Like most parents in southern Maine, mine took us to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray when we were in elementary school, but I hadn’t been in years. This past week, desperate to get out of the house and give a visiting family member a Real Maine Experience™, I brought her and my sister to the park. And I have to say, I was extremely impressed by their coronavirus precautions.

MDSV is the name of the mitigation game: masks, distancing, sanitation and ventilation. The park requires reservations, which you can make online. Entry fee is cash or credit card only, and collected at the gate. (There’s an ATM next to the entrance gate, wink wink.) For adults, it’s $7.50 each, less for kids, making it fairly affordable even amid an economic collapse. They limit the number of people in the park at one time. There are also signs everywhere – encouraging one-way uses of trails for social distancing, reminding everyone to stick with their family groups, etc.

The park has a big advantage in that the majority of it is outside – the animal enclosures and the trails you walk along. Even so, except for the bathrooms, all indoor buildings are shut, including the snack shack. If you went as a kid, you might remember using a quarter to purchase feed from the machines to give to the animals. Those have been boarded up to reduce crowding and touch points. Some of them have been converted to hand sanitizer stations. I was impressed by this move, because that hits the park in its wallet – but they seem to have made a decision that visitor safety is the most important thing.

But what about the gift shop, you might ask? As a souvenir shop enthusiast, I was a bit worried they would have shut it completely. But what they did was even better: The park set up three-sided vertical shelving behind plexiglass at the entrance of the store and placed one of each item on the shelf, labeled with a price and a number. Just like an old-fashioned general store, you tell the clerk what you want and he grabs it from the back and hands it to you through the opening in his plexiglass. (I bought a fleece blanket and handmade earrings for my mother, in case you were wondering.)

Of course it might not be surprising that the park, being owned and operated by the Maine government, is taking precautions against coronavirus seriously. The most impressive thing I saw there wasn’t the store or the bears or even the mountain lions (and I love mountain lions). It was that, with the exception of a few lawless toddlers, everyone was wearing a mask. Even just walking on the paths outside, groups all wore their masks. I saw people taking them off when they were at a great distance from other people, but as soon as they saw someone approaching, the masks went right back on. When a sign said “one group at a time,” I saw all groups respecting that rule, waiting their turn to enter the bear observation platform or the coyote viewing window. And most of the folks there were families with children. It can’t be easy to get a 5-year-old to agree to keep a mask on their face, but I saw parents doing it.

The Maine Wildlife Park isn’t a zoo – the animals there are not bred or purchased. They are wild animals who can no longer live safely in the wild, usually because of injury or having been orphaned at a young age or raised illegally by humans. The park serves a dual purpose: It cares for those animals, and it educates people (Mainers and tourists alike!) about the wildlife in our state. Most of the critters I saw there, I have never seen in the wild in Maine before – I assume because there is plenty of wilderness for them to escape into, especially in Buxton. (The exception, unfortunately, was the porcupine, which I have seen more than enough of, thank you very much.) My personal favorites are the big cats, the lynx and the mountain lions. While I was there they spent most of their time lounging in the sun, fluffy bellies to the sky, just like my own housecats.

The park is scheduled to be open until Nov. 11. If you’re desperate to get out of the house, and you can commit – like seriously, vow-like, oath of commitment – to following the rules of masks and distancing, I highly recommend it.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemillennial

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