GRAY — Fans of Animal Planet’s reality TV show “North Woods Law” will get a chance to meet the stars this weekend — the game wardens who protect Maine’s wilderness and the wildlife residing in it.
The meet-and-greet event will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. on National Hunting and Fishing Day, which is Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Maine Wildlife Park, 56 Gamepark Road, off Route 26 in Gray. Photo opportunities with the wardens will be available, along with the Warden Service Operation Game Thief Wall of Shame, dive trailer, air boat and other equipment and displays for viewing.
The cost is normal park admission of $7.50 for adults, $5.50 for children ages 4 through 12, $5 for seniors and children three and younger are free.
Sgt. Tim Spahr is a veteran of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildflife, having worked as a game warden for 19 years. He has been involved with the television show for the past four years and works in section one, which is south of Portland.
He’s in charge of five other wardens and often times patrols around with them and helps with case work. His experience with “North Woods Law” thus far has been positive.
“It’s been a good show. It’s been good for the state. It’s been good for the department,” Spahr said Monday. “We are the authority of … the wilderness in Maine – the force fields of waterways of the state. We have a really big mission not only with the protection and cultivation of fish and wildlife and other natural resources, but the protection of people and all other aspects in the wilderness.”
The show documents the wardens’ day-to-day activities, which range from monitoring recreational activities such as boating to regulating hunting to executing search and rescue missions, including finding someone with Alzheimer’s disease and lost and/or injured hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
There’s three film crews that travel around the state and usually shoot footage for two to three weeks at a time, Spahr said. After returning from vacation last, he worked along side the crew three days, which means they rig up his truck with film and audio equipment and he dons a microphone.
“Sometimes the days can be long when you’re working with them, but the film crew … they’re all top notch people – professional,” he said. “Sometimes you’re bumping into each other. Sometimes they have to change batteries at the most inopportune time. They’re a good crew. They have a mission to accomplish, we have a mission to accomplish.”
Spahr has seen a lot during his nearly two decades as a warden. His most interesting case was when he nabbed a guy who was illegally hunting over bait. Wardens, like other law enforcement officers, receive tips and they also conduct preseason patrols in the woods. In this case, he knew a hunter would sit in a tree stand over the bait.
“The way it worked out was just perfect. … I laid down in the woods. … I was in front of him with the tree between him and me I could hide behind out of his line of vision,” Spahr recalled. “He shot a deer. It went a little distance and it fell about 10 feet from me. That was an illegally killed deer.”
The hunter started dragging the dead animal out of the woods without field dressing it “so he wouldn’t leave any evidence of the kill,” Spahr said. He then confronted the hunter.
“Here we were in the middle of the woods. All of this happened in front of me,” Spahr said. “He must have truly felt there was a game warden hiding behind every tree. He was absolutely caught in the act.”
The sergeant enjoys doing meet-and-greet events and is sometimes still surprised by the celebrity status he’s earned by being on a reality TV show. People recognize him in airports not only in Maine, but all over the country.
“Most recently I was in the Rocky Mountain National Park. I was 12,000 feet up (and) I ran into a national park ranger that recognized me. It’s fun,” he said. “It surprises me sometimes that it is that popular and people really put an emphasis on us as individuals. We certainly exceeded our 15 minutes of fame, as Andy Warhol said. … Everybody gets their 15 minutes but not everybody gets four years.”
For more information about the Maine Wildlife Park, visit www.maine.gov/ifw/education/wildlifepark/index.htm. For more information about “North Woods Law,” visit www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/north-woods-law/.