The Maine Outdoor School leads a guided hike in eastern Maine. Credit: Courtesy of Maine Outdoor School

A new outing club for women and summer day camp for girls is launching in eastern Maine this year. Both programs will be free and run by Outdoor Women Lead, or OWL for short.

Established in 2020, OWL is a collaborative project of the nonprofit organization Women for Healthy Rural Living and the Maine Outdoor School, both of which are based in Milbridge.

“Women for Healthy Rural Living’s mission is to advance and promote the health and wellness of the woman, her family, and her community,” said Zabet NeuCollins, assistant director of Women for Healthy Rural Living. “And since it is proven that spending time outdoors significantly increases your chance of a healthy life, we’re excited to continue our work to remove barriers that women and girls experience in the outdoors.”

OWL began as a virtual project with a series of videos and blog posts that taught outdoor and naturalist skills. These short lessons — which include Camping 101 and Canoeing 101 — are available for free on the Women for Health Rural Living website, as well as the organization’s YouTube channel and the “OWL – Outdoor Women Lead” Facebook group.

“We started building this virtual community around women outdoors and we recognized that there was even more interest continuing something with in-person, outdoor opportunities,” said Hazel Stark, co-founder of Maine Outdoor School. “It meets both of our missions really well to figure out ways to have women and girls engage in healthy, outdoor activities.”

The new OWL Outing Club will welcome women of any age to connect and learn with each other on regular hikes in the Down East area. The plan is for the first hikes to be scheduled for this spring.

“If you haven’t done something like hiking before or you haven’t done it much, it can be intimidating to do it by yourself,” said NeuCollins. “This will give women not only the knowledge but also the peer support to get out and do it together.”

The free summer day camp for girls, OWLette, will be based at the Milbridge Commons Wellness Park. Campers will develop outdoor, gardening and naturalist skills, while also learning about what they can do to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The tentative plan is to hold two five-day camp sessions this summer, catering to girls who are 12 to 15 years old. However, these specifications may change as OWL receives more feedback from the community throughout March and finalizes the plan.

The camp will be led by Stark, who is a registered Maine guide and will be bringing in experts from the community to help teach and demonstrate certain outdoor skills.

“The outdoors can be a place where we can find peace, get inspired, discover our strengths and develop new skills,” said Stark. “During camp, we’ll be outdoors the whole time, rain or shine, so a big part of it will be simply learning how to be prepared for outdoor experiences.”

These new OWL offerings are supported by Healthy Acadia’s Downeast Partnerships for

Success Fund, the Davis Conservation Fund and Maine Community Foundation’s Conservation

for All Fund.

OWL is currently seeking community input for its 2021 programming through two online bilingual (Spanish and English) surveys. These surveys, which you can fill out at whrl.org/programs/owl, will help determine the structure and focus of both the camp and outing group. Once these surveys close in mid-March, information about how to register for both OWLette and the outing group will be posted at whrl.org.

“We’ve seen, especially in this past year, the health impact of being outdoors and how important that is from just a pure exercise standpoint, but also for overall happiness and stress reduction,” said NeuCollins. “I think everyone can agree that just being outdoors and having sun hit your face is a really good and healthy thing to do.”

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...