April 13, 2010

Pay per view: Maine sights
no longer priceless

The state will start charging visitors to parks like Mackworth Island and Kettle Cove to help fund maintenance.

By Ann S. Kim akim@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

FALMOUTH - Visitors to scenic Mackworth Island will soon see a new sight: an attendant collecting entrance fees.

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Rose Masse of Portland and her son, Jonathan Rand, are almost daily visitors to the walking trail on Mackworth Island. In response to the state's budget crisis, visitors to Mackworth will be paying a fee to visit – a move that Masse opposes.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Julie Anderson and Tim Hofmann regularly bring their son, Henry, for walks on the trails of Mackworth Island. The two don't oppose a fee if it helps to fund the park system and improves the state's maintenance abilities.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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The state Bureau of Parks and Lands will add staffed admission booths at Mackworth Island, Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth and Colonial Pemaquid in New Harbor as part of a plan to maintain service and the number of state parks as it deals with a tight budget.

"We're not real happy about it, but it's probably the best of the choices we have," said Will Harris, the bureau's director.

Harris said the change is expected to generate $110,000 to $120,000 per season.

The admission fee will be $2 for Maine residents and $3 for non-residents. At Mackworth Island and Kettle Cove, the fee will be $1 for children from the ages of 5 to 12, with free admission for anyone younger than 5. At Colonial Pemaquid, admission for children younger than 12 will be free.

The changes will take effect at Mackworth Island and Colonial Pemaquid on May 15, and at Kettle Cove on May 23.

On Monday, Rose Masse and her 3-year-old son, Jonathan Rand, were meandering along the shoreline path during one of their frequent visits to Mackworth Island. They are among the estimated 78,500 people a year who visit the bureau-maintained portion of the island, which is also home to the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf.

"It's hard to believe they would charge for every place you go to find some tranquility," said Masse, a stay-at-home mom from Portland who called the change "devastating."

Another Portland family -- Tim Hofmann, Julie Anderson and their infant son, Henry Hofmann -- didn't take the news as hard. Anderson, who works with children who have developmental disabilities, said the change may mean fewer visits by the family.

Hofmann, who works as a cook, said he thinks it's a good idea to keep the park system funded. "It keeps the places beautiful," he said.

There are an estimated 160,000 visitors to Kettle Cove each year, but many just take in the ocean view from the parking lot for a short time, Harris said. The revenue estimate assumes that many of those visitors will be lost when fees are charged.

Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Michael McGovern has some concerns, including traffic backups on the road leading to the cove, or drivers using residents' driveways to turn around.

"We're worried that the state has not thought through all of the logistics," he said.

Harris said an agreement between the bureau and the town that gives commercial fishermen free access to a boat launch at Kettle Cove will not be affected.

The state's tight budget is also prompting the bureau to defer the start date for seasonal employees, cut the maintenance budget 10 percent and add "iron rangers" -- pipes into which visitors can insert admission fees -- at Camden Hills State Park, Birch Point State Park at Owls Head, Fort Point State Park in Stockton Springs and Roque Bluffs State Park in Machias.

The bureau's policy already calls for admission fees at Colonial Pemaquid, but there has been no staffed booth, Harris said. That site has an iron ranger, but it is not well positioned and the compliance rate is low.

Colonial Pemaquid, one of the oldest sites of European habitation in the Americas, is home to Fort William Henry, a museum and archaeological artifacts. It gets 44,000 visitors annually.

Harris hopes people will consider buying state park season passes, which provide unlimited access for day use. They cost $35 for an individual and $70 for a vehicle.

"Frankly, if people buy the season pass, they'll get a much better value and be able to visit many more of our parks," Harris said.


Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: akim@pressherald.com


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