The fourth Great Maine Outdoor Weekend, Sept. 27-29, will feature more than 100 outdoor events scattered throughout the state, hosted by numerous Maine organizations and businesses. From stargazing parties to guided mountain hikes, there’s something planned for everyone.
“This isn’t just 100 hikes across the state,” said Bryan Wentzell, Appalachian Mountain Club policy and program director. “It’s stuff in downtown Portland, mushroom walks, stuff for kids. If you just want to go out for a hour or two or a whole day. It’s literally from Madawaska to Kittery, Fryberg to Grand Lake Stream. There’s such a diversity of events.”
The statewide biannual celebration is organized by the Maine Outdoor Coalition, a network of more than 30 partners dedicated to connecting Maine people to the outdoors. Of those partners, the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend Planning team is made up of representatives from the Appalachian Mountain Club, L.L. Bean, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Maine Division of Parks and Public Lands, Maine Recreation and Park Association, Mesh Marketing and WinterKids.
“We’re not looking to reinvent the wheel or create a new nonprofit,” said Wentzell. “There’s so much that’s already happening. We’re just looking to build buzz around two particular weekends a year, to get into people’s living rooms and kitchens and say, ‘This stuff is actually happening.’ Hopefully it will create a new pattern in some people’s lives.”
On the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend website — greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org — people can search for events by difficulty level, region, activity type, date and dog friendliness.
Many of the events are geared toward families. For example, Turner Public Library will be hosting a story walk, 10 a.m.-noon Sept. 28, at Androscoggin State Park in Turner. For the story walk, pages of a book will be made into signs and placed along 0.25 mile of the park’s Homestead Trail, and participants will have to follow the path of pages to complete the story.
Another family-friendly event planned is the “Ferry Beach Nature Quest: An Ecosystem Scavenger Hunt,” 10 a.m.-noon Sept. 28, at Ferry Beach State Park.
“I hope people who don’t consider themselves outdoorsy to think of this as a great appetizer of the outdoors, a chance to test it out,” Wentzell said.
“Don’t feel like you have to be an expert at any of this,” said Warren Whitney, Maine Coast Heritage Trust program manager. “Most of the events are aimed toward introductory level, to get people out trying something new.”
Some participating organizations and businesses are offering free or discounted equipment rental and instructions. For example, Eastern Mountain Sports, a well-known outdoor retailer, is hosting “Yak Attack,” 9 a.m.-noon Sept. 29. This will be an opportunity for the public to test out a variety of watercrafts, paddles and floatation devices for free on Highland Lake in Falmouth.
“There are really two main goals,” said Wentzell. “One is to get people outside and realizing all these great things to do in Maine, in their backyard, really. And two, we’d love for some of these local organizations, especially land trusts, to find new people in their area.”
Approximately 50 percent of the people who participated in the first Great Maine Outdoor Weekend, held in March 2012, were new to the organization or place hosting the activity, according to a poll conducted by the Maine Outdoor Coalition.
“Groups have worked really hard to conserve properties that the public can use,” said Whitney. “It’s pretty exciting if you can get a whole new group of people out and using these conserved lands.”
The first two Great Maine Outdoor Weekends, held in March and September of 2012, were hindered by bad weather, so much so that the coalition nicknamed them the “Great Rain Outdoor Weekends.” But for the third celebration, held Feb. 15-18, attendance more than doubled to an estimated 2,000 participants.
“Even if you don’t go to one of these events, just get out there and do something.” Balentine said. “The goal is for people to develop this habit so they aren’t waiting six months for the next Great Maine Outdoor Weekend to get out there.”
A few highlights of the upcoming Great Maine Outdoor Weekend:
— Astronomy, 6-8 p.m. Sept. 27, on Beach Hill in Rockport. Coastal Mountains Land Trust and the Camden Public Library team up to present an evening of stories and stars. Children’s librarian Amy Hand will tell tales in the historic stone hut atop Beech Hill Preserve, and the library will provide a telescope to help participants view the full moon. Free.
— North Woods Law Day, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 28, at Maine Wildlife Park in Gray. Meet several of the Maine game wardens featured on the popular Animal Planet series North Woods Law, as well as warden canines Morgan and Cruizer. This is also a great opportunity to explore the park and learn about the many species of animals living there, including black bear and moose. Cost is $0-$7.
— Maine Outdoor Film Festival, 7-9:30 p.m. Sept. 28, at L.L. Bean Discovery Park in Freeport. Free. Donations will be accepted to benefit Teens to Trails.
— Semi-annual island cleanup with the Maine Island Trail Association, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 28, in the Deer Isle region. Skiffs driven by experienced MITA skippers will take volunteers out to targeted islands to clean the shorelines. Free.
— Whistle Stop 17th Annual ATV Toy Run, starting 7:30 a.m. Sept. 28, at the McDonald’s parking lot in Jay or 9 a.m. at the end of the Whistle Stop Trail on the Town Farm Road in Farmington. Registration is 8-9:45 a.m. End of ride barbecue and raffle drawing.
— ”Fabulous Fall Canoe Tour,” 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Sept. 28, at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center. The 1.5-hour program is an opportunity to see the fall changes to the salt marsh. Paddlers will see migrating birds, including shorebirds and raptors, and try some edible plants. Cost is $11 for adults, $10 for children.
— Great Maine Outdoor Weekend celebration, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sept. 28, at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. Event features a naturalist-led hike, an obstacle-challenge course, canoeing at the pond and more. Free.
— Hawk watch with Maine Coast Heritage Trust steward and naturalist Kirk Gentalen, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 28, at Lane’s Island Preserve in Vinalhaven. Bring a snack, thermos, binoculars and scope if you have them. Free.
— ”Outdoors in the Mahoosucs,” a celebration hosted by the Mahoosuc Land Trust, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sept. 28, starting at 69 Winslow Road in Bethel. Choose between a moderate hike, bike through the valley, paddle on the Androscoggin or tour of Dunham Farm in Greenwood. All meet back at 2 p.m. for a barbecue. Free.
— “Possessomuk Chuwaponahkik: Stars of the Dawnland,” a presentation by Abbe Museum educator George Neptune, 6:30-8 p.m. Sept. 28, at Abbe Museum, Sieur de Monts Spring, Acadia National Park. Free.
— Fall foliage hike, bike and barbecue, 1-3:30 p.m. Sept. 29, at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent. Mountain bikes and helmets will be available for those who would like to try. Beginner and intermediate rides will be offered, as well as easy and moderate hikes. Registration required. Contact Laura Audibert at 834-6773 or La4568@roadrunner.com. Free.
For detailed information about the above events, as well as many additional events planned for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend, visit greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org.