BAXTER STATE PARK, Maine — This past Tuesday the woods around Upper Togue Pond in Baxter State Park were filled with the sounds of outdoor learning.
Instructors with the New England Outdoor Center were explaining canoe strokes to their students. “OK, now you all have had instruction in the draw stroke. Let’s see you practice that stroke, just like you’re drawing the water towards the canoe,” said Dave Weatherbee, a registered Maine guide.
The students were seventh-graders from Katahdin area schools participating in the newly formed Maine Outdoor Education Program, founded this past September. The program is funded by the Butler Conservation Fund and is provided free of charge to the schools. All busing costs, equipment and instructors are covered by the program.
“We’ve introduced over 200 students to outdoor education since the start of the school year,” said Sarah Hunt, business manager for the program. “My interaction with teachers and administrators in the school systems has been inspiring and has helped propel this program forward very quickly with enthusiasm,” she said.
While in the canoes on dry land, the students practiced their strokes to the satisfaction of their instructors. Then, after learning how to safely enter the canoes, the students carried them down to the shore of the pond for the rest of the morning’s program, during which they received more instruction on the water.
Lisa Garvey, the executive vice president for the program, commented on the importance of the support of the community to the success of the program. “The reception and the welcome that we’ve had in this community has just been amazing. We never would have been able to do this as quickly as we’ve done without the backing of the administrators in the schools, the teachers and the community,” she said.
The program is offered to students from fourth through eighth grade and in addition to canoeing and hiking, students will be snowshoeing and skiing during the winter months, and trail biking and hiking in spring. The program provides a guide or coach for every activity. All the coaches are Registered Maine Guides under the appropriate categories for the day’s instruction and all standard safety procedures are followed, based on the trip’s requirements.
There were about 40 students participating Tuesday, and judging by the sounds coming from the pond, they enjoyed their experience. It probably didn’t seem to them like they were learning. But, given the way they concentrated on their strokes, it looked like they had a new appreciation for the skills they need to be safely active in the outdoors. Since that’s one of the goals of the program, it sounded like it has been achieved.