TURNER – From the jammed parking lot at the start to the fresh cookies at the end, the snowshoe hike at Androscoggin Riverlands State Park on Feb. 12 was not what anyone imagined.
“We expected 20 and thought we’d be excited with that. I think there are 50 to 60 here today,” said Gary Best, a regional manager with the Bureau of Parks and Lands.
“We’re trying to spread awareness of this new park. But we’re on a shoestring budget.”
It was hard to tell at last weekend’s event at this wild outpost just outside Lewiston and Auburn and parked beside the Androscoggin River.
The snowshoe hike lasted more than two hours and covered 2.5 miles for most and a 4.5-mile loop for some. It had natural history guides from the Androscoggin Land Trust, snowshoes available to those who needed them and a huge spread of snacks hot and ready at the end, compliments of the park staff.
But it was the army-sized crowd that delighted the participants.
“Here is a big group, and I love it. I’ve met people of all different kinds, different ages,” said Don Robitaille, 80, of Lewiston. “I snowshoe, ski and bike. But this is nice with all these people.”
And the feast at the end was like a celebration for weary hikers, some of whom were at the new state park and on snowshoes for the first time.
“I wanted a winter hobby. This is easier to keep going if you’re not doing it alone,” said Claire Gamache of Lewiston, a newcomer to snowshoeing. “I knew if I didn’t do it this way, I’d only go out 15 minutes. This was wonderful. I’ll definitely be back.”
Park Manager Laura Keating, the Maine Conservation Corps environmental educator, is charged with teaching those who visit the park about its treasures, ways it can be used and also just letting folks know the park is here.
The snowshoe hike last weekend was the first of three, with the next scheduled for Saturday. With more than 50 showing up for the first with little publicity, there’s no telling how many will show for the next two.
Keating said the park is ready.
The 2,588-acre wildland is Maine’s newest state park and located just outside Lewiston and Auburn. It has 15 miles of multi-use trails, eight miles of hiking trails along the river and loads of historic ruins.
The Homestead Trail, which winds past many remains of the old homestead, already is a popular trek among locals.
And, it appears, the more who travel it, the greater the joy. The first snowshoe hike included spirited, boisterous hikers from age 8 to 80.
The members of the Boys & Girls Club of Lewiston/Auburn who showed up kept pace just fine.
There were 10 youth from the club who hiked for two hours with rigor, some experiencing snowshoes for the first time.
After the first hike, those weary travelers who stopped to sit in the snow said they wanted more.
“A lot of kids don’t have the opportunity to do this. When we asked who wanted to do this, they all ran downstairs to sign up,” said Kris Dube, the club’s leader.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: