ELLIOTSVILLE TOWNSHIP, Maine — They live in a snowy state yet many of the students who participated in a daylong trip on Borestone Mountain on Sunday had never ventured on a hike far from their backyards, especially on snowshoes.
So it was tough trekking for some of the participants of LifeJackets, a community-based youth development program operated by the Charlotte White Center in Dover-Foxcroft, to complete the nearly two-hour strenuous uphill climb through the forest on snowshoes.
Cole Edes, 12, of Guilford was brutally honest Sunday at a stop midway to the visitors center. “‘I’m pretty out of shape for this,’” he said. Edes, whose face was rose red, had already consumed his full bottle of water and had resorted to eating snow to keep himself hydrated. Despite that, Edes said he enjoyed being out in the wil-derness and would recommend it for anyone.
That wilderness exposure and the physical challenge are two of LifeJackets’ goals.
Community service, learning to make positive choices, and a Junior Maine Guide component round out the program.
The 18 students from the Penquis region, ages 12-19, had assembled at 10 a.m. at North Woods Way in Willimantic where they met Alexandra Conover Bennett. Bennett, a Master Maine Guide and the assistant manager at Borestone Mountain Audubon Sanctuary, helped equip the students with outdoor clothing and snowshoes and made sure they all had snacks and water.
The trip was actually a pilot run of a youth program that Maine Audubon wants to offer at Borestone, Bennett said Sunday. ‘”This is the first of our collaborative effort [with LifeJackets] to get kids outdoors,’’ she said.
Maine Audubon wants to offer a five-day Outdoor Youth Summer program in July of this year and two, three-day Outdoor Youth Winter Programs in 2012. The programs would focus on wilderness living skills from paddling, orienteering, shelter and fire building, basic camp cooking, outdoor safety, and dressing for the envi-ronment.
Local supporters have raised about $3,000 of the needed $15,000 to offer the programs.
In addition, an Onawa Lake landowner has pledged $5,000 if matched by others. Bennett is optimistic the $7,000 will be raised.
“Our goal is to reconnect our youth to the local natural world and help them build a passion and love for this land that is part of their cultural heritage,” Bennett said.
And reconnect it did for the students on Sunday’s trip. Amber Richards, 13, of Sangerville had one purpose in mind. “All I want is to be able to see the sunset,” she said.
Before the hike, the students joined Samantha Cole and David Ziemer of LifeJackets, Diane McCarthy-Clark of Sangerville, a middle school teacher who has extensive outdoor experience, and Bennett in a round of exercises. After donning their snowshoes, the students and chaperones began the hike.
Unfamiliar with the extra weight on their feet, a few students tripped and fell near the start. Others who wore handmade wooden rawhide snowshoes, like Toni Usher, 17, of Ebeemee, quickly found them too slippery for the steep terrain, so they carried them for much of the hike.
A brutal wind made the 10-degree Fahrenheit temperature feel like Arctic air, but only a few students complained. “I hope it doesn’t get any colder than this,’’ said Zachery Gendron, 12, of Milo. He, like the others, stripped off layers of clothing when he began sweating from the hike and re-layered when he became cold.
During a lunch break near the visitors center, Bennett praised the students. “They walked about a mile through very rough, very steep terrain, particularly snowshoeing through deep snow and they did really, really well,” she said. “I was actually quite surprised at how well this group was able to handle snowshoes.”
When their bellies were full, the students continued their hike across Sunrise and Midday ponds to Sunset Pond, which served as the base of operations for the remainder of the day. There, they learned to make a fire on the snow, make a lean-to, obtain drinking water, identify trees and animal tracks, and they participated in a couple of races, followed by a cookout and a bonfire to celebrate their accomplishments.
When night fell, flashlights were turned off so the students could marvel at the sky.
Bennett pointed out for them some of the constellations that glistened like diamonds on a dark backdrop.
“You could see all the stars, it was so pretty,” Toni Usher said later.
The students then returned down the mountain by the packed Access Trail to the parking lot.
“I thought it was really fun,” Usher said, after the hike. “Everybody worked together and we took care of each other really well.”
Cole, LifeJackets leader, called the hike a blast for the students. “For kids to actually realize that you don’t have to sit in front of a Wii or a Playstation during the winter, you can actually get out and do some stuff, and it is fun” was a lesson in itself, she said.