All coastal Maine state parks and several inland parks will be closed for day use on Sunday in anticipation of Hurricane Irene’s arrival in the state, officials announced today.

Campers at state park campgrounds throughout Maine also are being warned by park staff of the approach of the hurricane, which is expected to bring high winds and gusts of up to 70 mph and an anticipated 2-foot storm surge.

Maine Department of Conservation officials warn Maine residents and visitors to stay away from coastal areas for their own safety and to take precautions for themselves and their families.

The storm will bring an unusually high tide of 11 feet, accompanied by a storm surge of 2 feet, plus high winds and rogue waves that could do extensive damage to vulnerable sections of Maine’s coast, according to Stephen Dickson, a marine geologist with the Maine Geological Survey.

“This is the Patriot’s Day Storm of April 2007 all over again, with a shorter duration and stronger wind,” Dickson said today in a statement. “We now are evaluating potential beach erosion damage in comparison to past storms.”

The storm could also cause some bank erosion, slope failures and potentially small landslides occurring along the coast or riverbanks due to flooding and several inches of rainfall, Dickson said.
He said the beach erosion will be similar to some past nor’easters.

Officials have already begun monitoring for erosion at Popham Beach State Park in Phippsburg.
A total of 27 Maine state parks will be closed to day use on Sunday, officials said. Workers with the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands will be on duty to monitor the closed parks and to warn the public to stay away from the expected high winds and strong surf.

Two Maine state parks, Warren Island State Park, located in Penobscot Bay off Lincolnville, and Eagle Island State Historic Site, located off South Harpswell, will close Saturday. Campers at Warren Island are being evacuated off the island, and staff are leaving both islands, according to Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.

In addition, the Fort Knox Historic Site in Prospect also will close for Sunday. The Maine Department of Transportation already has closed the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, which is accessed through the park.

Officials said they will reopen the parks once the storm has passed.

With 3,500 miles of coastline, Maine has the third-longest coastline in the continental Uunited States, with a high concentration of residential, recreational, commercial, industrial and working waterfronts, said Bill Beardsley, commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation.

“This is a tremendous responsibility, and one that the state of Maine is taking very seriously. We strongly urge everyone to stay away from the coastal areas during this event,” he said.

Maine has 12 state park campgrounds and two river corridors, the Penobscot River Corridor and the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Park managers and rangers at all sites are warning campers of the approaching hurricane and recommending that they leave Saturday and find other accommodations for Sunday, Harris said. Staff members are familiarizing themselves with evacuation routes and shelter locations to help visitors, he said.

Staff officials are urging campers to reconsider staying at the state campgrounds and are urging them to seek alternative shelter for the duration of the hurricane.

The Bureau of Parks and Lands refund policy will be suspended, and campers will receive refunds for the days they leave, officials said.

Four Maine Forest Service ranger helicopters will be available to fly helicopter missions in advance of the storm, as well as for post-storm recovery and rescue efforts as needed, Forest Service officials said.

Other equipment also is being prepared for dispatch, including the Forest Service’s chipper truck, its mobile command vehicle,  ts heavy expanded mobility tactical truck, and a large, eight-wheel, all-terrain truck designed to operate off road.

Forest rangers are often requested to help remove downed trees from roadways, with flooding issues and with aerial reconnaissance and transport operations.

On Monday, Peter Slovinsky, a Maine Geological Survey marine geologist  will lead a team to examine dune and beachfront erosion in the Saco Bay area and along southern Maine beaches.

The team has close ties with local governments and shoreline organizations and also is working statewide to provide information and scientific resources for recovery in the hurricane’s aftermath, Dickson said.