CARATUNK — When Acadia National Park closed two weeks ago as a result of the federal government shutdown, it put a strain on the advocacy group in Maine that supports high school outing clubs, after that group had planned a rendezvous for about 70 Maine high school youth.
But the folks at Teens to Trails in Brunswick simply did what Maine’s best outing club members do in situations like this.
“We were not going to cancel it,” said Jane Koopman, outreach coordinator at Teens to Trails.
The fall camping trip normally held in Acadia was moved more than two hours north to Adventure Bound on the Kennebec River, which specializes in youth adventures. On the outskirts of the North Maine Woods, 45 Maine youth happily traded spectacular coastline scenery for the pine-tree lined Appalachian Trail, and loved it.
“I was hoping the trip to Acadia wouldn’t get canceled, but I was glad I got to do this,” said Oxford Hills sophomore Angela Sanders.
The truth is few within the youth group last weekend knew Acadia.
Teens To Trails co-founder Carol Leone said most years the group that gathers at the rendezvous is made up of too many who have never been to Acadia. How in an outdoor state so many high school youth can be strangers to the state’s only national park boggles the mind, Leone said. But year in and year out, she said that proves to be the trend.
“When we were hiking today and talking about things in the woods, I realized it doesn’t matter where we get them together outside so long as we do. But I was amazed how many had never been to Acadia. The first year we had 75 on the rendezvous and only three had been there. Last year out of 75, maybe five had been to Acadia. So we see there is a real need to do this,” Leone said. “Probably when we reach a point where we have created an outing club in every high school in Maine, we will still need to do this work.”
The good news for the last-ditch rendezvous was buried in the stories of the 45 who did show. Here already were kids who knew how to advocate for the outdoors, like the Oxford Hills club.
Last year when four former Oxford Hills Middle School students got to high school, they were faced with the prospect of no outing club. After going hiking, camping and paddling with a robust outing club program of 40 members, they refused to go without that experience in high school.
So faced with no outing club last year, sophomores Melinda White, Colin Russell and Todd Gustaitis went door to door at their new high school, asking teachers to be their outing club advisor.
“They literally started knocking on doors,” said Allison Long, an English teacher at Oxford Hills.
In the end they found Julie McCabe, a new teacher who had been a member of the Bates College Outing Club while a student. McCabe agreed to lead the young adventurers.
But a year later she took over as an Oxford Hills junior varsity soccer coach and had to leave the outing club. And the students were again out of luck.
They simply advocated again. And found a new advisor on their own.
“They’re so awesome. Basically they kind of heard that I knew about the outdoors from working at a camp,” Long said. “I hadn’t said yes but I said maybe. The next day they were in my classroom holding an outing club meeting. They all just came in and sat down and started having their meeting. I couldn’t not help them.”
The club recruited six more students, and while it remains small as high school outing clubs go, the original founders say their club is high energy and here to stay.
“We don’t want too many, then it gets complicated,” Gustaitis said. “We’re an active group. While the bigger clubs are standing around, we play with each other and do things together. We’re close.”
Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at: