To lots of folks, if you mention a Maine state park, or Acadia, thoughts of summer fun immediately come to mind. Blessed as we are with acres and acres of hiking, camping and swimming opportunities, it’s no surprise that parks are synonymous with visions of sun-drenched summer days and fabulous fall vistas.

But for a growing number of winter sports enthusiasts – and thanks in no small part to efforts of the state and federal governments – a whole world of winter is available on our public lands.

An innovative program launched by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has been introducing cross country skiing and snowshoeing at several state parks. The programs continue into early March.

Today, for example, if you go to Range Pond State Park just off the Empire Road in Poland between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., you’ll see a “ski and snowshoe trailer” from which you can select equipment to try, free of charge, on trails especially prepared to introduce you to these activities. Guided nature exploration excursions will also be featured. Park admission is just $1 for kids aged 5 to 11, $4.50 for adult Maine residents, and free for everyone under 5 or over 65.

And next Saturday the trailer will be at Lily Bay State Park, nine miles north of Greenville on the east shore of Moosehead Lake. The admission fees are similar to those at Range Pond, except Maine adults are just $3.

Similar popular introductory events were held at Sebago Lake, Cobscook Bay and Wolfe’s Neck state parks in January, and at Mount Blue, Bradbury Mountain and Aroostook state parks in February. Additionally, a Winter Family Fun Day, at which the trailer was also on site, was held Feb. 21 at Aroostook State Park, featuring sliding, ice skating, tote sled rides, nature walks, a warming hut, bonfire and lunch. All for just $1.50 for ages 12 to 64, and free for everyone else.

Camden Hills State Park is one of the most popular in the entire park system during the summer, with its 30 miles of hiking trails, 106-site campground and spectacular views over Penobscot Bay and Lake Megunticook. And winter has taken on a whole new meaning at the park.

A groomed cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and snowmobiling trail departs from the campground on Route 1 (just a mile and a half north of Camden) and winds its way for over two miles on easy contours to a reconstructed ski shelter equipped with a wood stove and bunks. This rental destination has proven to be so popular this winter, especially given ideal coastal snow conditions, that it continues to be reserved through mid-April.

And there are miles and miles of other ungroomed skiing and snowshoeing trails throughout the park. Admission fees are collected at the gate, $1.50 per person when the reception booth is unmanned, and $3 per person when staff is on hand.

In addition to the multitude of winter recreational opportunities available in the state’s park system, we are blessed with one of the crown jewels of the national park network, Acadia National Park down on Mt. Desert Island.

There, some 45 miles of carriage roads are available for cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Ski tracks are often laid down by volunteers on sections of the carriage roads when snowfall exceeds 4 inches, and nearly 32 miles are designated for grooming when conditions and time permit.

Cross country skiing is also encouraged on unplowed park roads, but caution is urged as snowmobiles are also permitted to use most of those roads. Rental ski equipment is available in Bar Harbor. A limited number of campsites are kept open at Blackwoods Campground and are available for primitive camping only.

So Maine’s parks aren’t just for summer. And with snow conditions that are the best in years, head on out for some inexpensive exercise combined with spectacular scenery.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at:

[email protected]