Opinion

Maine’s first state park

By Kimberly R. Smith

I am often overhead telling folks that Presque Isle has amazing history for a small, rural and geographically remote community with direct ties to state, national and international history.  And much of that involves “firsts.”  For instance, were you aware that Aroostook State Park located right here in Presque Isle is Maine’s first state park?  

It was established in 1938 with the donation of 100 acres of land by business men from the Presque Isle Merchants Association.  The donation of land came only three years after the formation of the Maine State Park Commission.  Maine’s Governor Horace Hildreth actually came to Presque Isle to officially dedicate the park.  

Typically, a state establishes a state park to preserve a specific location because it offers natural beauty or great recreational potential and sometimes even historic interest.  

Following the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created a program known as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of his ‘New Deal’.  The WPA was intended to put roughly 8.5 million Americans back to work.  The workers, mostly unskilled men carried out public works infrastructure projects such as new schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, storm drains, and sewer lines.  

The mountain south of town now known as Quoggy Jo, but originally named Qua Qua Jo, a Native American phrase meaning ‘twin-peaked’, served as our area’s first downhill ski slope.  In fact, it was a 35-man crew from the WPA that built the park’s first ski runs in the 1930s.  A little known fact is that the WPA crew also began work on a ski jump on the northern slope of the mountain.  However, this project was ultimately abandoned when it was determined that the slope of the jump was too steep and, therefore, unsafe.

It is said that there is geological evidence of volcanic origins at the park.  It is also said that at some point in time, people actually panned for gold at the site.

Today, Maine’s Bureau of Parks and Lands oversees 48 state parks and historic states.  Aroostook State Pak now consists of a total of 898 acres, the most recent 145.6 acres of which were added in 2009.  This pristine park offers its 20,000 plus annual visitors so much to do including camping, hiking, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, fishing, swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, and birding.  

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.

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