A new Maine-based business, Back40, is connecting adventure seekers with guides through a website that makes searching, booking and reviewing outdoor experiences easy.
“We hope to reach a new market,” said Back40 founder and CEO Henry Gilbert of Portland. “Obviously there are plenty of people going on guided trips already, but there are a lot of digitally connected urban adventurers that don’t even know these experiences are here.”
Launched in April, the website — back40adventures.com — offers a variety of guided outdoor experiences, from rock climbing excursions to lighthouse tours.
“This isn’t for the adventure enthusiast necessarily,” Gilbert said. “It’s for the adventure dabbler.”
Essentially an adventure marketplace, Back40 is much like the popular rental websites airbnb.com and homeaway.com, where people can search and book homes and rooms for rent, then leave reviews.
“It’s a proven model that works,” said Gilbert.
Applying to become a Back40 guide or “host” is free, but hosts will not be accepted if they don’t have certain credentials.
In Maine, if a person guides certain outdoor activities and accepts money for that service, then by law, that person must be a registered Maine guide, a designation that can only be earned through rigorous testing. To obtain the license, one must pass a written exam on state hunting, fishing and recreation laws, as well as be able to identify local wildlife, navigate by map and compass and much more. The applicant must also pass an oral exam that tests how they perform certain outdoor skills and respond to emergency scenarios.
Activities that require a Maine guide license (if being paid to lead that activity) include hunting, fishing, trapping, boating, snowmobiling, using an all-terrain vehicle or camping at a primitive camping area.
In addition, certain activities — such as whitewater rafting — require additional licensing.
So if Back40 hosts plan to offer any of those activities, they must provide a copy of their up-to-date Maine guide license and any other required licenses or certificates.
“Having such a rigid guide program actually is really helpful for us getting started. Being so small right now, it does a lot of the vetting for us,” said Gilbert. “If they’re a registered guide, we know they’ve already met these criteria.”
That being said, there are certain outdoor activities in which these Maine regulations do not apply. Activities that people can lead without being a registered guide include — but are not limited to — hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and skiing.
Once a person is accepted as a host, they can post trips for free. Back40 only receives money when hosts are successful in booking trips; then Back40 receives an 8 to 10 percent commission.
“I think it’s great,” said Noah Kleiner, co-owner of Equinox Guiding Service in Camden. “They’re going to make money and we’re going to make money. Being able to collaborate with another small business and work together in getting our names out there is really great.”
Equinox Guiding Service, a team of two registered rock and ice climbing guides, has been in operation for about a year. They joined Back40 because they saw it as an easy marketing tool, one that would take some of the computer work off their hands while they spent more time outdoors, doing what they love.
Back40 Creative Director Tom Ryan, a Portland native, said he’s interested to see how the project evolves as more hosts join. Already, hosts are adding adventures he would never have envisioned, such as a mountaintop roleplaying game.
“We’re excited to spotlight these people who are doing really interesting things in the state,” Ryan said, “and have them decide what images of Maine culture they want to show, let the guides contribute to how people perceive the state.”
The website opened to hosts in March and to the general public in April, and so far nearly 50 adventures have been listed. Most of these outdoor experiences are in Maine, but there are a few adventures on the map in Vermont and New Hampshire as well.
“Right now, we’re focusing on Maine,” said Gilbert. “We want to really prove the model here.”
In addition to offering the classic outdoor trips such as guided hikes and paddles, the founders of Back40 hope that hosts will come up with some atypical offerings, such as learning experiences on farms and homesteads. In fact, the name Back40 originally came from the idea that farm-based adventures being a big component of the website.
Current adventures listed include a class on campfire cooking in Freedom, Maine; a moose safari in the Greenville area; a four-day biking adventure on southern Maine islands; and a half-day outing to learn Tenkara, a Japanese style of fly fishing, in the Maine mountains.
“Living in Portland, I see a lot of evidence of a booming tourism economy down here,” Ryan said. “But a lot of that activity seems to be really restricted to the food industry and a couple really popular destinations, whereas all this stuff I’ve grown up doing and I think is really cool about Maine doesn’t get as much press and attention.”
“There’s a pretty shallow image of what Maine is and what Maine has to offer,” he added, “and we’d like to show more of what’s out there.”
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