Lydia Gauvin prepares to mount a sign she made that says, "Welcome to the River" at the Penquis Adventure Trail at Penquis Valley Middle School in Milo. Credit: Courtesy of Laurie Sproul

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Alicia Heyburn is the executive director at Teens to Trails, a Maine nonprofit that supports getting teenagers outside through outdoor clubs, grants, gear, scholarships and programs.

Youth need time outdoors to be happy, healthy, connected and curious. Nature is an ally in our healing, and outdoor time is accessible in many forms beyond competitive sports. 

A troubling report in the Portland Press Herald stated, “In Maine and across the country, the number of adolescents who attempt suicide has risen dramatically.” We have an immediate opportunity to care for ourselves and our youth with more exposure to the natural world.

Here in Maine we are lucky to often be proximate to nature, but that does not mean it’s accessible. We need programs, training and even requirements to keep us from backsliding inside.

Outside magazine reports that many schools are making pandemic-initiated outdoor classrooms permanent, finding that outdoor learning helps students stress less and   focus more, and improves equitable access to nature.

Teach ME Outside helps all Maine youth have access to hands-on environmental learning opportunities. And Teens to Trails partnership with the Maine Department of Education is paying schools to start outdoor clubs. Over $73,000 has been distributed so far through the WAVES program to 74 middle and high schools operating Outdoor Clubs. This is a record in Maine, and we are a leader in the country for outside learning and recreation within our school day.

Teens to Trails is introducing the Life Happens Outside Challenge for Maine middle and high schools to foster an appreciation for the outdoors and its multitude of wellness benefits. The weeklong challenge takes place Oct. 23 through Oct. 29 and is designed to get students active and connected to the outdoors. Arcadia, a climate crisis fighting tech company, is providing a $1,000 prize to the three Maine middle and high schools with the highest amount of outdoor time proportional to their school size.   

Let’s elevate outdoor time at school and ensure that co-curricular activities are given the same priority as competitive sports. If sports are in session, field trips and clubs should be too! We can help our youth heal and thrive with time together, outdoors.