Prizes punctuate the end of Md. park challenges

September 11, 2010|By Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

Most of us who love the outdoors think being out there is its own reward. But Wheel of Fortune had nothing on Maryland's Department of Natural Resources in the prize department yesterday.

With sunny skies and big blue skies providing a spectacular backdrop, fishing gear and camping trips practically flew into the hands of anglers and state park users as two popular summer competitions ended their annual runs.

At Sandy Point State Park, more than 600 anglers and their families camped out on the grassy edge of the beach to see if they might win one of the Maryland Fishing Challenge grand prizes or a door prize ponied up by sponsors. To the north at Gunpowder Falls State Park, laughing families armed with checklists ran from woods to field to complete as many tasks possible at the Park Quest Finale and its 10 top prizes.

Losers? Well, one guy who registered at Sandy Point didn't stick around for the grand prize drawing and missed out on a 1-in-5 chance of winning a Caribbean fishing trip for two or a boat and trailer.

The latter ended up going to Garret Boylan, a 13-year-old from Finksburg with sports commitments but whose father was wise enough to enlist a proxy, who drew the winning hand and then called from the stage to break the news.

"No way," said Maurice Boylan, the assistant women's coach at McDaniel College and former head coach at McDonogh School when proxy Cathy Gerring put him on speaker phone.

"Way," said Gerring, laughing. "So you've got to take me fishing, babe."

Boylan said his son caught a 15-inch white perch at Liberty Reservoir in February to qualify for the contest.

"I'm speechless," said Maurice Boylan. "It was a shot in the dark. We drove an hour and a half [to attend the finale], and now my little boy won a boat."

Another youngster, James Vogel III, 9, of Conowingo won a top prize of outdoors gear. He qualified by reeling in a 21-inch smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River.

Paul Gilbert of Unionville, Pa., took the place of the no-show finalist and joined Howard James of Georgetown, Del., as a winner of an outdoors prize packages. Rounding out the top five, Kurt Hofschild of Pasadena got an all expenses paid fishing trip to Tobago.

The winning continued at the Hammerman area of Gunpowder Falls State Park, where 100 families showed off their outdoors skills to compete in the Park Quest Finale.

In just its third season and with no marketing budget, Park Quest has boomed in popularity, from six Eastern Shore parks to 24 parks spread from Deep Creek lake to the Atlantic Ocean. Registration last spring maxed out at 750 teams in just days. Disappointed would-be Questers vowed to be quicker on the draw next year.

To qualify for the finale, families had from Memorial Day to Labor Day to complete 10 Quests, ranging from map reading skills and history lessons to paddling exercises and geocaching.

One hundred forty teams qualified. Sixteen families hit all 24.

After a week off, yesterday was more of the same, with casting competitions, compass accuracy tests and a firefighting competition among the 19 activities.

"People are getting to know the state of Maryland in a different way," said Ranger Lt. Gary Adelhardt, one of the founders of the Quest. "They've become acquainted with new parks and found new places and things at parks they thought they knew."

As someone who participated in this year's Park Quest in an unofficial capacity (All 24 parks in seven days: boys and girls, do not try this at home.), I agree.

For example, St. Clemens Island was always on my to-do list, but it took the Quest to get me motivated. Now I can't wait to go back and take another boat ride, this time with a picnic lunch. The aviary at Cunningham Falls State Park is another one I'll circle back on, maybe with some rented children. Ditto South Mountain Battlefield and Fort Frederick. And Swallow Falls State Park had me at hello.

I did the bulk of my Questing alone. I can only imagine how much fun it is to share with folks.

This year's Quest motto was, "Where a Family Becomes a Team," and many groups working on their Hammerman checklists wore hand-decorated T-shirts that incorporated their name: Clan McCormick, Bay Bougheys, Team Singleton, Martini Time (at least I think the last one was a family, not a social, statement).

When the Questing ended for the final time this year, everyone gathered for ice cream and a group photo before the names were drawn for the 10 top prizes.

"We feel a connection with you more than others because you're Questers, you made a commitment, said Superintendent Nita Settina to thunderous cheers. "We are your nature close to home. This is where you'll set a tradition with your family and your kids will someday set a tradition with their children."

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