Sunday, September 26, 2010

Maine – Aroostook County

Expansive, remote and sparsely populated, Aroostook County is an undiscovered gem, rich in heritage and a treasure for outdoor sports-minded folks. The County, as it’s called, is larger in area than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined and is bounded by Maine’s North Woods and two Canadian provinces. It’s a region that encourages you to slow down and enjoy the good life.
In winter, deep snow blankets the hills and fields, providing unparalleled snowmobiling, snowshoeing and Nordic skiing. Snowmobilers come from far and wide for the International Snowmobile Festival, held annually in Madawaska. Dogsledders come in March for the Can-Am Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent, a qualifier for the grueling Iditarod.
When the snow melts, the 100 mile long Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the free-flowing St John River beckon paddlers. The Meduxnekeag River is a must for whitewater aficionados during spring runoff. Hiking is abundant at state parks and preserves such a Deboullie Mountain. Hikers share the St John Valley Heritage Trail and the Bangor-Aroostook Valley Trails with mountain bikers. The Fish River Chain of Lakes is favored by salmon and trout fishermen. And for an afternoon of walking and learning, visit the Arthur E. Howell Wildlife Conservation Center and Spruce Acres Refuge, a haven for injured or orphaned wildlife.
Summer is the time to celebrate the region’s heritage and rural life. At New Sweden’s Sommarfest, the descendants of Swedish settlers welcome the Solstice as their ancestors did. Madawaska’s Acadian Festival, in June, focuses on the reunion of a local Acadian family, often attracting thousands of far-flung descendants. Fort Fairfield hosts the Potato Blossom Festival, named for the lovely white flowers that blanket the fields with promise of the fall harvest. The Northern Maine Fair in Presque Isle, held in August, has been celebrating agriculture and lumbering in The County since 1854.
In Houlton, walk through the Market Square Historic Business District, with 28 architecturally significant buildings dating from 1885 to 1910. In Island Falls, visit the Webb Museum of Vintage Fashion, a Victorian house chockfull of antique clothing and accessories. The region’s logging heritage is chronicled at the Lumberman’s Museum, in Patten. The Fort Kent Blockhouse, built in 1839, is a remnant of the bloodless Aroostook War, a border dispute between the US and Canada that lasted for years. While in Presque Isle, stop by the University of Maine and Canadian Artists. For a taste of farm life with an emphasis on old-time ways, tour the Knott-II-Bragg Farm, in Wade.

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