War games at an old fort Gail French...

A MEMORABLE PLACE

April 08, 2001

A MEMORABLE PLACE

War games at an old fort

Gail French

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

More than 30 years ago, when my children were young, we lived near Cape Elizabeth, Maine. One of our favorite forms of recreation was to go to nearby Fort Williams, an abandoned Army base that overlooks Portland harbor and borders Portland Head Light.

Fort Williams had been Portland's main defense from 1899 until 1950, when its mission was changed from a harbor defense post to a logistical and administrative support installation. In 1962, it was closed and stood abandoned until 1979, when it was made into a park.

The original fort sprawled across 90 acres. Often, we could explore the entire fort without ever coming close to the handful of other visitors. The bunkers and buildings were in disrepair, but they were safe for our climbing, exploring, playing "war" and hide-and-seek. We would have a picnic on the boulders and play games and hide among the crevices and outcroppings. Sometimes, we would just sit and enjoy the view.

We would run on the grassy areas that were once used as parade grounds, and in the spring we would pick dandelion greens and take them home to eat. The small beach, although not safe for swimming, was safe for wading. There, the children would use shells and driftwood to build interesting structures in the sand.

We moved away before the fort was turned into a park, but over the years we have visited regularly, and each visit we see improvements. We also see the numbers of people visiting the park increasing.

My son's family now lives near the fort, and just as my children and I did, my grandchildren and I continue to climb all things climbable, to play "war" and to build in the sand. It is often hard to keep up with the youngsters as they run and climb, but nothing will convince them that I can't -- so I do.

We play hard at the park, and after a picnic, we walk along the newly designated nature trails to visit the lighthouse and its grounds. My grandchildren conclude our adventure by playing on the playground toys.

Fort Williams is still one of my favorite places in the world, and as my grandchildren wait their turns to play on the playground toys, I close my eyes and imagine that the fort is once again an abandoned derelict inhabited only by us.

Gail French lives in Columbia.

MY BEST SHOT

Glacier grinds forward

Sara Westrick, Severna Park

The Perito Moreno glacier, in Glacier National Park in Argentina, is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world. As the glacier grinds along and calves, it makes noises that sound like explosions. I recommend a 'mini-trekking' excursion to actually walk on top of the glacier.

READERS RESPOND

What are your favorite tips for traveling with pets?

Amy and Robert Sugg, Severn

"Our four dogs frequently travel with us on day trips, camping trips and vacations. We fill a cooler with ice cubes and keep it in the back, open for them. We also have a "doggie bag" that includes snacks, towels, leashes and copies of vaccination records. And when we go boating, our dogs always wear their life preservers. The dogs love to go anywhere!"

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