Great Maine Outdoor Weekend offers over 125 events

The Great Maine Outdoor Weekend is nothing short of just that: great. On the weekend of Sept. 26 through Sept. 28, people took to the sea, lakes and trails of Maine to get outdoors and learn from experts about Maine’s environment. This year marked the sixth annual Great Maine Outdoor Weekend, which is a series of events put on by outdoor organizations and companies across the state.

The weekend is coordinated and publicized by the Maine Outdoor Coalition, a network of organizations such as L.L. Bean and the Appalachian Mountain Club. The network of organizations involved in the Coalition work together to increase peoples’ connection to the Maine outdoors, as it fosters awareness, appreciation and understanding of the benefits of spending time outside.

The Maine Outdoor Coalition was born from discussions led by the superintendent of Acadia National Park in 2007 about nature-deficit disorder. Nature-deficit disorder is a hypothesis popularized in the book Last Child in the Woods (2005), in which author Richard Louv compiled literature positing that direct experiences with nature are a critical to human health and development, especially for children. One of the goals of the Maine Outdoor Coalition is to increase the amount of time that people spend outdoors through events like the Great Maine Outdoors Weekend.

Sandwiched in the middle of the Great Maine Outdoors Weekend happened to be National Public Lands Day (Sept. 27). This is a special day when America’s national parks are open free of charge and when volunteers mobilize to work on special projects, like removing invasive species, building new trails and planting new trees.

Local organizations and companies hosted over 125 events statewide as part of the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend. Activities included everything from sea kayaking in Casco Bay to hawk watching on Cadillac Mountain and even zipline tours in Carrabassett Valley and photography workshops. Other events included talks and guided tours with the likes of historians, biologists and a turtle rehabilitator and a mycologist (a scientist who studies fungi).

However, recent budget cuts didn’t stop people from enjoying the outdoors last weekend. This year, an estimated 8,000 Mainers participated in over 125 events statewide that were held in conjunction with the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend. For a weekend with so much going on, a relatively small group of people is responsible for consolidating and publicizing the individual events hosted by 84 different organizers across all 16 counties in the state. Team Coordinator Kaitlyn Bernard ’13 currently works as the Maine Program Associate for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Bernard, who grew up in Fort Kent, Maine, graduated from Colby with a degree in Environmental Studies and is now based in Portland.

“I am so lucky to work with the best team,” Bernard said of the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend Planning Committee. This committee is made up of members working for separate organizations and companies, from outdoor gear companies to magazines and media. “They are phenomenal. We’ve got a marketing expert, we’ve got L.L. Bean, we’ve got Maine Coast Heritage Trust…everybody brings something to the table that’s totally different and valuable.”

Events find their way onto the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend calendar through a number of outlets, including recruiting by the planning committee, conferences, fairs, outreach and word of mouth. According to Bernard, there are organizations that have hosted events for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend all six years, and there are new ones that join each time. In addition to her role as planning team coordinator, Bernard also works for the AMC policy team.

A number of Colby students took part in this weekend’s events, including a group that hiked up Mount Abraham, which is near the Sugarloaf ski area. Another group went to the dark sky region of Baxter State Park with the Colby Space Club and the Colby Outing Club for some hiking and stargazing. Jeff Meltzer ’15 participated in the Mount Abraham hike and shared some of his thoughts in an e-mail correspondence.

“The Great Maine Outdoors Weekend hike at Mount Abraham was really awesome! We lucked out with amazing weather and had beautiful views. Six of us from the COC [Colby Outing Club] joined the Director of the Maine Appalachian Trails Land Trust and an ecologist that was a Colby alum from the class of ’87,” Meltzer wrote. “We all learned a lot about conservation and a bunch of other issues relating to the outdoors in Maine. Overall, the hike was about nine miles and took close to eight hours, and although I fell in a stream at the end, I still loved it!”

Students from the Colby Outing Club climbed Mount Abraham for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend.

Students from the Colby Outing Club climbed Mount Abraham during the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend.

Whether people participated in organized events or not, getting outside this weekend was no chore, with summer-like temperatures around the state. “Well, I think we broke the curse!” said Scot Balentine of L.L.Bean, a member of the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend planning team. “Our first three Great Maine Outdoor Weekends were cold and rainy – in fact, we jokingly refer to them as the Great Rain Outdoor Weekends. But we couldn’t have asked for better weather this time. This weekend was perfect for getting outside!”

This already has the planning team thinking about the future. “We’re thrilled with the results from our September event, and we’re already gearing up for the next Great Maine Outdoor Weekend—February 13-15, 2015!” Bernard said in a press release. For the February weekend, Bernard said the team hopes to get more school groups involved by increasing its presence in the public school system and by connecting youth and college outing clubs.

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