Upon entering Bangor High School, Hannah Rubin, like most freshmen, looked for her niche — a place to fit in. An outdoorsy girl, she was disappointed to learn that the school didn’t have anything resembling an outing club.
“Just as long as I can remember I’ve been doing things outside — canoeing, skiing and hiking,” said Hannah.
She joined the ski team and settled into the exciting world of high school. But she still wanted to be part of an outing club, a group with the sole purpose of spending time in Maine’s great outdoors. So nearing the end of her sophomore year, she gathered a group of friends in the school library and pitched her idea. It involved hiking, biking, rock climbing, snowshoeing, canoeing and camping.
“And I think it’s great that students have an interest in these activities because they can be lifetime activities,” Hannah said.
All they needed was a faculty member to chaperone their trips. A couple teachers stepped forward; and in fall 2013, the beginning of Hannah’s junior year, Bangor High School Outing Club became official. So far, the small group has been on a number of hikes, a bike ride, a ropes course trip and a rock climbing lesson.
To fund more elaborate outdoor adventures, Hannah applied for and received a $500 grant from Teens to Trails (also known as T3), a nonprofit organization that supports high school outing clubs in Maine. This year, T3 supported eight Maine outing clubs with grants, including four new or restarting clubs.
“It is our firm belief that teens live healthier happier lives when they feel connected to the natural world within which they live,” Teens to Trails states on its website, teenstotrails.org. “We are increasing public awareness of the importance of that connection to a teenager’s mental and physical wellbeing as we battle against nature-deficit disorder.”
Nature-deficit disorder is a fairly new term, coined by author Richard Louv in his 2008 book “Last Child in the Woods” to explain how people’s disconnect with nature has negative effects.
“We live in Maine, and we have all these natural resources— parks, places you can go,” said Bangor High junior Andy Sandweiss, one of the first members of the club. “I think the fact that other schools don’t have outdoor clubs is somewhat underutilizing the fact that Maine is vacationland, a place that people go to do outdoor recreation.”
“We went on a hike in the fall in the Greenville area, and the trees were in full color — it was just an incredible view,” Andy said.
“The week that we biked around Acadia — that was probably my favorite,” said fellow club member Cormac Close, a senior at Bangor High. “I learned how long I can ride on a bike without, like, falling over, which is a lot longer than I thought.”
In the near future, the students plan to go cross-country skiing on Orono trails and play winter games in the Bangor City Forest. So far, the highest attendance to the outings has been 12 students; club members are aiming to get more students involved.
“The way this sort of thing works is, you tell people you know — some of them will say no, some of them will say yes,” Cormac said. “Then, once you get them involved, they’ll try to Shanghai their friends. So it’ll take a little while … we need to recruit underclassmen to keep this self-perpetuating.”
The club certainly has potential to grow. With approximately 1,250 students in grades 9-12, Bangor High School is one of the largest comprehensive high schools in the state.
Hannah believes the more exciting adventures they can plan, the more students they’ll entice to give the club a try.
Their most recent outing was to Maine Bound Adventure Center at the University of Maine in Orono, where they learned how to rock climb on a variety of indoor climbing walls. For $110, they were given instruction, all the necessary gear, and hours to test out different climbing routes.
“I haven’t been rock climbing in a few years,” said club member Toby Jones, a junior at Bangor High. “It’s so fun, so I’m really enjoying it.”
Toby and Hannah were the only two students in the club who had ever rock climbed before.
“The club encourages students to try something they might not have done before, something that might be a little scary,” explained Hannah. “But definitely fun.”
For information about Teens to Trails and teen outing clubs in Maine, visit www.teenstotrails.org.