Under the evergreens of Seawall Campground in Acadia National Park, more than 70 students and advisers gathered from nine high schools throughout Maine on Columbus Day weekend for the annual Teens to Trails Acadia Rendezvous. The event was an opportunity for outing club members to mingle, learn from each other and explore the park.
“The park service opened up the entire campground just for us. It had just closed for the season,” said Carol Leone, who, with her husband Bob Leone, founded of Teens to Trails in 2006.
Teens to Trails — known as T3, for short — is a Maine-based nonprofit organization dedicated to giving teens more opportunities to get active outdoors. Over the past nine years, it has supported more than 100 Maine high school outing clubs through programming, resources and more than $50,000 in grants.
This year, high schools receiving grants through the T3 Grants-to-Clubs Program will be announced sometime in November, Carol Leone said. These grants help outing clubs purchase or rent outdoor equipment, as well as pay for trip transportation and admission fees to outdoor destinations.
“Being active outdoors is something healthy that they’ll be able to do all of their lives — it just becomes a habit,” Carol Leone said. “If that’s missing from your life, you’ve lost your roots.”
The students at Acadia Rendezvous hailed from high schools in Cape Elizabeth, Cheverus, Cony, Mt. Ararat, Mount Desert Island, Nokomis, South Portland, Wiscasset and Yarmouth. For many of the students, it was their first time hiking to the island’s scenic granite peaks.
They spent the weekend playing campground games, learning outdoor skills from professionals and members of the Bowdoin College Outing Club, rock climbing with Acadia Mountain Guides and hiking historic trails on Cadillac Mountain, Beehive and the Giant Slide.
“We had groups go out to Seawall Picnic Area and watch the sunrise and sunset each day,” Meghan Henshall, T3 outreach coordinator, said. “That was pretty cool to see outing clubs doing that together.”
The fall Rendezvous is just one example of what T3 has to offer high school outing clubs. Over the years, the nonprofit has grown and has reached more schools and developed partnerships with outdoor organizations and businesses across the state.
Most recently, T3 received support from the Leonard C. and Mildred F. Ferguson Foundation, which has pledged to match up to $7,500 in new donations made to T3’s Fill the Boot campaign before Dec. 31. Funds raised during this campaign will go toward T3’s general fund.
“We think doing this kind of campaign will help us not only raise exposure for T3 but also help bring in some new support,” Erin Krumpe, T3 development coordinator, said. “There have been some really wonderful individuals who’ve kept T3 going over the years. But like any organization, we’re also looking for new support to help sustain us in the future.”
The establishment of Teens to Trails was spurred by the Leones losing their 15-year-old daughter, Sara, in 2005 in a car crash. Sara and her sister, Lindsay, were active members of the Wiscasset High School Outing Club. Spending time outdoors was a big part of her life.
“We were just lucky we had a couple of teachers [at Wiscasset High School] that kept this outing club active over the years,” Carol Leone said. “That was really inspiration. Outing clubs were happening in some places but not many of them. It wasn’t a new idea but one that was already working. We knew if we wanted to make a difference in the growing disconnect between kids and nature, we needed to focus. We picked teenagers, and we picked outing clubs as a way to engage them.”
At first, the Leones’ imagined T3 would be a short-term, volunteer-run project. But in recent years, they realized the nonprofit needs to persist and expand for them to reach their goals and continue to support teen outdoor programming.
A big part of T3’s plan for the future involves the Association of Maine Outing Clubs — AMOC, for short — which T3 formed a little over a year ago.
“It’s a really powerful advocacy group that can tackle issues outing clubs face, such as limited gear, transportation costs, risk management and liabilities,” Meghan Henshall said.
“It’s new but something we always thought would be neat to have,” Carol Leone said.
Currently 22 outing clubs are members of the new association, which offers special perks that include discounted rates at certain outdoor venues and discounted training for skills like wilderness first aid. T3 also holds trip lotteries for AMOC members three times per year for a variety of free or heavily discounted outdoor group trips located throughout the state.
During the most recent lottery, held at the end of September, four high school outing clubs won trips. One offering was a cross-country ski trip at Katahdin Woods & Waters Recreation Area, where the students will talk with the area’s recreation manager and stay overnight at a wilderness lodge. The other three trips included rock climbing in Scarborough, a mountain biking excursion in Jefferson and a hut-to-hut adventure with Maine Huts & Trails in western Maine.
“The list of those benefits for [AMOC] members is growing every day,” Henshall said. “It’s really a network of outing club advisers and student leaders that share resources and ideas.”
“It’s not just been a matter of getting outing clubs started,” Carol Leone said. “Now we know better. Not only do we need to keep T3 sustainable, we need the outing clubs to be sustainable, and we know it’s going to take time.”
Their big vision is to help establish and support active and sustainable outing clubs or outdoor adventure programs at every high school in Maine.
Someday, Leone envisions T3 might reach schools outside Maine.
“We get requests all the time from people outside of Maine asking if there’s anything like us in their state. We’ve shared resources and information outside of Maine with people looking to do similar things,” Carol Leone said. “Using outing clubs to attract teenagers to the outdoors is something that can happen everywhere.”
For information about Teens to Trails, visit teenstotrails.org.