DANFORTH – East Grand is one of the smallest high schools you’ll find in Maine.

The garage behind the school that is full of outdoors equipment is one of the largest.

There are 15 mountain bikes, 20 canoes, dozens of Nordic skis, sleeping bags, pads and backpacks, paddles and tents.

The Class D school’s outing class has been teaching outdoor skills and leadership for 14 years as a way to encourage youths to spend time outdoors, learn life skills, even survival skills. It does that and more.

Most students at the school — enrollment of about 50 — take the course, and some even go on to find jobs working in the outdoors, said course instructor Dave Conley, a Registered Maine Guide.

Students who sign up for the course get credit for a physical education class.

“It’s unique for a little school,” Conley said. “It benefits kids; it speaks to kids.”

And they learn to teach, guide and lead outdoor adventure trips every spring by competing together in the school’s annual adventure race, which is open to the public. The race was held this year on May 8.

Sixty-four participants, who came from an hour away — including adults and high school students — competed.

They raced through the woods, over a mountain, through a wind farm and along a stream and creek. The school provides the mountain bikes and canoes for the multi-sport race that is a mini Eco-Challenge.

The school’s phenomenal supply of outdoor gear was first acquired with money from a federal grant 14 years ago, said East Grand principal David Atgar.

But what is more amazing is the continued support by the town in this remote part of Maine.

There are few businesses here, little industry, just a treasure trove of rolling forestland full of fishing and camping bliss. The proof is stretched out across the state’s southeastern border that can be seen at several heights of land.

“Virtually most of the equipment has been upgraded or replaced. The school funds about 50 percent of the operation costs and the rest is literally from local businesses and the town. The biggest contributor is the town of Danforth,” Atgar said.

At the town meeting each year, the town votes whether to contribute tax money to fund the outing class, and it always does, Atgar said, with as much as $8,000 set aside annually to help pay for the roughly $17,000 program.

Students not only learn how to paddle a canoe, navigate through a vast woodland on foot, or winter camp, they do these activities in frequent trips.

“Both my sisters took this class. It’s pretty cool. Our whole family likes being outside,” said Shaunna Beaudoin of Brookton. “We see wildlife on our land, bear and deer. We see a lot of moose.”

For others the experience in the woods is all new, despite the fact that these students live in a heavily forested part of Maine.

“We learn things like what to do if you’re stuck in the woods. I used to be scared of heights. But now I can scale the rock wall,” said Jayne Cousins of Danforth, who came to volunteer.

And the adventure race, now five years running, just increases the students’ exposure to the woods because it makes them not only participate, but compete.

In this year’s race, participants ran more than a mile through a thick, wooded area, rode mountain bikes more than nine miles over rough terrain and paddled a nine-mile stretch of the Baskahegan Stream and Crooked Brook.

As many as 40 school students volunteered and 13 East Grand students competed, Conley said.

And to prepare for the race, outing class students met Conley on Baskahegan Stream to practice paddling at 6 a.m. before school.

“Dave wanted us to get up early. We’d paddle three miles and back,” said sophomore Andrew Gilman of Danforth.

Conley boasted that the outing class students wanted to get up at dawn.

“I didn’t have to twist their arm too hard,” Conley said.

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]