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Reconnect in New England
by Jacky Runice

If nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning, then there’s nothing better than getting your letter informing reunion go-getters that it’s fall in unfettered New England.

Fall is nature’s way of telling us good things — like summer— don’t last forever, but don’t fret — great things may be right around the corner. A fall or early winter reunion far from the madding crowd is more peaceful and economical. The explosion of scarlet and gold leaves, or the gently falling snow while snuggled in your favorite sweater is that much better when you can share it with your family. That’s not to say you shouldn’t consider New England for a spring or summer gathering – all seasons are glorious in the Northeast.

Maine Coast Experience (MCE) is the combination of a lovely resort on Eggemoggin Reach in Brooklin, Maine, and adventures as relaxing or invigorating as desired on the Atlantic shore. Reunion members may engage in activities from whale-watching expeditions to sea-kayaking tours, or simply relax and reconnect in the post-and-beam lodge with ocean views.

The Eggemoggin Lodge invites families and other groups to warm up by the fieldstone fireplace to share the day’s adventures or a lifetime of memories. Three full meals a day are served, created by the on-staff executive chef, scrumptious picnics are created for daily adventurers. Guestrooms are comfortably furnished in traditional New England style and many overlook the mighty Atlantic. Large enough for reunions, the lodge welcomes groups to Maine Coast Experience. You can fish for lobster, hike on beautiful outer islands, or enjoy the ocean and natural resources on Eggemoggin Reach’s picturesque shores. Have a family boat cruise or fishing charter, try birding, bicycling or mountain biking. Each season brings different festivals to the area — the annual Holiday Craft Market, scarecrow festival and harvest celebration are a few autumn treats.

Many groups enjoy this impressive stretch of land in early summer, when the crowds are also scattered. Doris Klauson brought her family of 13 to Eggemoggin. "MCE accommodated all ages, from 12 through 75 years,” she said. "This reunion was one of the better experiences we’ve had and we would recommend it to everyone. And the food was wonderful.”

Paul Spicer and his family were looking at locations around the world to have a special reunion. They researched Maine on the Internet and thought MCE would be "a cool place to go.” Last June they took the plunge and loved the lodge location because it was close to Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park and golfing, a favorite activity of many family members. Of all the activities, however, the lobstering adventure came in first on the enjoyment scale. Visitors glide on Blue Hill and Jericho Bays while lobster fishing with seasoned fishermen and US Coast Guard-licensed captains. You may discover lobsters, rock crabs, starfish and sea urchins among other creatures. Where else can you band and size lobsters while watching seals and sea birds try to snatch the bait?

The Spicer family liked having the lodge to themselves, relaxing and catching up with friends and family. "The service was excellent, the staff was terrific. We would certainly recommend MCE to anyone who is looking for a great place to have a family reunion.”

Becca Orchard and her crew came in on their boat and booked eight rooms at the lodge. While searching for bed and breakfasts on the Internet, they discovered MCE and locked in on it because it looked "different” from all the other places and the boat could be docked on property. Even though the trip wasn’t a particular occasion, the group was thrilled with the friendly, casual atmosphere and the fact they had the whole area to themselves. Orchard and crew recommend MCE for "large group functions and as a place where the purpose is to gather.”



A unique location
Down on the farm

How about a real country reunion? Farm associations are not new and offer a totally different scene from almost any other kind of reunion site. Members of the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association, for example, include farms who raise cows or cattle, poultry or sheep. They are all working farms located throughout the state with families who are eager to share their lifestyle and teach others about the culture and traditions of farming.

The farm vacation program was begun almost 40 years ago in Pennsylvania as a way to help the state's small family farmers develop an additional source of income. It allows them to preserve the rich heritage of small family farming.

For information contact The Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association, c/o Weatherbury Farm, 1061 Sugar Run, Avella PA 15312; 724-587-3762; www.pafarmstay.com.

Some do's and don'ts for farm vacationers
* Do be willing to experience a new way of life.
* Do go to a farm with the expectation of learning a lot from the host family.
* Do live by the host's house rules.
* Do wipe your feet before coming in the house, and instruct your children to do the same.
* Don't keep the farm folks up too late.
* Do take old clothes and a few extra pairs of shoes.
* Don't be upset if your bedroom and bath are on different floors. At least they're both inside!
* Do plan to see the countryside.
* Do bring a supply of games and books, along with appropriate clothes in case of rain.
* Do make your vacation arrangements directly with the farm of your choice.
* Don't forget your camera. There will be plenty of 'firsts' to record for posterity.
* Don't take a pet unless you ask first. City and farm animals don't always get along!
* Do have a great time!

Thanks to the Pennsylvania Farm Vacation Association.


Head East
The 2000 edition of Destination Maryland is a must have guide for those planning trips to the nations' capital. The guide lists virtually every state museum, attraction, historic site and lodging choices. It is information that helps travelers make decisions about how they want to spend their time. The guide also includes an 18-page supplement detailing Maryland's outdoor opportunities. For a free copy contact Maryland Office of Tourism, 217 E Redwood St., Baltimore MD 21202; 800-719-5900.

Reunion groups interested in military history will be delighted with the northeast's military museums. In Manhattan, walking tours of the USS Edison and USS Intrepid are conducted daily. Veterans and teachers bring ID for reduced admission.

The New Jersey National Guard Museum in Sea Girt displays tanks, helicopters and other aircraft from WW II through Desert Storm and features military artifacts dating to the American Revolution. Open weekends, admission is free.

If you tire of driving, visitors to the popular beach and resort areas of New Jersey and Delaware can travel from shore to shore by riding aboard any of five Cape May-Lewes Ferrys. It's a seventy-minute trip across Delaware Bay in a ferry featuring three passenger decks, a 100-seat, glass-enclosed dining area, children's playroom and sun deck. For reservations call while 800-64-FERRY.

As long as you're in the neighborhood, why not turn toward Maryland and the Washington DC area? In addition to capital city's monuments and museums, Maryland offers a host of sights and activities. New this year are Port Discovery, a children's museum in bustling Baltimore, and the return of the USS Constellation, an 1864 sloop-of-war. After an extensive 31-month restoration, the last all-sail war ship ever built by the US Army – and the only remaining Civil War-era naval vessel – is ready to welcome visitors. To receive a free copy of Maryland Celebrates call 800-719-5900.

Another intriguing area is Lancaster County's Pennsylvania Dutch Country where bountiful harvests and tours of Amish areas add a lively flavor to any reunion. For their Group Planners Guide call 717-299-8901; www.800padutch.com.

Because of its history and cosmopolitan flavor, the Robinson Family Reunion selected Washington, DC, for a recent gathering. They especially liked the close proximity of historical, entertainment and cultural attractions. They even used the Capitol Building as their logo on T-shirts, booklets and other items. They used the Liberty Bell as their symbol for this year’s reunion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their theme, Robinsons Bringing in the Millennium, was suggested by a thirteen-year-old according to organizer Ben Robinson, Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

They warmed up for an evening banquet on the boat ride scheduled when the "captive audience" had no choice but to talk to each other. On the boat they had a Black History contest and awarded prizes. They set up a VCR and TV in the banquet hall playing videos from previous reunions. The Washington chapter made a scrapbook and passed it along to the other host cities to add to.

Whatever your reunion desires or needs, be they heated city excitement or calm country cool, when September and October roll around there's a common phrase that still brings everyone together: Ah, autumn.

Follow the Black-eyed Susan Trail
Maryland Scenic Byways is a delightful full color guide. Travelers can enjoy Maryland's rich history and spectacular views by exploring the 31 recently designated scenic byways, marked by brightly-colored Black Eyed Susan trailblazing signs.

The book was created by several Maryland state agencies (highways, tourism, natural resources) so it's very comprehensive. It's not just a "drive through and look at pretty buildings" guide. There are suggestions for things to do out of the car, as well as some historical background; why something is worth pointing out along the road. Routes were created around themes that have historical or cultural significance such as the National Road or the Underground Railroad.

Arkansas – a state of reunion
Conveniently located just south of center for reunion groups with members coming from directions of the four winds, Arkansas is a surprising location choice. It offers everything from camping to luxury housing options and "essential" activities such as golf and things of interest to children. Consider the possibilities!

Already one unique tour of Arkansas is called the "President Clinton Trail" which includes the four Arkansas cities where Bill Clinton lived and worked. In southwest Arkansas, Hope is where the president was born, at seven his family moved to Hot Springs where he graduated from high school. Later he taught at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville where he began his political career and later moved to Little Rock, the state capital as attorney general and governor.

The president's interest in golf started in Arkansas where availability is universal and weather cooperates much of the year. Pursuit of all outdoor activities is well served by the simple beauty of the state including the Ozark Mountains in the north and the Quachita Mountains covering the southwest and in between all the pine trees, rivers and natural springs. There are many choices of beautiful locations.

Accommodations in Arkansas are varied and affordable - ranging from bed and breakfasts and country inns to large hotels and lavish resorts. DeGray Lake Resort State Park, Bismarck, offers family reunions a unique combination of an island lodge and campsites along the lakeshore in the Quachita Mountains.

Nature and natural settings, lakes and rivers abound in The Natural State (its slogan). Hiking, biking, camping and fishing are easy to find through its regions (ask for Arkansas Camper's and Hiker's Guide or Arkansas Floater's Kit; 501-682-777).

History preserved
There is also much for history and preservation buffs. Museums throughout the state include those that will be of particular interest to the youngest members of reunion groups; the Children's Museum of Arkansas in Little Rock, Discovery Place in Texarkana, Miles of Musical Museum in Eureka Springs and the Arts and Science Center in Pine Bluff.

Throughout Arkansas, preservation has been important to provide examples now of Antebellum, Victorian and pioneer treasures.

The frontier era remembered at Fort Smith National Historic Site features the remains for two frontier garrisons; a recreated 19th-century town can be visited at Pioneer Village in Rison; Arkansas's Confederate Capitol is only part of a preserved 19th-century town at Old Washington Historic State Park near Hope. Important Civil War sites are Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park (where battle re-enactments are held every other December) and Pea Ridge National Military Park.

How about a real flash of the past with a ride on the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad? Ride in 1900s cars from either Springdale or Van Buren to the top of Boston Mountain and down through tunnels and over high trestles.

Ozark Folk Center
Truly unique among Arkansas's state parks is the Ozark Folk Center, a "living museum" that takes visitors back in time to re-create music and skills of the last century. It depicts life in the Ozarks from 1820 to 1920. These opportunities to experience life in simpler times can be the special activity for reunion members of all ages. Adults remember what some of them experienced or their grandparents talked about and children can be awed by things being handmade; quilting, furniture making, blacksmithing, pottery, woodworking and 20 more! Located in Mountain View the Center is in an area rich in surviving Ozark heritage. It is preservation of lives, places and skills in action. Music is a very important aspect of the Center's program with regular live performances by area musicians and nationally known guests.

The Center is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 1998 with special tributes to American country music pioneers influenced by the music of Ozark heritage. Festivals throughout the season will include music, folk humor, storytelling, dancing, fiddle playing, cowboy music and poetry gathering. Contact Ozark Folk Center, PO Box 500, Mountain View AR 72560; 870-269-3851; www.ozarkfolkcenter.com.

It's easy to plan your reunion in Arkansas. A planning kit is available at 800-NATURAL (628-8725). You can ask for a Tour Guide, Calendar of Events, guide to State Parks, state highway map and special materials highlighting African American things to do and events.

About the author
Journalist/Editor Jacky Runice has penned a weekly travel column for Chicago's Daily Herald since 1994 and writes about travel and dining for USAToday.com; CBS Local Chicago; and Examiner.com. She expands her repertoire at Kane, Lake and McHenry County (IL) Magazines with articles about everything from healthy living to technology. A former Chicago radio talk show host, Jacky has three grown children who have inherited her love of sampling new cultures, countries and cuisine.

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