BOOTHBAY HARBOR – It’s funny how Maine surprises visitors, leaves them in awe and turns them into residents. That’s happened to more than a few environment-minded folks who came here to experience the wild coast, mountains or forests.

That was the case with Nick Ullo and Tracey Hall when they first came to Maine in 2005 to work on Damariscove Island, then owned by The Nature Conservancy. Taking the job of tending to the island seven miles off the Boothbay coast sealed their fate.

The island eventually was transferred from the Conservancy to the Boothbay Region Land Trust, a coastal group happy to have the island next-door as their own. And in the subsequent years that Ullo and Hall returned from Pennsylvania to work on the island as seasonal land stewards, they came to know the coastal town that loved this wild little island, too.

“It is the gem in our crown. It was too good an opportunity not to take it,” said Boothbay Region Land Trust President James Dun.

And eventually, as Ullo and Hall discovered the slim peninsula chock full of preserved land — 17 parcels to be exact — they wanted to live there full-time. And they found a way.

Today Ullo is the executive director at the Boothbay Region Land Trust, and Hall is the land trust’s environmental educator.

The work-in-land stewardship and public awareness they practiced on the island now continues around the nearby harbor town. And just as their summer work on Damariscove Island was round-the-clock, they plan to make the land trust’s environmental lessons year-round.

It’s why they rolled out the land trust’s family hike series last month.

The second monthly hike for youth held last weekend drew just seven in the rain. But for the couple who fell in love with Maine, it doesn’t take much to raise their level of outdoor optimism.

“This is a good sign. The first hike we had just a few. There are more here in the rain today,” Ullo said at the end of an hour-long, meandering hike along the Gregory Trail.

Youth programs have been a priority for Hall from the outset, but since their first child was born last year, she has moved to step up this work. The “family hike” series that will continue year-round is a first step.

“There is not much offered in the winter. We wanted to help people get outside this time of year. I’ve picked preserves that can be navigated in the winter. If need be, I’ll come out with snowshoes and pack it down. Eventually, I’ll apply for a grant to get snowshoes for children,” Hall said.

Haili Hardwick came on the rainy hike with her young sons, Lukas and Duncan, and her 18-month-old Olivia strapped to her back. The rain, mist and wet trail didn’t bother them.

The boys followed the trail’s blazes with purpose as they weaved along the foggy, wooded coastline. And they ran after Hall as she seemed to uncover a hardwood tree that had become a banquet table for woodpeckers, and a shipwreck that told a story.

“That’s been there as long as I can remember,” Dun said of the overturned boat hull.

With three adults and four children showing in the rain, Ullo believes the monthly family hike will grow. He said it will be held each month no matter the weather, so long as the driving conditions are safe.

To learn more about the Boothbay Region Land Trust family hike series, go to www.bbrlt.org.

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph