A large gangly beast lumbers out of the woods near Greenville, Maine, and pauses in a marsh to feed on aquatic plants sprouting beneath the water. The fearless animal pays little attention to the curious sightseers and camera flashes.
"We see moose 99 percent of the time," says Mike Boutin, 46, owner of Northwoods Outfitters, which offers wildlife tours on local wetlands. "By October, our canoe safari guides have names for the moose and can tell you within a week when a calf was born."
Each spring—roughly from Mothers Day to Fathers Day—moose sightings are commonplace in and around Greenville (pop. 1,623), as the long-legged animals venture out of the shelter of nearby forests in search of fresh vegetation after the long, cold, snowy winter.
Located at the southern end of 40-mile-long Moosehead Lake, Maine's largest body of fresh water, the town is well situated to be the state's de-facto moose capital. Wildlife surveys indicate the area east of the lake has one of the highest concentrations of moose in the state, and local residents claim the lanky animals outnumber people three-to-one.
"Greenville's kind of an end-of-the-road town," Boutin says. "Aside from thousands of square miles of wilderness, there's little north of here.
"We're not exactly in the middle of nowhere," he adds, "but were on the edge of it."
Surrounded by more than 3 million acres of evergreen and hardwood forest, Greenville's remote location is ideal for viewing moose, Maine's official animal. Bulls, with enormous shovel-like antlers that they shed each winter, can stand 7 feet high at the shoulder and weigh up to 1,500 pounds, while females, weighing more than 900 pounds, give birth to one or two calves in the spring.
Fifteen years ago, Greenville leaders organized a springtime festival to pay tribute to the icon of the Great North Woods—the town's resident celebrity. The result was Moose Mainea, an annual rite of spring that commences shortly after winter ice melts on Moosehead Lake. During the event, moose sightings are as common as the moose-themed names of local businesses, including Crazy Moose Fabrics, the Moosehead Messenger, Moosehead Motorsports, Stress-Free Moose Pub & Cafe, Cozy Moose Lakeside Cabins and the Moose Mountain Inn.
Activities during month-long Moose Mainea include the Moose River Canoe Race, the Moosterpiece Craft Fair, moose lore and storytelling sessions, a kids fun day, a community-wide yard sale and a moose photo contest. Last year, Lisa Eaton, 47, of Waterville, Maine (pop. 15,605), won first place with a photograph of a cow moose with her two calves.
"The two most common questions at the visitor center are 'Where can I eat?' and 'Where can I see a moose?'" says Dan Legere, 57, owner of Maine Guide Fly Shop on Moosehead Lake Road.
Understandably, everyone who lives in Greenville, and almost everyone who visits, encounters a moose, if not on wildlife safari, then alongside the road or in someone's yard.
"I've lived in Maine for seven years and had never seen a moose," says Debbie McGrath, 56, of Kennebunkport, while shopping for moose memorabilia." But I've been in Greenville just a few days and already seen three."