If you need a reason to get outdoors in the winter, the folks at Maine’s state parks can give you one.
Maybe you’ve never tried snowshoes or cross-country skis? The parks have equipment you can try for free. If you’ve always wanted to try ice fishing, now you can at a couple upcoming state park derbies. Plus, you can see a fat-tire bike demonstration or winter camping display, take guided nature hikes and learn to spot animal tracks.
“What we’re trying to do is to get people outside in Maine, and more often,” said Gary Best, regional manager of state parks in the southern half of Maine. “We want people to know the parks are open year-round.”
In southern Maine, seaside parks like Crescent Beach, Kettle Cove, Two Lights and Mackworth Island are all open. But there are three other area parks that have a ton of scheduled winter fun activities over the next month: Wolfe’s Neck Woods in Freeport, Range Pond in Poland and Bradbury Mountain in Pownal.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, there’s a Winter in the Woods nature walk at Wolfe’s Neck Woods, where a guide leads people through the park explaining the plant life and ways animals survive the winter. Then at 2 p.m. Sunday, there’s the Winter Birds nature walk, with a focus on the area’s flying friends in winter.
Also on Sunday, at 11 a.m., there’s the Bradbury White Out, a 4-mile snowshoe race at Bradbury Mountain. There’ll be three courses circling, and climbing, the mountain.
From now until early March, there are more than a dozen events or scheduled activities at the three parks. Events are free with park admission: $4 to $6 for adult Maine residents and $1 for ages 5-11.
Other parks that are open but don’t have scheduled activities are not always staffed in winter, but people are still asked to pay the listed admission for each park using an honor box, Best said.
The Maine state park system operates a snowshoe and ski trailer, which sets up at various parks during winter to provide free equipment and instruction. The trailer will be at Range Pond on Feb. 15 and 16, and at Bradbury Mountain on Feb. 23 – all from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. People who have never tried cross-country skis or snowshoes can put a pair on, get some instruction, then cruise around the parks, Best said. About 50 pairs of snowshoes and 50 pairs of skis will be available.
Other winter activities at the parks include a lesson in animal tracking, on snowshoes, at Wolfe’s Neck Woods on Feb. 16. People are invited to bring their own snowshoes but there will be a limited supply of snowshoes on hand as well.
On Feb. 22, at Bradbury Mountain, a local astronomy group will lead the Star Tour of the Night Sky, beginning at 7 p.m. Participants will hike up the mountain to get a great view of the stars. People are asked to bring flashlights or headlamps and footwear appropriate for hiking up the mountain.
If you want a taste of all the things offered at Maine state parks in winter, check out the Winter Family Fun Day at Bradbury Mountain on Feb. 23, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On that day, there’ll be demonstrations on mountain safety and fat-tire bike riding and displays of winter camping gear. There’ll be a kids’ snowshoe “story trail” where pages of a children’s story book will be posted on signs along the trail, so they can read a story as they march through the woods.
There’ll be a kids’ sliding hill, a kids’ snowshoe race, an Alpine skiing race and free equipment from the ski and snowshoe trailer. Plus, a food truck. All events are free with park admission, $4, $1 for ages 5-11.
On March 2, Range Pond will host a ids’ ice fishing derby, with free traps for the first 500 entrants. The pond will be stocked with 300 trout that day, Best said. Admission is $1.50, free for those 11 and under.
“The traps are theirs to keep and we’ll even clean the fish for them,” said Best.
Here’s a list of upcoming events at state parks in southern Maine. For times and more information on each, go to maine.gov/dacf/parks.
Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park, Freeport
Saturday: Winter in the Woods, guided nature program
Sunday: Winter Birds, guided nature program
Feb. 16: Animal tracking on snowshoes
Feb. 17: Hike with the Ranger, guided hike
Feb. 18: Winter in the Woods, guided nature program
Feb. 23: Winter Birds, guided nature program
Feb. 24: Animal tracking on snowshoes
Bradbury Mountain State Park, Pownal
Sunday: Bradbury White Out showshoe race
Feb. 22: Star Tour of the night sky
Feb. 23: Ski and Snowshoe Trailer, free equipment use
Feb. 23: Take it Outside! Winter Family Fun Day features free snowshoes and skis, demonstrations, hikes, food trucks and other events. March 3: Bradbury Blizzard snowshoe race
Range Pond State Park, Poland
Feb. 15-16: Ski and Snowshoe Trailer, free equipment use
Feb. 16: Traps and Trails, including ice fishing instruction and trail exploration