October 12, 2013

Josh Christie: As crowds dwindle, fall's a great time to enjoy the outdoors

The longer I live in Maine, the more convinced I am that snowbirds have it all wrong.

Now, don't get me wrong. There's no disputing that Maine is lovely from Memorial Day straight through Labor Day. My dad and I wouldn't write "Worth the Trip" every week if we weren't in love with biking, hiking and kayaking during summers in Maine. Thank God he got me outdoors when I was growing up. Despite this, the transition into fall is a reminder of how lucky we locals are to have the state practically to ourselves for nine months of the year.

I'm not sure what exactly inspired this lovey-dovey epiphany. Blame it on the gorgeous foliage, which is exploding into peak colors right now. Blame it on Sunday River, where just this week they started testing their snow guns and gearing up to open the ski slopes. Blame it on the cold mornings and cool evenings, which have changed the bike ride to work from sweltering to refreshing.

Whatever the reason, I'm itching to get outside more and more, even as Columbus Day traffic streams south.

One of my favorite things to do during this time of year is visit Maine's coastal state parks. I love the tranquility of walking nearly empty beaches and trails. Reid State Park in Georgetown, for example, is home to the sandy Mile and Half-Mile Beaches. While these are packed to the brim during the summer, you can share them in the fall with just sea life and brave, neoprene-suited surfers.

Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park, just minutes from downtown Freeport, is another favorite. The bucolic setting, framed by the Harraseeket River and Casco Bay, is home to over four miles of hiking trails on 200 acres. If you're a first-time visitor, I highly recommend the Harraseeket Trail, a 1.5-mile route that hits both bodies of water. There's also plenty of great educational programming (listed on their website and at the park), which runs at least through the end of October.

Finally there's Camden Hills State Park, just a short drive from where I grew up in the Midcoast. Once summer has passed, it's blessedly easy to get to the park through downtown Camden. Once you're there, you get practically free reign over one of the state's best coastal trail networks. A traverse of the ridges from Mt. Battie to Megunticook and over to Maiden Cliff offers wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean, the town of Camden and Lake Megunticook. Camden could handily stake a claim to one of the prettiest harbors in Maine, and it's particularly striking as foliage is reaching its fiery peak.

It's worth noting that despite a government shutdown that has shuttered national parks --including Acadia -- for the time being, our fine state parks are still bustling. As seasonal rangers and employees finish up for the year, most Maine parks are still accessible in one way or another.

In fact, the transition into the "offseason" (a poor term for such a great time of year, in my opinion) leads to the introduction of one of my favorite Maine sights, the "Iron Ranger."

In case you aren't familiar with the Iron Ranger, let me explain. The inanimate ranger is a metal structure -- often a tube -- that stands watch over park entrances when live rangers aren't around. Rather than pay a ranger in the entrance booth, you drop your payment in the Iron Ranger.

I think the thing I love most about the Iron Ranger is that it's a test of a visitor's moral compass. Most of our state parks don't have security cameras. If no one is around, visitors can likely get away with skirting the fee. It comes down to integrity. If no one is watching, do you do the right thing?

As the days get shorter and colder, get out and enjoy one of the best times of year to be a local. 

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

joshua.j.christie@gmail.com

 

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