AUGUSTA — Hundreds of visitors gathered on a bright Sunday morning to feast on home-cooked food and support the Viles Arboretum at its annual Table Tour event.

The arboretum and botanical garden sits on 224 acres off Hospital Street, adjacent to the Piggery, and offers 6 miles of trails. On Sunday, visitors assembled at the nonprofit’s headquarters before embarking on a 5-mile journey around the outer loop on the property. Set up along the way: Four stations, each with a bonfire and a group of volunteers dishing out hot, homemade delicacies.

Visitors and dogs sample food Sunday on the trails at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta during its annual Table Tour fundraiser.

Executive Director Mark Desmeules said the event is Viles’ largest fundraiser. Like many iterations before it, the 2020 Viles Arboretum Table Tour sold out Sunday, with 230 tickets going quickly.

“It brings in about $5,000 and we’re a small nonprofit,” he said. “It makes a very big difference.”

The event, which was held for the 16th time Sunday, is always on the same day as the Super Bowl, making the weather unpredictable. Visitors were treated well by Mother Nature on Sunday — with plenty of sunshine and temperatures above freezing.

Groups of 10 to 15 hikers, some equipped with walking sticks, embarked from the headquarters. A 15-minute walk over crunchy snow and minimal ice brought them to the first station, which provided Mexican-themed dishes, including tacos and chili. Cindy and James Wright of Augusta said the food was tasty, reminding them of a talented home chef or a restaurant.

The Wrights told the Kennebec Journal they visit the Arboretum at least 10 times a year and donate money to ensure it remains operational. Cindy Wright said they often bring their six grandchildren to the arboretum.

“It’s extremely important,” she said. “We have the grandkids and it’s nice to bring them up and have a walk.”

Kim Bennett of Westbrook and her dog, Gladys, attended the event with a large group from the Fit Maine Social Group, based in Portland. She said group administrators post upcoming events on social media, usually leading to the group meeting once a week.

James Wright and his wife, Cindy, walk with poles Sunday across a field at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta during the annual Table Tour fundraiser.

Bennett said Sunday was the second time she has attended the Table Tour event. She said she loved the first event, especially because there was more snow on the ground than this year.

“It’s just a great way to bring awareness to the arboretum and also be outside and enjoy the day,” she said. “Food always tastes better outside.”

After the walk, visitors were treated to live music and desserts donated by local businesses, including Panera Bread in Augusta and the Liberal Cup in Hallowell.

The Viles Arboretum is open year-round at no charge.

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