AUGUSTA — It’s fitting that Mary “Kissy” Walker will be the guest speaker at the 40-year anniversary celebration of the Capitol Area Recreation Association.

Walker started on the ground floor, playing Little League when the organization known as CARA leased 80 acres of land from the state along the Piggery Road on the city’s east side in 1974.

Walker went on to play basketball at Cony High School and the University of Maine before becoming the women’s basketball coach at Husson University.

As she blossomed into a player and coach, CARA also grew, adding to its facilities each year with the help of a dedicated group of volunteers. Today it boasts 11 playing fields for baseball, softball and soccer, two basketball courts and a horseshoe complex that includes 20 courts.

Since its inception, the complex has gained a statewide and regional reputation for quality and organization. It’s hosted dozen of tournaments at the district, state and New England levels. Cony High School baseball and boys and girls soccer matches as well as American Legion baseball also play their home games there.

The city of Augusta has helped in some instances, but for the most part, CARA is run by volunteers. Some were solicited while others simply spread the word to their friends.

“After meetings we used to get together and make a lot of friends,” said Joe Linscott, one of CARA’s founding members. “We had a common goal. When you’re trying to build something, you have a goal.”

Forty-four major contributors are listed in an 87-page brochure published in conjunction with the anniversary. There have been hundreds more who have contributed as well.

“There are so many people who can look back and say ‘I was involved with that,'” Linscott said.

Funds are raised through admissions, snack shacks located throughout the complex, the annual Bob Burns golf tournament and donations. Much of the work at the complex is donated or offered at a cut rate.

“When you spread it out over 40 years, the drain on taxpayers has been almost negligible,” Linscott said.

Each of of the organizations throughout the complex operates as a separate entity under the CARA umbrella. Most at one time or another stepped forward and asked to join. In the late 1990s, a group of soccer enthusiasts petitioned to build a field at the north end of Piggery Road. The plan grew to three Olympic sized fields which were completed in 2002 and today not only host high school games but serve several schools in the area during the summer as well as youth leagues.

The complex not only serves Augusta residents but athletes throughout central Maine who enter teams in various leagues, including Augusta Babe Ruth and the Capital Area Youth Softball Association (CAYSA).

CARA paved the mile-long Piggery Road several years ago and it’s used daily by joggers and walkers who enjoy the hundreds of trees and scrubs have been planted by CARA volunteers to enhance the beauty of the complex.

One of the reasons for the organization’s success has been its dedication to constantly improve existing facilities while adding to them. Latest on CARA’s wish list is a plan to build three softball fields on a 17-acre parcel of land at the north end of the complex and convert two existing softball fields for youth baseball. Both moves are expected to enhance existing leagues while also attracting more statewide tournaments.

It’s not unusual during the spring to see a half dozen baseball and softball games underway along the road.

“It’s pretty impressive when you go over there on a weeknight and see all those fields being used,” Linscott said.

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