PRESQUE ISLE – When Scott Thompson, the Aroostook State Park manager, was invited to a trade show in Boston this spring, he didn’t let an opportunity pass him by.

Thompson, the manager of Maine’s northern-most state park, looked at the convention center full of intrepid tourists and seized the chance to send them 10 hours north.

“I was told to just hand out brochures. But I just thought, ‘Here we go.’ ” said Thompson, a Presque Isle native.

The affable and amusing Thompson told as many people as he could about the beauty of Aroostook County in summertime, about the 15 miles of Nordic ski trails he grooms around the state park in winter, and about the booming winter carnival held there now, which increased in attendance from 100 to 700 in three years.

Thompson must have intrigued a few tourists because attendance at Aroostook State Park is up 30 percent this year, according to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

But use of all of Maine’s state parks during this sun-splashed summer is up 32 percent. No better way to help the state celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Maine State Park system, said Will Harris, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands.


The Maine Park Commission was founded in 1935, but it wasn’t until 100 acres around Quaggy Jo Mountain was donated to the state in 1938 by residents of Presque Isle that Maine had its first state park.

Over the years the park system grew to include 48 state parks and historic sites. But on its 75th anniversary the state park system may be just building steam.

Last year 2,348,328 people visited the parks, the highest number since 2002, and the state is on pace to surpass that this year, Harris said.

With a look to just the three northern-most parks, it’s easy to see why.

At Lily Bay State Park beside Moosehead Lake, it seems every year is a banner year, with all 90 campsites booked solid most August weekends.

“A lot of campers have been coming for 15 years. They’re regulars. It’s one of the busier parks. More than half the sites are on the water,” said the acting park manager, Alan Cleaves.


Pat Wolfe and Peter Yakutis, a married couple from Lexington, Mass., are two such campers. They discovered Lily Bay State Park shortly after they met in Maine 25 years ago, and have been back every year.

They represent hundreds of campers who come from Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Cleaves said.

“We come for two weeks. After the first week you really let go,” Yakutis said, standing beside Moosehead Lake and his well-used kayaks. “We try to get the site that looks on Big Moose Mountain. It’s hard, though. When reservations open up that first day you have to stay on the Web and keep trying to get a site at Lily Bay. It’s an all-day job.”

Wolfe and Yakutis have seen a moose walk through their lakefront campsite, squirrels swimming from nearby Sugar Island, and fox kits play by the beach.

With the park’s signature rocky and wooded shores that weave in and around Beaver Cove, it’s a different world than the Boston suburbs.

Maine’s most northern state parks offer this kind of escape to even in-state residents.


The Pike family from South Portland has traveled to Peaks-Kenny State Park for more than 20 years. They enjoy the campsites that are set back from Sebec Lake.

The big-boulder topography around the Dover-Foxcroft park has campsites that are set on varied levels, but all are close enough to the lake to hear the loons.

“It’s a change of pace. It’s a lot more relaxing. We play cards and games,” said Randy Pike as he sat soaking his feet in the camp beside his wife, Kit, and daughter, Sarah.

Further north, Aroostook State Park is similar in its quiet, remote nature.

Where it is situated next to Quaggy Jo Mountain, the 30 campsites are set in close proximity but the thickly wooded slope makes them seem private and removed.

And for those who want a more wilderness experience, Thompson is hard at work providing it with true wilderness campsites.


There is a rich 75-year history here full of winter ski jumps and rickety toboggan chutes that no longer exist. But Thompson said the focus now is on the future.

He helped put in the Nordic ski trails, and is already planning mountain bike trails to complement those at the Maine Winter Sports Center across town.

“We need to diversify and do the type of recreation they’ve done at Bradbury Mountain State Park (with mountain biking). That’s the future of outdoor parks,” Thompson said.

He’s telling everyone he can about it.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:


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