A mountain lion at the Maine Wildlife Park. Sun Journal / Andree Kehn

GRAY — Maine Wildlife Park is opening for visitors on June 15 but with a limited capacity to comply with the state’s pandemic guidelines.

Entry to the park, which is owned and operated by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, will be available to groups of 10 people or less and only by reservation.

“We are definitely going to have to play it by ear and see how the first week goes. Then we’ll make decisions about how to increase capacity and adjust protocols,” said Emily Maccabe, director of information and education for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which operates the park. The park was established in 1998 as a nature and wildlife reserve.

“We are also taking into consideration that the park is in Cumberland County and not part of the rural reopening plan, so we had to be careful and sensitive to that,” she said.

The park typically opens for the season in mid-April, but it was delayed this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reservation times are intended to control the number of people who enter the park and to stagger foot traffic, but once visitors are in the park they can stay until it closes at 5 p.m.

On a sunny weekend day in the summer, thousands of people might come through the park. With the new reservation system, only a fraction of the number of people will be able to visit the park in a day, about 150 to 300. Maccabe said every available slot was booked within a few days of the reopening announcement.

April and May are busy months at the park when Maccabe said they might have “thousands and thousands of kids” coming to the park on field trips or with their families during school vacations. While visitors will not be able to experience the park’s educational programming in person, the park is offering virtual events for families to enjoy from home. The park is hoping that they can reinstate some in-person programming later in the summer, Maccabe said.

Although the park is in part supported by the entrance fees, Maccabe said the park is doing “well to maintain a really low overhead and keep things going at this point.” She added that it is well-supported by the community, through both the Friends of the Maine Wildlife Park, a volunteer group, and local businesses in Gray.

The park has more than 30 species of animals that are native to Maine, such as bobcats, cougars, and of course, moose. None of the animals at the park can be returned to their natural habitats because they are injured, orphaned or human-dependent.

Park Superintendent Howie Powell said Tuesday he’s been “running around like crazy” in order to prepare for Monday. But, “the park is here for people to see. There’s just a lot of things to figure out.”

“We’ll do our best but we’re definitely hoping and expecting our visitors to be very respectful,” Maccabe said.

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