Ten Maine teens banded together on Aug. 3 and plunged into the Maine wilderness. Guided by experienced trip leaders, they spent the following nine days exploring Baxter State Park, climbing mountains, foraging for edible native plants, mapping the cosmos, swimming with moose and sleeping in the open air.
On Aug. 11, this team of young outdoor enthusiasts became the fifth group to graduate from the Maine Youth Wilderness Leadership Program, offered to Maine high school students by the nonprofit Friends of Baxter State Park since 2009.
“I think it’s really neat when you put together like-minded people who love the wilderness,” said Will Greene, 16, of Bar Harbor. “It gives me hope for the world to have this many kids want to be in the outdoors and are motivated and care about the outdoors.”
Greene’s fellow graduates are Addie Drinkwater, 17, of Rockport; Beverley Guay, 16, of Millinocket; Katie Moody, 16, of Appleton; Emma Houston, 16, of Kingfield; Nate Skvorak, 17, of Windham; Paul Phillips, 17, of New Gloucester; John Devine, 17, of Gray; Emmett de Maynadier, 16, of China; and Ivy Enoch, 17, of Farmington.
During the nine-day program, experts from the community traveled into the park to meet up with the students and teach them about various wilderness-related topics including the art of conservation with Maine artist Michael Vermette and taking inventory of flora for the Plants of Baxter State Park Project with botanist Glen Mittelhauser.
“I thought it was just awesome how many different people came out here just to teach us,” said Enoch. “And it was just completely volunteer. That was super humbling for people to come out and share their knowledge with us.”
Perhaps just as important as their scheduled lessons, the teens learned valuable skills by living, eating and sleeping outdoors each day — a lifestyle few American teens experience today.
“It’s a great experience to be able to put away the simple conveniences of our everyday lives and just live simply — out of a backpack,” said Houston.
Helping them acquire these outdoor skills were trip leaders Matt Stern and Annika Alexander-Ozinskas of Chewonki, a year-round institution for outdoor learning and exploration headquartered in Wiscasset. By the end of the experience, both trip leaders felt confident that the teens could safely, enjoyably and ethically continue exploring and camping in Baxter State Park without their aid, which was a goal from the beginning.
“To take a bunch of teens who enjoy the outdoors — once you put us in our element in the woods, we actually accomplish everything really efficiently as a team,” said Phillips. “More efficiently than we would have in civilization, I think.”
Nevertheless, after a few days tromping through the woods, the teens did miss certain aspects of their everyday lives, such as music, showers and simply opening a cupboard to grab something to eat. By day eight of the program, several of the teens were making plans to stop at Dysarts to order maple waffle sundaes upon leaving the park.
The teens would soon be back to their respective towns, but having made new friends throughout the state and partaking in a wilderness experience unlike any other.
The Maine Youth Wilderness Leadership Program is open to all high school sophomores and juniors in Maine. If interested in learning about the program, visit friendsofbaxter.org/programs/youth.php.