MILLINOCKET, Maine -- A record 300-plus people lined up for the annual ritual of reserving cabins, lean-tos, and tent spaces at Baxter State Park for next summer.
Many of the campers bundled in subzero sleeping bags and giant parkas on hard-packed snow outside the Katahdin Inn for the last so-called "opening day," where people begin lining up on New Year's Day to get reservations for the entire May 15-Oct. 15 camping season.
Chaitanya York of Union said the event has mushroomed from years past, when only die-hard park enthusiasts braved the elements for the chance of signing up for a prime camping spot on a prime date.
While waiting to have his number called out over a loudspeaker Friday morning, York recalled how he once showed up at 4:30 the morning of the event and was fifth in line. This year, he arrived at 8:30 the night before and was No. 81.
"It says something really encouraging about people," York said. "Life is so hectic, but there's just something about the wild that calls to people's souls."
"Opening day," the first day of reservations, is the busiest day of the year for park staff, according to Chief Ranger Chris Drew. Close to 30 staff members and volunteers spent Friday guiding people through preregistration at the inn and the trip down the street to Baxter park headquarters to choose a campsite.
This is the final year for the first-come, first-served system of reservations. After this, the all-nighters required for choice camping reservations at the park could become a thing of the past.
Beginning next year, a rolling reservation system will be implemented that will spread out the stressful process for park staff and make it more equitable for visitors who can't attend the mad dash for campsites on opening day.
The staggered system for the most part won't allow people to make reservations more than four months in advance. For example, reservations for July 15 won't be taken prior to March 15.
Campers will also be limited to seven days at any one campground, instead of the current 14 days.
After taking a couple of days off from work to capture the coveted first place in line, Bruce Geroux of Veazie said the experience is well worth it.
Geroux, who slept in a sleeping bag on a chaise lounge in 10-degree temperatures, said opening day gives him a chance to share stories and camaraderie with people he sees only once a year. Even with the coming changes, Geroux plans to come back on next year's opening day, which will be Jan. 18, to make reservations.
Park director Irvin "Buzz" Caverly said 224 reservations were taken by the end of Friday, and an overtime crew would be brought in over the weekend. Caverly said 79 percent of the reservations went to Maine residents, and 21 percent went to out-of-state residents.