By Aislinn Sarnacki
Lighthouses, mountains, forts and forests – Maine has it all, and there’s a passport that can help you find it.
In 2010, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands launched the Maine State Parks Passport. The booklet features 48 state parks and historic sites scattered throughout the Pine Tree State. To participate, all you have to do is visit the locations and collect the stamps.
“It’s a great little book,” said Kimberly Hansen of Westbrook, who picked up a passport last summer and has since visited over a dozen locations with her 10-year-old German shepherd mix, Annika. “Each page gives you a brief description of the park with symbols that tell you what you can do at the park like swim, hike, boat and fish.”
Hansen’s passport is quickly becoming a booklet of memories. With an instant camera, she photographs her dog sitting in front of each passport station (a container where you collect the stamp). She then staples the photos onto pages of the passport.
“We’ll finish it this year,” she said. “But it will definitely take some vacation time to go to Aroostook County and visit the three locations that are up there. I’ll spend the night at a campground or hotel, or rent a cabin.”
A family-friendly challenge
The Maine State Park Passport Program was launched on the 75th anniversary of the Maine State Parks System, as a way to celebrate the parks and historic sites while raising awareness about them. Right away, the program was a big hit.
“When we first started doing this in 2010, it was like ‘The Amazing Race,’” said Maine State Park Regional Manager Gary Best. “There were several families that were trying to be the first to get to all 48 [locations].”
Best recalls meeting one family that kept photos of their Maine State Passport travels in a three-ring binder.
“It was exactly what we wanted when we launched this program,” he said of the family. “In the photos, they were on ATVs at one park, camping at another, swimming and hiking mountains. They just really embraced it.”
Ashley Spaulding of Eddington picked up a passport in May of 2021, and started visiting the sites with her sons, Cole, age 5, and Ethan, 6. Since then, the family has visited eight state parks, returning to some multiple times. They also camped out at two of the parks: Lamoine State Park in Lamoine and Peaks-Kenny State Park in Dover-Foxcroft.
“They both really do get so excited to hunt down the boxes (passport stations) and fight over who gets to stamp theirs first,” Spaulding said.
The boys were especially excited to visit their eighth park, Range Pond State Park in Poland, because it earned them their first prize: a magnet.
For each eight locations you visit, you can collect a prize.
“The rewards get bigger and better as you go through, so it’s kind of a fun way for people to receive acknowledgement for all the parks they visit,” Best said.
The final prize for reaching all 48 spots? A free season pass to Maine state parks and historic sites.
How to participate
Participating is simple. First, you’ll need to purchase the $1 passport at a staffed Maine state park or historic site between May 15 and the end of September.
The passport functions as a guide, with one location per page. The locations are organized by the state’s eight tourism regions, each of which are represented by a different color at the top of the page. The passport also features simple maps of each region. So if you want to visit multiple locations in one trip, it’s easy to see what parks and historic sites are close to one another.
Each page includes a short description of the park or site, as well as driving directions, GPS coordinates, website, phone number and when the park gates are open. Each page also includes the lock combination for the site’s passport station. (Hint: It’s the year the park was established.)
The passport station is a locked, brown box where you find a custom stamp for each location. The stamp includes the park or site name, an icon and the date it was established.
“Passport stations are very accessible for everyone,” Best said. “We wanted the stamp to be in an area that can be reached by anybody of any age or physical ability.”
Once you’re done, don’t forget to explore the park or historic site.
“Whether you’re doing it for education or just recreation, whether you want to get outside and hike in different areas or swim or just picnic, this is a really wonderful way to do that,” Best said.
While the official season for stamping passports is May 15 through September, you can sometimes get your passport stamped outside that timeframe if you attend organized activities and events at state parks and historic sites. And it never hurts to check the park passport station. Park staff will sometimes leave the ink pad and stamp in there if the park is busy (and the ink pad doesn’t freeze).
“It really does provide some fun motivation and incentive,” Best said. “You get caught up in something as simple as wanting to collect a stamp.”
Keeping the program fresh
The Maine State Park Passport has been in circulation for over a decade, and it’s still going strong.
“We’ve printed somewhere around 300,000 of these [passports],” Best said “They’re in glove boxes across the country.”
Over the years, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands has tweaked the program to keep the public engaged. For example, a few years ago, the bureau added a geocaching component.
Geocaches are hidden compartments that are found by using GPS coordinates. While geocaching isn’t typically permitted in Maine state parks, eight official geocaches were created by the bureau – one per tourism region – for the passport program. Each geocache contains a stamp to be added to passports.
While the passport stations are placed out in the open, in highly accessible locations, the geocaches are more challenging to find. But the effort it takes to find them is well worth it, Best said. The geocaches highlight special places.
“We’ve got some ideas of how we can continue to make [the passport program] fresh,” Best said. “So in the coming years, stay tuned. We’ll be thinking of ways to add to it and make it more enriching to encourage people to do it twice.”
For more information about the Maine State Park Passport, visit maine.gov/dacf/parks/discover_history_explore_nature/activities/passport_program.shtml.
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