With more than 100 past and present game wardens gathered under one roof on Thursday, it didn’t take long for the jokes and zingers to start flying. One target of the light-hearted banter: The new “stars” of the Maine Warden Service — those who have appeared in the Animal Planet TV show, “North Woods Law.”
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife commissioner Chandler Woodcock set the tone during remarks at the warden service’s annual awards banquet, which was held at the Winslow VFW hall.
“I warned Kris MacCabe. I told him he’d be getting marriage proposals [after the show aired], a nice-looking guy like [him]” Woodcock said, referring to the young warden who has been prominently featured in each “North Woods Law” episode. “What I wasn’t perceptive enough to appreciate was that Tim Spahr would also get marriage proposals.”
The assembled wardens laughed loudly at the joke — MacCabe and Spahr among them.
Guest speaker Bill Vail, a former game warden who also served as the DIF&W’s commissioner, couldn’t resist poking a little fun at the “celebrities,” either.
“I think you ought to find another guy to play Rick LaFlamme,” Vail said. “The guy playing that part is a little too chatty.”
LaFlamme, of course, is played by LaFlamme.
Kidding aside, Col. Joel Wilkinson, the chief of the warden service, said that the show has paid tangible dividends since its debut on March 16.
“In the last three weeks, we’ve had 2,200 additional [Internet] hits from people interested in employment options as a Maine game warden,” Wilkinson reported.
To put that number in context, back in 2008 Wdn. Maj. Gregg Sanborn told me that the number of applicants for warden jobs had been sliding for years. According to Sanborn, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the DIF&W was typically swamped with 1,500 to 2,000 applications every time the warden service looked to fill openings. In 2007, the field of applicants was just 70, and only two prospective wardens passed muster, he said at the time. The warden service had six openings that year, but refused to lower its standards just to fill open posts.
MacCabe blushes at the mention of his new-found fame … and the nicknames it has spawned.
I told him that some of the women at our 491 Main headquarters have taken to calling him “Kris MacBabe.” He laughed, and said that was one he’d not yet heard.
He has, however, heard people call him “Kiss MacCabe.” And he admits that some fellow wardens have begun calling him “Kris MacBieber.”
“The biggest surprise is just the celebrity of it,” MacCabe said. “I go places now where I know people, but I go a lot of places throughout the state where people see me and they recognize me as a ‘TV star,’ not as a warden.”
That became evident at the State of Maine Sportsman’s Show in Augusta, which was held the last weekend of March. At the show, MacCabe and other wardens who have appeared in the show greeted dozens of visitors who wanted to talk about “North Woods Law.”
“It was a steady stream of people coming by, little kids wanting autographs and everything, which is cool,” MacCabe said. “The biggest thing is just the level of people that we’ve touched. I’ve had older women come up to me and say, ‘I love the show. Don’t ever cancel it.’”
Jonathan Parker, a warden who grew up in St. Albans, is also a fixture on “North Woods Law.”
Parker’s has a textbook Maine accent, and said he has heard a few comments about the way that he speaks.
“I hear a little bit,” Parker said with a laugh. “I’m reminded by my wife on a daily basis [of what I sound like], and every once in awhile family members will call and ask, ‘Do Mainers really sound like that or talk like that?’ and we’ve got to remind them, ‘Yes, we do.’”
Parker said he was excited when he learned that Engel Entertainment would begin filming “North Woods Law” episodes, which have been aired by Animal Planet on Friday nights. But he had other emotions, too.
“Definitely my first instinct was to be nervous. I was like, ‘Do they really want to be following me around?’” Parker said. “I definitely didn’t go to school to be an actor. I went to school to be a Maine game warden, and my dream finally came true.”
Warden Kim Bates is in her first year as a warden, and has appeared in two episodes of “North Woods Law.” She said the public’s reaction to the show has been fantastic.
“I have not had anyone approach me and say anything negative about the show,” Bates said. “The fact that people have a better understanding of what a game warden does is what we wanted, and it has definitely worked.”
Parker said his family has also enjoyed watching the show. One family fan, however, seems to have taken a liking to a character who … well … isn’t his dad.
“My three-year-old runs around saying, ‘You just admitted you were looking for a bear,’” Parker said. ”He’s mimicking Warden MacCabe, my wheel man the night that we caught the illuminator [during an early episode]. So I’m working on trying to get him to repeat what his dad says on TV [instead].”