Trolleys have a way of instantly transporting us back to the golden age of Maine summers, when suntans were considered healthful, bathing suits left everything to the imagination, and the boom box was yet to be invented. You can get a ride through those good old days on Wednesday and Thursday nights in July and August when the Seashore Trolley Museum in Wells opens at 7 p.m. for trolley rides and ice cream. Aimed at families, these jaunts are a steal at only $3.50, which barely covers a single ice cream these days. Call 207-967-2712 for details.Maine's Birthplace
Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the French arrival in Maine, and the event was marked by a celebration at the Saint Croix International Historic Site near Calais. Never heard of it? That's because until last year the venerable federal park just off Route 1 was not much more than a parking lot and picnic area with a view. The vista is of Saint Croix Island, a small rock in the middle of the river where Samuel de Champlain, Lieutenant General Sieur de Mons, and Pierre Dugua attempted to start a French colony in 1604. Like many subsequent explorers, these men found the climate Down East a bit harsh for their liking and didn't make it here more than a year. (Champlain, who would go on to chart and name just about everything east of the Penobscot River, described the weather as "six months of winter.") Though the explorers retreated, they opened the door for a flood of French settlers to follow, which led to the establishment of Acadia, a region encompassing Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. The celebration of St. Croix's quadrennial last year prompted the federal government to finally take notice of this historic site. "It took an act of Congress," says Saint Croix Historic Site park ranger Meg Scheid with a laugh. "Congress appropriated funds, and the park service is making it happen. They've made a commitment to the state and the community to upgrade the site and give it a sense of permanence." To that end, the National Park Service has hired full-time staff for the first time. It has erected shelters, improved restrooms, set up a tabletop model of the settlement that the French built, and established an interpretive trail that includes larger-than-life statues of Champlain and his cohorts. Local boat operators have added trips around the island - which is too ecologically and archaeologically sensitive to handle crowds of visitors - giving anyone with an interest in Maine's French heritage a nice day's outing. "The boat trips are great because you see the island the way that Champlain saw it - from the water," says Scheid, who recommends that people contact the Calais Visitor's Center for boat tour information (207-454-2211). Since the arrival of the French to the area had an even larger impact on our neighbors to the north and east - hence the word international - Parks Canada has its own displays on the opposite shore, offering a different perspective on the historic event and making for a compelling side trip. For more information about the park itself call the Saint Croix International Historic Site at 207-454-3871 or visit the Web at www.nps.gov/sacr/ You're the Organist
What'll it be? A Bach fugue? A Latin Mass? The Phantom of the Opera? It's up to you when you're seated at the world-famous Kotzschmar Organ in Portland's Merrill Auditorium. On a handful of days in summer, the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ host "open console" days during which you can enjoy a half hour on the house organ. And this isn't just any organ. A gift to the city of Portland from publishing magnate Cyrus Curtis, it was the second largest organ in the world when it was installed in Portland's City Hall Auditorium in 1912. We're talking 6,862 pipes in eight divisions - swell, great, solo, orchestral, antiphonal, echo, pedal, percussion - and walk-in wind chests. It remains one of the great instruments of the world, and it's yours to play for a fee ($35 last year). Friends of the Kotzschmar Executive Director Russell Burleigh says the cost will likely be the same this year and that the dates for the four opportunities have yet to be scheduled. But they'll happen between mid-June and the end of August. "The open console time is part of a tour we give of the organ, which includes a visit backstage inside the wind chests, and a concert by organist Ray Cornils or one of the other organists he lines up," says Burleigh. "They're very successful. People love it." Strap yourself on to this magnificent noisemaker and you'll see why. Visit the Friends site - www.foko.org
- fordetails.Where to Launch
Mainers know that there's a lot more to the state's boat launches than, well, boat launching. Some people who don't even own watercraft find themselves seeking out these lake-, pond-, river-, and ocean-side spots. Many public landings do double duty as places for picnicking, sightseeing, swimming (sometimes restricted), making pit stops in your travels, and, yes, putting in your kayak or canoe or motor launch. The DeLorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer has a small icon to show you where these 400-some sites can be found, but the symbol is just that, small, and the maps don't provide any more information than simply the location. If you print out the Maine Department of Public Lands' list of boat launches, however, and tuck it into your DeLorme, you're really in business. This handy list on the agency's Web site - www.state.me.us/doc/parks/programs/boating/sitelist.html
- gives a bit of detail for each locale. It'll show you if a launch has a bathroom and what it can accommodate boatwise (trailers, carry-in, floats, etc). You can also get a brochure sent to you if you're not big on Web browsing. 207-287-4952.Free in Freeport
Does Suzanne Vega wear Bean boots? The famed folk-pop singer certainly had the opportunity to buy a pair when she played a performance right in front of the Freeport outfitter a couple of summers ago. Whatever she sports on her feet, Ms. Vega hasn't been the only top-level talent to make an appearance in Bean's small plaza in recent years. South Africa's exceptional a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, folkie Livingston Taylor, and Celtic group Altan each played outdoors on a Saturday or Sunday evening last year. The music will go on again this summer in the L.L. Bean Summer Concert Series' sixth season. The shows are scheduled for Saturday evenings (and the occasional Sunday) at 7:30, right in Discovery Park, which is the tiny green in front of Bean, from the Fourth of July through August. Of course, Bean is hoping you'll bring your credit card (and venture into the store), but the events themselves are free. Check the company's Web site - www.llbean.com
-for the line up or call L.L. Bean Events at 800-559-0747 ext.37222. A similar though unrelated series, Alive at Five, happens in Portland at 5 p.m. on Thursdays from July 7 to mid-August. Last year alt-country singer Shelby Lynne, jam band Strangefolk, and reggae legend Toots and the Maytals all entertained crowds for free in Monument Square. Check Portland newspapers for this year's lineup or contact the Portland Downtown District (207-772-6828) for more info.