Maine State Parks offer an opportunity to return home

By Rex Turner, Outdoor Recreation Planner, Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands

There is an empty lot in Rockport that keeps cycling through my mind. Though it is covered in snow, I see its manicured, bright green grass and level surface now serving as a small open space next to someone’s modern house. There is not much extraordinary about the lot, except it is where my grandparent’s house once stood.

I said there is not much extraordinary here, but there is one thing that stands out – both to any observer and to my memories. Smooth bedrock humps out of the ground at the rear of the lot. The exposed bedrock, in appearance, is not unlike a whale’s back gliding up out of the ocean – the same ocean previously spied from the now departed upstairs bathroom window. I remember these rocks as the backdrop of the kitchen where my grandmother made some mean chocolate cream pies and my relatives talked politics – loudly.

Today not only is the house gone, but so too is my grandfather, the uncle who took my cousin and me mackerel fishing in the harbor, and my father. This is the power of those rocks. They remain, and with them remain memories and a connection to all that was.

Just down the road a little from this lot, one can find some larger rock formations. Camden Hills State Park was established in 1948 and is famed for its 30 miles of hiking trails, including an oft-celebrated vista above Camden Harbor. The park provides camping, RV hook-ups, hot showers and flush toilets, diverse trail uses ranging from biking to snowmobiling, hunting, and more.

Like the rocks behind my grandparent’s former home, Camden Hills State Park is a connection with the past and a relative constant to which we can return. Years ago, after my father passed, my family went to the park to climb Mount Battie. Young grandchildren, my siblings and my wife, in-laws, and my mother all climbed the short trail to the summit. The view of the harbor below was appropriate, as our remaining family and the park both served at that time as safe harbor of positive memories during a difficult storm.

As an employee of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, I get to see and hear how people look to our parks and public lands as places to ground themselves in family tradition and reconnect again and again with places that comfort with relative permanency. I think of the husband and wife I met in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway who have come up for decades of winters to ice fish and enjoy one another and the beauty of the Allagash’s frozen lakes. All across our system of parks, historic sites and public lands, there are passionate visitors who return again and again to the properties we share and steward.

Nothing lasts forever in one state, and few things remain largely unchanged over time. While parks and lands do change, including improvements, the concept of a park is founded on a degree of permanency. So, while homes and even family members come and go, parks have the capacity to link generations.

This was brought home to me by a trip this summer to Fort Knox State Historic Site. Like so many visitors, I snapped photos of my daughter and some of her cousins outside the massive granite walls of this fort constructed in the mid-1800s. Later, I found photos of myself as a youngster posing in that same spot. A little later, my wife found photos of her as a child in front of those very same walls.

In this way, the historic site is home to all of us from Maine. Like other parks and lands across Maine, it is a place we can return to again and again, though our lives change.

Even though winter is not the peak of activity in parks, right now is a great time to reconnect — or perhaps connect for the first time — with our parks and lands. Take-It-Outside events focused on getting people out to enjoy winter activities in our parks have started, with events at Mount Blue State Park, Ft. McClary State Park, Range Pond State Park, and Aroostook State Park all still to come. These events, which offer activities such as ice-fishing, cross-country ski instruction, nature walks, demonstrations, and more, are a great way to find outdoor destinations to which your family can return over and over.