FREEPORT — On a recent weekend, there were few hikers on the trails that wind through a pine forest at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park before opening up to views of seabird nesting islands and mud flats.

Out on the flats, Sanford Metayer was easy to make out, all alone among the rising seagulls, raking for clams.

As birds scooped up shellfish to hoist into the air, drop and crack on nearby rocks, Metayer collected his own bucket of steamers, feeling lucky to live in Maine. He came to Wolfe’s Neck park as a volunteer outdoor educator last Sunday to extend that message to park visitors.

“A lot of people think it’s too cold to be digging for clams now,” said Metayer of Lewiston, in a deep, gravely voice. “They’re like, ‘No, I’ll go get my clams at the store.’ But I like being out here, hearing the seagulls, the tide. This is my enjoyment. I love the smell of the ocean.”

Metayer is a recreational clammer, lover of this outdoor playground, and a faithful volunteer at the coastal state park. His favorite activity also is a fine example of the hands-on programs state parks are offering this winter to get more Mainers outside.

Over the next three months, more special events will be held and new activities and programs rolled out at the parks, said Gary Best, Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands interpretive specialist.

“We want to get more people outdoors during winter, get them to our state parks, so we’ve provided more opportunities to do things across the state,” Best said.

To start off, the four-year-old Winter Family Fun Days will offer activities at five parks.

For example, at Mount Blue State Park in Weld, where one of the most elaborate Winter Fun Days takes place, park staff will offer skating instruction, a monstrous sledding run, ice caves and lessons in winter camping.

The Bureau of Parks and Lands will bring a new trailer full of 60 sets of cross country skis, all free to try, to parks across the state, compliments of a $4,900 Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant.

It’s about the idea that if you build it or bring it, they’ll come.

“At all the events we try to identify barriers that are keeping people from getting outside in the winter and trying new things,” Best said. “We want to break down those barriers. If one is equipment, we have cross country skis, snowshoes and ice traps. We want to make it easy to come out and try something new.”

“First Day Hikes” on New Year’s Day will be offered for the first time at four parks: Wolfe’s Neck Woods, Popham Beach, Cobscook Bay and Aroostook state parks.

The events are cheap. After the cost of park admission — $1.50 for those ages 12 to 64 — everything is free. And the groomed cross country ski trails and skating ponds at the parks are not just available at the winter fun days, but all winter long, Best said.

Wolfe’s Neck Woods already promotes winter fun better than most parks.

Wolfe’s Neck Woods has always held year-round nature programs. Land for the park was donated to the state in 1969, along with an endowment to fund environmental education.

With the park’s 40th anniversary coming up in 2012, park manager Andy Hutchinson said he plans to add programs and teach more outdoor skills this winter. The park will have a fleet of snowshoes to rent for the first time this year.

Over the past six years, Metayer’s clamming demonstations have been observed by as many as 20 and 30 visitors. He offers the seminar for a couple of reasons.

For one, his family loves steamers. Second, clamming at state parks is free. So long as park visitors follow state clamming regulations, they are welcome to dig for the tasty mollusks and collect dinner, same as at Cobscook Bay State Park or Lemoine or Popham Beach state parks.

“Although ours are sweeter,” Hutchinson said with a smile.

More of these opportunities are being offered as park managers entice Mainers to play outdoors during the cold months.

“Sanford is but one of the volunteers we bring in. He teaches the hints, how to dig quicker and better,” Hutchinson said. “I do the national history piece, how the park has shell middens, how the Native Americans used it as a survival food in March after ice out. The shells with the purple mark were used by the Wabanaki people for trading. It’s still a valuable natural resource in Maine.”

 

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