In its fifth year, the Park Quest program run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources closed its registration for 1,000 families last Monday in less than two hours.
Told that the spots went as fast as Springsteen tickets, program director Barb Knisely said, "That's what everyone is saying."
Those signed up for the free program have between May 26 and Sept. 3 to complete 10 quests at the 23 participating state parks in order to qualify for the program's Rendezvous extravaganza at Patapsco State Park on Sept. 29. Activities along the way include kayaking, hiking, biking, riding horseback and scavenger hunts.
Knisely said three state parks — Rocks, North Point and Dan's Mountain in Western Maryland — will be part of the program for the first time.
"We try to keep it fresh for the families," she said.
Knisely said DNR officials will discuss opening the program up to more families next year. The number of families who signed up — and thus get into the parks free of charge — was increased from 750 to 1,000 last year. Knisely stressed that families shut out of registration this year can still pay a daily fee to get into the park and participate, but they would not be allowed to attend the Rendezvous program.
Families are allowed a maximum of 10 "team" members, and those who were not able to register are allowed to join teams that currently have fewer than 10 members.
Knisely said social media has become an integral part of the Park Quest program's success.
"There is a large networking group out there, and we have our own Facebook page [facebook.com/ParkQuestMaryland] where families share information about the quests they've done, as well as other activities in the area," Knisely said.