If you ever drive to Rangeley, Maine (a mere 1,262 miles from my home) don't tell your GPS to take you to Main Street. Instead, set your course for Pond Street.
That's where you'll find the Haley Pond Park Gazebo, Franklin County's answer to Madison Square Garden.
Better yet, look for the AT Community signs on the outskirts of town.
I mean no disrespect. Honest. Living in the country is ... well, different. Community bonfires and s'mores in the winter and outdoor concerts in the summer are highlights of life in what I first believed was northern Maine. Rangeley, however, is 100 miles closer to Montreal, Quebec than Fort Kent, in the true upper reaches of Maine.
A gazebo is as good a place as any to meet friends and semi-neighbors in America's least densely populated state.
Haley Pond Park rocked on Saturday, September 15, 2012, as we gathered together to celebrate the official designation of Rangeley (pronounced "RANGE-lee") as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's newest Appalachian Trail (AT) Community(TM).
We pulled into town as high winds and rain were sending displays and fliers swirling away ... with wet volunteers jumping for their flotsam in a way that reminded me of Panda Bear, my beloved Border Collie, who could leap tall buildings to catch a Frisbee.
The winds died down, memories faded and Suzannah and I made our way to The Gazebo, where we met Judy Morton from the local chamber of commerce.
Having -- in the immortal words of John Wayne -- "burned daylight" trying to arrive at midtown Rangeley, we feared the festivities might have been over. Alas, we missed the Wilderness First Aid discussion, led by NorthStar EMS, and the "What to Do If Lost" seminar by Reggie Hammond, game warden for the State of Maine -- both of which would have come in mighty handy had I not ignored my GPS and accepted Suzannah's kind directions instead.
The sun came out in time for the prepared messages from several dignitaries, and the day grew brighter and happier.
Dr. Drew Barton -- Professor of Biology at the University of Maine at Farmington -- was on hand to sign copies of his book, "The Changing Nature of the Maine Woods." If his book is half as personable and informative as Dr. Barton is in person, it will be a worthy read.
If you have a hard time finding a copy, Click Here to E-Mail Dr. Barton.
The exhibits were quite popular. Representatives from the Maine AT Club (MATC); Maine's AT Land Trust; High Peaks Alliance; Rangeley Ski Club; Northern Forest Canoe Trail; and, Hyperlite Mountain Gear were happy to answer our questions.
The true stars of the show were the thru-hikers, our pungent pals from our peaceful path.
They were honored in true Appalachian Trail fashion: with an ice-cream eating contest at 3 PM, when the munchies are most merciless.
The hiker reunion was a nice touch. I can only imagine how enjoyable it was for folks to share their passion for the AT with one another. Not to mention the ice cream.
Later in the evening there was a (anyone? anyone?) a bonfire and a street dance at (anyone? anyone?) The Gazebo on Pond Street with the bluegrass band, Sandy River Ramblers.
"The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is proud to celebrate communities that are helping to protect and promote the Appalachian Trail," said Julie Judkins, community program manager for the ATC. "These new partnerships will increase local stewardship of public lands, support community initiatives for sustainable economic development and conservation planning as well as support healthy lifestyles for community citizens."
Launched in 2010, the Appalachian Trail Community(TM) program honors communities for their part in promoting and protecting the AT.
The ATC, founded in 1925, is the official protector of the AT -- the 2,181 mile long path from Georgia to Maine. August of 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of the completion of the AT.
When the ATC selected Rangeley to be an Appalachian Trail Community(TM), they chose wisely.
The 4th Annual Appalachian Trail Town Festival in Rangeley, Maine, will honor AT hikers who pass through Rangeley, Maine (the town, not my cute neighbors).
Appalachian Trail hiker, William Appleby, was rescued by Allie Ladd, the Maine Warden Service and others near Rangeley, Maine, on August 14, 2015.
The 5th Annual Rangeley Trail Town Festival is set for the weekend of September 2-3, 2016, in one of the most delightful villages on the Appalachian Trail.