farms, I thought the cost of electricity would be going down!

Randall Poulton lives in Winterport. His columns appear every other week in The Republican Journal.