Beachgoers, campers enjoy gift from Mother Nature

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

FINAL SPLASH? — From left to right, Windham resident Aidan Hatch, 11, Frank Tirney, 8, and Jack Tirney, 11, spend Columbus Day having adventures at the beach. The trio was at the Sebago Lake State Park day-use area, where high temperatures brought people outdoors. (De Busk Photo)

NAPLES — On Columbus Day, as temperatures flirted with a record high set 60 years ago, a Maine family climbed aboard the boat that waited dockside at the Sebago Lake State Park public boat launch in Naples.

“This is crazy weather. It’s October, and we’re in bathing suits,” said mom Sherry Weeks of Windham.

The Weeks family typically tries to get in a few late season boat rides; and Monday’s unseasonably warm weather was a big bonus, according to dad Josh Weeks.

There are several advantages to October boat rides — it is less crowded, the water is not as choppy from boat activity, and the fall foliage is visible, Josh Weeks said.

The travel itinerary was to go up the Songo River, and continue to Long Lake, and have lunch somewhere. Was swimming part of the plan?

Mariah Weeks, age 13, said, “yes,” she planned to take a swim sometime during the boat ride. Plus, she had her best friend along to cheer her on or take a plunge in the water, too.

Dad calculated the water temperature was probably around 62 degrees. With the 80-degree sunshine, he might be more tempted “to jump into the lake,” he said.

Sherry Weeks was cautious, “I’ll probably touch the water and change my mind,” she said.

On Monday — with children out of school for the holiday — the high temperature of 81 degrees tied the state record set in 1949, according to the National Weather Service.

At Sebago State Park Campground, the fair weather bolstered the number of campers, according to Park Manager Andy Haskell. Typically, about 70 campsites are occupied during the Columbus Day weekend, but “due to the weather” that number was higher this year, Haskell said. This past weekend, 90 campsites were occupied compared to approximately 70 sites in 2010, 30 in 2009, and around 70 in 2008. In 2009, the rainy weather discouraged campers, Haskell said.

The day-use numbers showed that about 300 vehicles drove through on Saturday, and more than 400 vehicles traveled past the booth on Sunday. The vehicle count by midmorning Monday was 250. It is difficult to calculate how many individuals engaged in recreational activities at the day-use area, because only vehicles are counted, Haskell said.

However, the parking lot at the boat launch was packed on Sunday, he said.

“On Sunday, there were people swimming at the campground beach and at the day-use area,” he said.

On Monday, three boys raced barefoot across the long stretch of sandy beach in the day-use area. One of the pre-teenage boys sported a boogie board, and another was carrying an insect-catching net. They were wet from swimming.

The group of friends from Windham and South Portland said they frequent Pine Point as well as Crescent and Scarborough beaches, but Big Sebago Lake is their favorite fresh water venue.

“It’s the last warm weather of the year, and you gotta get out in it,” Windham resident Aidan Hatch, age 11, said, adding that the water temperature “feels warm once you’re in.”

His friend Jack Tirney, also 11, of South Portland, said the benefit of going to Sebago Lake in October is “there are not many people at the beach.”

“You have the whole beach to yourself,” Tirney and Hatch said at the same time.

“And, your parents don’t have to worry about you getting lost ’cause they can see you ’cause there isn’t a huge crowd of people,” Tirney said.

According to Aidan’s mom, Megin Hatch, the group’s Columbus Day plans were definitely weather-dependent and spontaneous.

“We decided at 10 o’clock this morning,” she laughed. “We come here when the sun is out, and it’s nice and warm, and we don’t have to go to school. The kids just wanted another opportunity to be near the water.”

About 200 yards away, a family of four stepped out of the water and wrapped themselves in over-sized towels. At the east end of the beach, a man waded in the water while conducting business on a cell phone.

As noon rolled around, numerous vehicles pulled into the day-use area. Most people headed first to the picnic tables and spread out pre-made lunches. A few children carried beach toys, and went straight to the sand instead.

On Monday, the boat launch was busy, with a truck hauling a marine vessel pulling into place as soon as a group of boaters finished launching or wrapped up their water excursion for the day.

This was an end-of-the-season outing for most boating enthusiasts. For the Sirois family, the weekend weather extended the use of their boat.

“We don’t take the boat out after the end of August,” said Kathy Sirois, a Minot resident enjoying the day with her husband and their teenage daughter and son.

“If it is above 80 degrees, we like to go into the (Songo) Lock, turn around and go out into Sebago,” said dad Lyndon Sirois, adding the Frye Island Café is a favorite stop. The family excursion would include lunch somewhere.

“Our intention is to stay out on the lake for about three or four hours,” Lyndon said. “No swimming for me today.”

Lyndon’s daughter and son were already sitting in the boat while the family waited until the launch area was clear.

His daughter, Stephanie, 15, said she was wearing her swimsuit underneath her clothes, and she planned to jump in the water when the boat was anchored in Sebago Lake.

Lyndon said the boat was going in storage after this surprise boating weather in October.

Lester Hawkes docked his 16-foot Mustang boat, and then pulled it out of the water.

“Oh yeah, this will be the end of it for us,” the Raymond resident said.

He and his wife, Rowena, had picked up their seven-year-old grandson for a Columbus Day boat ride.

“We wanted to take him out in our boat,” Rowena said.

Actually, the boy got to drive the boat for the first time, Grandma said. Also, her grandson Ethan had a lucky day. At age seven, he saw seven loons and three or four Cormorants.

Two tourists walking along a trail said they hoped to see some loons on the lake.

Debbie, of Pennsylvania, and Bill, of Colorado, had purchased a bird-watching guide that listed the state park as a good spot for birding. They had seen some mallards and a flock of geese earlier. Debbie was looking forward to seeing a loon. They planned to go to another “spot that is popular for birding” in Lewiston, Bill said.

As far as swimming, they decided to leave that to the waterfowl, and a few Maine-raised children who knew this weekend could likely be the last of the summer’s heat.

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