The evening I met Kathy, I was looking for a good spot to swim. Kathy greeted us at the gate with a smile, and we parked, walked along the sandy beach and I jumped off the dock for a swim. The water was cool and I was happy. That’s the experience for most people who come to Winslow Park: Kathy is the gatekeeper to the park and its adventures. Winslow Park, on a peninsula just south of Freeport, is owned by the city. There’s a beachy cove with a boat launch and a grassy knoll with a play ground. Beyond them are tree-shaded campgrounds where Kathy and a community of visiting campers spend the summer.
TELL ME THE HISTORY OF THIS PLACE
This is our 61st year. My husband and I actually started coming here about 30 years ago, when we were both working. We would just come up after work or whatever, but when we both retired, he started to be a ranger, and then when I retired – he retired before I did – I started working here. It’s about my third year, I guess.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU STARTED DOING THIS WORK?
I was a teacher at Reiche School in Portland and a recreational therapist at Maine Medical Center in the children’s department. Then I was a teacher in Cumberland and I taught college for teachers as well.
WHAT IS THE DAY-TO-DAY LIFE LIKE WORKING HERE?
You get up, you watch the sun come up, have a nice, quiet cup of coffee and you just get dressed 15 minutes before you have to go to work. It’s kind of fun!
DO YOU LIVE ON SITE?
Yes. We have a motor home up on site 44.
WHAT DO YOU DO DURING THE WINTER?
Usually we’re home in Westbrook, but this past winter we did go down to Florida for eight weeks.
TELL ME ABOUT THE NAME OF THIS PARK.
Winslow Park? The park was given to the town of Freeport by a family, the name is from the family, The Winslow family. This whole piece of property was part of the family estate and when the mother died, the family wanted to give the property to someone. They tried, legend has it, some different organizations and it didn’t materialize. Then finally her lawyer suggested she give it to the town and that’s what she ended up doing. So this is our 61st year, and 61 years ago there were a number of people who started etching out some campsites and it’s just grown from there.
ARE THERE PEOPLE WHO RETURN YEAR AFTER YEAR?
Absolutely, there’s hundreds! There’re people that have been coming here – I guess we’re starting to lose some of them now– but some have come from the very early years. There’re people that have returned here for 20, 30, 40 years. Kids growing up coming and they bring their kids here when they are grown. We hear it a lot, that this is probably one of their favorite campgrounds anywhere. It’s funny because we don’t have hookups so we don’t have electricity and water on every site and that sort of thing but it’s so peaceful and well-kept and cared for.
HOW DO YOU THINK THE FACT THAT YOU DON’T HAVE HOOKUPS CHANGES THE ATMOSHERE OF THIS PLACE?
Well I think it probably decreases some of the people who would come to party and want loud music and that sort of thing. When my husband and I first came here, just to look at it, we didn’t think we would want to stay because we like being able to plug in a microwave, and we just fell in love with it and it hasn’t really been a problem.
WHAT’S SPECIAL TO YOU ABOUT THE CAMPING LIFE?
Oh boy. Well I think you’ve got to love the ocean, you’ve got to love Casco Bay. But I think it’s the people. Like this morning, there were three sets of gals that have come up here for about 25, 30 years and they’re from New York and every year we connect and it’s just really fun to see people like that every year. They’re your relatives for three weeks! And it was hard to say goodbye to them this morning. But now I keep in touch with them on Facebook. So you meet people from all over the country that you wouldn’t otherwise.
TELL ME SOME OF THE STORIES ABOUT YOUR PROXIMITY TO NATURE
Well, because it’s a peninsula we’re on, so we’re not deep in the woods, but we’ve had some critters. We’ve had some baby skunks under my camper in years gone by and one of my dogs got sprayed one year and we’ve had some deer up through here. Just the little guys. I know there’s a skunk up there right now that’s been poking around. He hasn’t nailed anybody yet. My dogs are very acutely aware that he’s around, and in the mornings they’re sniffing around. But so far, so good.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE MEMORY FROM THIS PLACE?
Oh my goodness, I have hundreds. Well there was a couple that have camped here for years. The fellow that used to live up here when we first started coming, Freddy (we used to call him the Mayor). His wife was in the hospital for a spell so I was fixing meals for him. We were at a campfire – we used to have campfires every night – and Freddy was at the campfire and he just starts in like he’s in great agony and he’s burping and making all of these noises and I thought “Oh my word, something I made has really affected his stomach!“ and I seriously was getting ready to call 911. He belched and grabbed his stomach like he was just in anguish and this went on for like half an hour. So finally the campfire broke up but I knew he was in his trailer by himself and I was really very worried. Then we got in my camper and my husband starts making the same noises and for a minute I thought surely I had made something that was poisoning them. It turns out they had one of these little machines that makes belching noises! I could have murdered both of them! He could have gotten an academy award. It was just unbelievably funny. Afterwards it was funny, but not at the time!
IF YOU HAD TO DESCRIBE THIS PLACE TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT?
Well it’s not like most campgrounds. It was designed out of woods and fields so it’s not like every campsite is the same size. It’s very beautiful, it’s on the ocean, you’ve got 90-plus acres here. Besides being beautiful in terms of the property, there’s just a wonderful group of people that come here every year. So we have friends that we have been camping with for 25, 30 years that we see just up here. It’s like a little community and I just don’t think you can beat it.
WHAT DOES YOUR JOB HERE ENTAIL? WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF IT?
Well this is a fun job to do after I retired. So we take reservations, we check people in when they come in to camp and charge them money when they come in. We have a day use and camping, so there’s two things going on. Just keep things running down here.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO YOU IN YOUR LIFE?
My faith. That’s an easy one. I think being in a setting like this even confirms that the Lord is just the most important thing in my life and he’s the one that’s provided my family and the experiences we’ve had here and my career. He’s the one that’s made it happen.
WHAT IS A LESSON THAT YOU’RE LEARNING IN YOUR LIFE OR HAVE LEARNED RECENTLY?
Well it’s one I’m working on that I’ve worked on for 60 years! Patience. It’s easy to get upset when somebody’s cranky with you but you don’t know what they’ve come from. A couple of years ago we lost our son and I’m sure when I deal with people they don’t know that about me so sometimes I might seem a little drifty or whatever, but maybe that thought’s going through my head. People come with life experiences and you’re just part of the human race, you have to bear with one another!
WHAT’S THE GREATEST GIFT OR BLESSING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
Just having good health and my family. And my faith. When you listen to the news and look at the morning paper we’re pretty blessed to have all of this. It’s mindboggling really. Why do we live in such freedom and have so many blessings and have so many provisions and there are people that are just scrambling to a plane to get some water and some bread. Just grateful, I guess.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST STRUGGLE?
I don’t know that I could bring up something right now. Just that it’s a personal thing that involves a lot of people. It’s a struggle looking for harmony in certain situations.
IF YOU HAD A MOTTO OR A MANTRA WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Trust the Lord.
WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
I have a lot! I love getting up in the morning and having coffee with my two dogs and watching the sun come up and having a little quiet time. I have a little bible reading in the morning, prayer time, that’s meaningful to me. End of the day just chatting with my husband. It’s really little things that I just relish. You get older and it’s not always the big bang things, it’s time with your family, your grandkids.
Want to visit Winslow Park (you should!) check it out here: www.freeportmaine.com