GRAY — Good news: After a two-month pandemic delay, the Maine Wildlife Park officially opens to visitors Monday.

Not-so-good news: Entry is by reservation only and every reservation for June has been taken.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which operates the park, began accepting reservations online June 5. The spots were filled within a few days.

“We did book up really quickly, which is kind of what I was afraid would happen. Of course we love having visitors at the park, that’s why we have the park and why we work really hard to operate the park,” said Emily MacCabe, director of information and education for the department. “So it is kind of disappointing not to be able to accommodate everyone who wants to come initially.”

Reservations are free to make; the park’s entrance fee is still paid at the gate. The reservation system staggers arrivals every 15 minutes to prevent crowds gathering at the entrance and it limits attendance to 250 people per day to minimize the chances of a COVID-19 spread. Normally, the park serves up to 1,000 people a day.

Canceled reservation slots are reposted online, but visitors have to be very lucky — or very quick — to get one.

“A slot will open up and almost immediately someone nabs it,” MacCabe said.

Home to more than 30 species of animals, including moose, deer and eagles, the park is very popular with families and tourists. It normally opens in April, but the park delayed opening this year because of the pandemic.

“I had to take a step back and figure out how we could open with a somewhat limited capacity but also make sure we could keep all our guests, our volunteers, our staff and even our wildlife safe,” MacCabe said.

Reservations seemed like a way to open the park with lower risk.

However, that may change. The department will evaluate the reservation system over the next two weeks and decide whether to keep it or make changes for July.

“We are letting people know that if we continue with the reservation system, by … the week of June 22 we’ll either open up more dates into July or we’ll increase the number of reservations that we take or whatever we decide is the best option,” MacCabe said.

For visitors who do have a reservation or are able to visit later this summer, the park has made some paths one-way, posted signs reminding visitors to keep their distance from each other, installed hand sanitizing stations and closed some buildings that were too small to allow for social distancing. All animal exhibits will be open.

For those who can’t visit right away — or just want a little extra time watching the moose — the park has posted virtual field trips online.


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