KITTERY — The snow is long gone at the southern tip of Maine, the ice melted. But the wintery Family Fun Day held at Fort McClary a month ago was just the start of big happenings around the state’s parks.

Maine’s state parks turn 75 this year and the Bureau of Parks and Lands is holding Family Fun Days at parks and historic sites around the state to celebrate.

The state park system was commissioned by the Maine Legislature in 1935. Today there are 48 state parks and historic sites from Kittery to Eastport and Fort Kent.

Already this winter state parks have staged Family Fun Days to celebrate, even though state parks don’t open officially until May. A half-dozen events drew more than 4,200 people, according to the Department of Conservation.

The event at Fort McClary had free food, a bonfire, skating rink, nature lesson, maple syrup exhibition and snowshoe demonstrations, as well as a tour of the fort and those cool cannons.

For some who came to the Kittery Family Fun Day the event taught new outdoor skills.

“They’ve never seen snow before. One of the most fun things for them was snowshoeing. And the kids got to see how maple syrup is made. They’ve never seen that before,” said Joann Vincent of Portsmouth, N.H., who brought her grandchildren, who recently moved to Maine from California.

For other parents the Family Fun Day was an assortment of common, everyday activities, but it did the work of gathering a large group of youths together at one park.

Dianne Fallon of Kittery said it’s not hard to get her 9-year-old son outside, but he wants to play with others his age and such gatherings can be rare.

“Once they get outside, they don’t need a lot of structure. It’s just getting them outside,” Fallon said as she watched her son doing nothing more than stand on an ice rink with a half-dozen boys.

The winter fun day in Kittery was a copy of what the town’s recreation department does each summer. But holding it in the winter was new, and literally stopped traffic.

“People were driving by seeing us clear the pond for skating, slowing down. You could see people saying, ‘What the heck is going on?’ said Kittery Recreation Department Assistant Director Jeremy Paul, who came to help.

“The turnout today was great, about 135 to 150 kids. Next time we’ll build a snow hut, maybe next year a tubing hill to give them a few more things.”

Many of the state park fun days are not scheduled too far in advance, but each month a few more are posted on the state Web site at www.parksandlands.com.

In truth, such Family Fun Days are a continuation of the block-party-type gatherings held the past two years at state parks as part of the state’s “Take It Outside” campaign, which urges Maine families to get out and get healthy.

But more will be held this year to commemorate the 75th anniversary, said Gary Best, interpretive specialist with the Bureau of Parks and Lands.

“It’s part of the state parks initiative,” Best said. “We’ll be adding events daily.”

Also ramped up this year will be the First Time Campers raffle that was rolled out two years ago with great success.

The first summer 32 parents who knew or remembered nothing about camping won free trips for their families to state parks, complete with guides and free gear.

This year 40 trips will be given away to as many families, with a larger selection of state parks.

And the Department of Conservation is rolling out a new program involving youth passports, in which young state park visitors can win prizes for every eight state park stamps they collect.

The new passport program won’t be announced for another month, but is intended to be fun for kids to play.

“We are giving away passports that highlight each park and that kids get stamped at each park with a different stamp,” said department spokesperson Jeanne Curran.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]