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Memory makers

Old fun times become the next generation’s new fun times

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / April 11, 2010

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Childhood’s rites of passage change with the seasons in New England, but not with the years. In summer, that includes road trips to Maine. Known for its lobster, lighthouses, natural beauty, and wild blueberries, the Pine Tree State has plenty of places that make long, are-we-there-yet trips worthwhile.

These kid-friendly attractions are infused with Maine’s unique spirit. Sometimes that means returning to older, simpler times at a blueberry festival, historic lighthouse, Colonial fort, family farm, or logging camp. Or it might mean taking a fresh look at the state and all it offers from atop an observatory tower, inside a humpback whale, or on a Ferris wheel.

Old Orchard Beach-Palace Playland (Old Orchard Beach) With classic midway games, fortune tellers, roller coasters, and tamer rides for toddlers, Old Orchard Beach offers a dizzying array of amusements. It can be old-fashioned fun for all ages. The Ferris wheel provides scenic views of New England’s only beachfront amusement park. More than a dozen rides in “Kiddie Land’’ cater to smaller children, though most have minimum height requirements. And there are the games. “For really young kids, getting tickets out of the machine is almost better than playing the game,’’ said Playland owner Joel Golder of popular ticket-redemption games like Skeeball. On summer Thursday nights and the Fourth of July, visitors can enjoy fireworks with traditional carnival treats like fried dough and cotton candy or beachfront favorites like fried clams and lobster. 1 Old Orchard St., 207-934-2001, www.palaceplayland.com, tickets required for rides, $1.15/ticket, $21.50/20 tickets, $28.95/unlimited, single-day pass for all rides

Great Maine Lumberjack Show (Trenton) Log rolling, ax throwing, and speed climbing take center stage here. Paying tribute to the area’s proud logging history, the 75-minute show features two teams competing in 12 events. Kids can cheer for their favorite team. Or, they can participate in crosscut sawing and receive a junior lumberjack certificate. One-hour lessons introduce different lumberjack skills. “It’s the only place in the world where you can walk off the street and take lessons in log rolling and ax throwing,’’ said owner Tina “Timber Tina’’ Scheer, a former “Survivor’’ contestant. Scheer recommends children be 5 or older for lessons, but any child able to walk on stage and hold a saw can take part in the show. 127 Bar Harbor Road, 207-667-0067, www.mainelumberjack.com, daily (rain or shine) June 19-Sept. 5 at 7 p.m., adults $9.25, children ages 4-11 $6.75, under 4 free

Children’s Museum of Maine (Portland) It wouldn’t be Maine without lobster boats. And the Children’s Museum has a pint-sized vessel perfect for young visitors. The replica lobster boat allows kids to play captain and haul in traps. “We feel each children’s museum in the US should represent its home place and speak to the community in which it exists,’’ said Suzanne Olson, executive director. “For Maine people, the sense of place is really important.’’ To learn about life in the Gulf of Maine, visitors can walk inside a life-sized, inflatable humpback whale. Other interactive exhibits let kids play fireman, mechanic, farmer, veterinarian, postman, and astronaut. And parents and kids find it tough to leave the “Have a Ball!’’ exhibit devoted to the science of motion. 142 Free St., 207-828-1234, www.kitetails.org, admission $8, under 1 year free

Burnt Island Living Lighthouse (Boothbay Harbor) Travel back to 1950 when lighthouse keeper Joseph Muise and his family helped ensure that ships passed safely through the harbor. The lighthouse is a living history museum where a “family’’ of interpreters talk about daily duties. During the three-hour tour (including water taxi to the island), visitors venture around the house and up the spiral staircase to the lantern room. Kids like to try out the double-tub “washing machine’’ with scrub board and ringer. “We want them to connect with the family and experience the past through the living history,’’ said Elaine Jones, lighthouse education director. The lighthouse is situated on a five-acre island where visitors can also explore local flora and fauna and learn about fisheries. Tours take place Monday and Thursday afternoons beginning July 5. 42 Commercial St./Pier 8 for water taxi pickup, 207-633-2284, www.maine.gov/dmr/burntisland/index.htm, adults $22, 3-11 $12

Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Observatory (Prospect) This Fort Knox was built to protect the Penobscot River against potential attack by the British Navy. Park manager Mike Wilusz cites the underground passageways and 15-inch-diameter Rodman cannon as kid favorites. “A small child that goes down there and looks at the cannon can actually fit inside the barrel,’’ said Wilusz. Replica cannon firings take place during reenactments. Speed from the past to the present in a one-minute ride on Maine’s fastest elevator to the tallest public bridge-observatory in the world open to the public. The Penobscot Narrows Observatory deck is 420 feet high. Below, visitors see the river and the land once protected by the fort. Admission to the observatory is at the fort. 740 Fort Knox Road, 207-469-7719, fortknox.maineguide.com. For Fort Knox only adults $4.50, seniors $1.50, 5-11 $1, 4 and under free; for fort and observatory, $7, $4, $3, and free

Machias Wild Blueberry Festival (Machias) Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of laundry-conscious parents like the pie-eating contest at this festival. Competitors are selected by lottery in four age groups: 7-10, 11-14, 15-18, and adults. For 35 years, the festival has celebrated Down East’s place as the country’s “wild blueberry capital.’’ “The festival is reminiscent of a time when there was a slower pace,’’ said chairperson Ellen Farnsworth. “A lot of families appreciate having that weekend to slow down and do lots of fun and funny things. The pie-eating contest is pretty funny.’’ If visitors prefer cooking over eating, they can enter the festival baking contest with prizes for kids’ entries. Other, less-messy activities include a children’s parade, puppet show, balloon sculptor, blueberry musical, and road race. 9 Center St., 207-255-6665, www.machiasblueberry.com, Aug. 20-22, free

Smiling Hill Farm (Westbrook) This environmentally-conscious, family-run farm invites kids to its petting zoo, small playground, and ice cream shop. Despite its 500-acre setting, Smiling Hill has a laid-back, intimate feel that works well for young children. On a hot summer day, the farm’s homemade, all-natural ice cream is a well-known Maine favorite. Kids can enjoy fun flavors like bubble gum and root beer. “The kids get to experience a farm and I’m coming to realize how precious that is,’’ said Warren Knight, whose family owns and operates Smiling Hill. “They get to see the barn, the tractors, things moving around, and what happens on a working farm.’’ With Smiling Hill a 15-minute drive from downtown Portland, it’s a quick, easy, and tasty excursion. 781 County Road, 800-743-7463, www.smilinghill.com, free

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.