CAMDEN — A year ago, a bicyclist was injured while riding on the Camden Hills State Park road to Mount Battie. Another bicyclist was injured a couple weeks ago, though it is not known if a medical event was involved.
Car accidents are not unusual along that steep, mile-long stretch of potholes, according to Park Manager Charlene “Sunshine” Hood.
A second parking lot added near the base of the road no longer provides enough space for the increased amount of vehicles visiting the park, leaving many visitors parking along the road, which is not permitted.
And for years, the park has been working on-again, off-again to secure funding and plans for an ADA accessible trail from the summit parking lot to the brick tower.
Wednesday, June 8, 2022, Governor Janet Mills announced the allocation of $50 million initiative toward improvements to its 48 state parks and preserves using funding from the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan and distributed by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF).
“We’re going to make them more accessible and more enjoyable for all Maine people,” said Mills, speaking from an open structure within Camden Hills State Park that was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which operated from 1933 to 1942.
The parks, according to Mills, have not seen meaningful investments in more than 15 years, which has been forcing DACF to defer much needed maintenance and upgrades for roads, trail systems and other vital infrastructure. DACF Commissioner Amanda Beal referred to this funding as a historic investment in Maine State parks.
Specific distribution of that funding has not yet been determined, though several parks have made the list of dire needs.
Tumbledown Mountain, in Franklin County, is another location, having seen an extreme spike in visitors during the last three years, to the point that on one occasion, there were 1,000 visitors and one employee. Looking at another aspect, Popham Beach is high on the list for purchasing beach mats so that visitors can walk over the sand dunes, allowing access.
“It’s no great secret that tourism is a major driver of our economy here in the Midcoast,” said Tom Peaco, speaking on behalf of the Penobscot Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Peaco quoted statistics by The Maine House of Tourism that reported over 10 million people had visited Maine during the period of May through August 2021, and 49% of those visitors cited enjoying the outdoors as their highlight of their trip to Maine.
Jenny Kordick, executive director of Maine Outdoor Brands, acknowledged record sales in outdoor equipment during the pandemic.
Camden Hills is currently building a visitor/education center, and it will include running water. Right now, visitors use outhouses, unless they go to the Park’s parcel across Route 1 overlooking the ocean. A lot of times, that bathroom is not open, said Hood. The new center is also envisioned to include touchscreen education consoles, and the property is also looking at bringing in a food truck.
“It’s exciting to think that we are going to get some help,” said Hood. “We scrounge…. Every nail that we’d take out of a board, we’d take it and straighten it, because we might need that some day.”
A donor recently gave $150,000 to the park. The park said it wouldn’t accept that donation unless a match could be found. They found a match. Three hundred thousand dollars is up for use. The park is now spending $100,000 a year to work on the trails and to get environmental stewards to help with programs and to help with invasive plants.
A couple weeks ago, school groups planted a portion of the tens of thousands of day lilies that have been donated to the park.
“Those kids are going to remember that,” said Hood. “And we’re doing the lilies to secure the soil, as well as benefit the bees, the butterflies, the birds, and it helps the environment because we’re no longer mowing that area or weed whacking that area.”
When people first turn through the park gates, they are treated with a great view of the park, and it generates an uplifting emotion, according to Hood. But then, as they turn a corner and see the park up close, that uplifted emotion fades. Hood doesn’t want visitors to remember the potholes, the parking problems, the lack of running water, or lack of campground electricity or wi-fi.
“We want them to remember that spectacular view at the entrance,” she said.
A different side project that the Park is also working on is creating trail signs that will better assist lost and injured hikers. When they call 911 for help, they’ll be able to look at a nearby sign and tell dispatch ‘I’m on the star trail,’ or the circle or the X. Related to the mapping project, Hood is also working to acquire a trail utility vehicle that can be equipped with medical gear and space for a patient litter.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org