February 2

Deirdre Fleming: Step away from that iPad for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend

The Feb. 14 weekend is your chance to experience the real Maine

The fifth installment of the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend might be the biggest yet, with 115 events planned across the state, more than ever. The irony in the weekend is that the folks putting it on are banking on our fast-paced, convenience-oriented culture drawing out more nature neophytes.

Now in its third year, the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend is a vehicle to motivate, inspire and guide the most inactive among us. It includes dozens of outdoor organizations across the state offering outdoor events, activities and programs on the same weekend.

But really what this weekend does – and proves – is that by simply tapping into our love of convenience, we can grow participation, even in outdoor events that involve roughing it.

Make it easy and they will come.

“We don’t have any research to back it up, but after the (weekend) in September we sent out a survey to organizers (at the 98 events) to try to see how many events got new people, and they said they saw 20 percent new participants and 30 percent who were new to the activity offered,” said Kaitlyn Bernard at the Appalachian Mountain Club, one of several outdoor organizations that helps organize the weekend.

In a 21st-century culture that revolves around smart phones, iPads, wifi, and talking GPS systems, this original made-in-Maine outdoor celebration targets the techie and calls to the casual outdoor fan.

And each of the past four times it was held, the organizers saw an increase in participants, up to 7,000 in the fall. They think it’s possible to top 10,000 the weekend of Feb. 14 to 16, Bernard said.

Just a few website pages list all 115 events taking place over three days across the state. Just one click and you can find a full weekend full of introductory outdoor sports, wherever you live in Maine.

Mainers who have never shot a biathlon air rifle, taken part in a torchlight ski parade or raced through ski gates can take part in one or all of these events, and easily find where they’re being held.

The fourth installment of this weekend offered 98 events and the Appalachian Mountain Club accepted new events right up until that weekend in September. This time the organizers set a cutoff for when events could be accepted and the weekend still recruited 115 events despite being capped a month before the event. Now all efforts are going toward getting the word out.

But without much effort, that seems to happen.

“We’re starting to see in our fifth, that organizers have really jumped on board,” Bernard said.

“The 115 events came in without too much soliciting. Organizers say it’s a convenient way for people to join their organization.”

Maine’s Outdoor Weekend is starting to take on a life of its own, Bernard said.

“We have more unique events. I think people feel the momentum around this event building.

“We kind of lucked out this year; the weekend is around a full moon and Valentine’s Day, which makes it easier for groups to create unique events,” Bernard said.

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph

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