A daunting half-mile of ocean stood between Warren Island and Wally Farnum and his fiancee, Debi Pride. The crossing from the mainland in Lincolnville was the couple’s final obstacle in their quest to visit each of Maine’s 48 state parks and historic sites.

“All we had was a canoe, and knowing we had to use it to cross a piece of ocean was very scary,” said Pride, a Buckfield resident who says she is nearly petrified of deep water. “The first time I canoed two years ago, I screamed the whole time. I’m a big wuss.”

But Pride overcame her anxiety, the couple paddled to Warren Island State Park, and as a result they won the Department of Conservation’s first Maine State Park Passport award.

They’ll get a free pass to the state park system for a year for being the first Mainers to visit all of the sites and collect stamps in a special passport — a feat they accomplished in about four weeks.

State officials will present Pride and Farnum with their pass in a ceremony Thursday at Reid State Park in Georgetown. Robert and Nancy Curtis of Bowdoinham won a pass for seniors.

The program, introduced in May by Gov. John Baldacci, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the state park system. It provides participants with the passports, which are marked with a distinctive stamp at each park or historic site they visit.

As park visitors accumulate stamps, they receive prizes, ranging from a water bottle or a patch to a free season pass if they collect passport stamps from all 48 sites.

“We didn’t think it was possible,” said Pride. “But after we started getting prizes and seeing other people trying to reach the goal, our competitive sides kicked in.”

Farnum said he and Pride had only visited four state parks regularly, and never prepared to undertake a project of such scope.

“We heard about the program on the news and just happened to be in Grafton Notch,” said Farnum, referring to the state park on the New Hampshire border. “We never intended to visit them all, and never intended to be the first one.”

At first, the couple was discouraged by a number of obstacles, including Farnum’s physical ailments, which include a recent ankle surgery. But they decided to view their physical limitations as a challenge.

“To be honest,” Pride said, “we’re both 55 and very overweight. For us to have done this is a significant accomplishment.”

As part of their adventure, Farnum took notes, in particular documenting which parks were handicapped-accessible and which weren’t.

They noted that Wolfe’s Neck State Park in Freeport was a good place for people with disabilities, because the trails are wide and well-groomed. Fort Baldwin in Phippsburg they described as one of the least accessible, due to its steep inclines and ditches in the trail.

Pride’s unemployment also made the trip a challenge from a financial perspective.

“We logged roughly 2,000 miles in a Toyota Sienna minivan, and gas is expensive,” said Pride.

Robert Curtis, 66, who won a senior pass with his wife, spent a little more than a month exploring each state park with her or other family members.

One experience that stands out for Curtis was his visit to Eagle Island, a state historic site that counts as one of the 48 state parks.

“I was alone in my 14-foot aluminum boat trying to make the cross in really choppy waves that were spraying me because of the wind,” he said.

Curtis arrived at the island just as it was closing but thankfully managed to convince the caretaker to give him his stamp.

Three water crossings are required to complete the passport program, and it seems that those short voyages instill the greatest sense of adventure.

On the final page of Pride and Farnum’s journal they ask: “Biggest challenge? Warren Island. Will we tip over the canoe?”

Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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