SOUTH PORTLAND – Bug Light Park is known for its sweeping views of Portland Harbor, the unique little 135-year-old lighthouse that gives the park its name, and the fact that it was once the site of a historic World War II shipyard.
But now the relatively new South Portland city park -- it became a park just 11 years ago -- has become known for something else: kite flying.
"It hasn't been a park for all that long, because of course it was the shipyard and it was very industrial after the shipyard," said Kathy DiPhilippo, executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. "But since it has been turned into a park, it has absolutely become a fantastic kite-flying spot."
That's why the historical society -- with assistance from the Nor'Easters kite club - is holding the Bug Light Kite Festival at the park on Saturday, May 15, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The festival was originally slated for May 8, but was rescheduled due to inclement weather.
The historical society's new museum is located at Bug Light Park. During the festival, the group will offer free previews of the museum, where the installation of exhibits is still in progress, and sell hamburgers and hot dogs to raise funds.
The museum also will have kites for sale, and is urging people to come and enjoy an activity that is ages old.
"Kite flying is a neat, old-fashioned thing to do," DePhilippo said. "There are no batteries involved and no electronic devices."
Also, members of the NorEasters kite club will be on hand to not only display stunt kites and other show kites, but to help novice kite flyers learn how to get their kites airborne.
Tony Heeschen, a South Portland resident who founded the unofficial kite club about 10 years ago, said he hopes the festival is so successful that it can become an annual event.
He said Bug Light is a good place to fly kites for several reasons - one of the key ones being that it has "clean wind."
Because the park is on a point of land on the harbor and exposed to the water on two sides, wind comes across it smoothly without the turbulence that trees or other obstructions can cause.
"When you have nice clean wind, you can put a lot of kites up without them dancing around and getting tangled," said Heeschen, who also is a kite maker.
Also, he said, the nearly 14-acre park has a good open area to fly kites: a big, smooth field without power lines.
"It's not a huge park, but it's big enough," Heeschen said.
The park, the land for which the city purchased in 1996 and turned into a park in 1999, also boasts lovely views of the harbor and Portland.
Bug Light is becoming increasingly popular, Heeschen said.
"More and more families are coming out there every weekend and crowding the sky," he said. "It's just a nice thing to do."
The kite club has about 55 people on its mailing list, said Heeschen, who in his 60s. He said he began flying kites 20 years ago and now has his wife, Petra, hooked on making kites with him and flying them regularly at Bug Light and other locations.
He said some members come from as far away as Massachusetts, drawn to the kite flying opportunities at Bug Light and also Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, Pine Point Beach in Scarborough and Long Lake in Naples.
Heeschen said members of his club go to Long Lake in winter to do kite skiing, which involves putting on a pair of skis and letting a kite take you speeding across the lake. "We have a couple of crazy guys who have hit a little over 70 mph," he said.
Some out-of-state members make a weekend event out of kite flying, staying in motels and hotels and eating in area restaurants, Heeschen said.
He said they're drawn to kite flying in Maine because "flying along the water is much better than flying inland."
The historical society's museum affords great views of Bug Light Park, and DiPhilippo said she enjoys seeing kites constantly bobbing in the air there.
She called the variety of kites flown there "astounding."
She said that museum workers "have seen kites that look like giant squid, scuba divers, fish and even cats chasing mice. Some kites are so strong that they need to be tethered to the ground."
She said that research she did shows that kites are thought to have originated in China more than 2,000 years ago.
DiPhilippo said that kites have had many purposes throughout the ages, including being used in warfare and scientific research. They were also instrumental in the development of the airplane, she said.
Today, kites are primarily recreational and DiPhilippo hopes a good crowd turns out to enjoy flying kites at the festival.
"I want it to be a really nice fun day and I want to see a lot of kids down here," she said.