Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Lindsay Bourgoine and Scot Balentine, members of the Maine Outdoor Coalition
One of Maine's greatest assets can be enjoyed 24-7, free of charge in every corner of the state, and a new coalition is working to ensure that more Mainers take full advantage of this resource.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Lindsay Bourgoine and Scot Balentine are members of the Maine Outdoor Coalition.
Maine offers limitless possibilities for nature-based recreation, and the newly formed Maine Outdoor Coalition, a collaboration of nonprofit organizations, businesses and state agencies, invites people to sample many of these during the upcoming Great Maine Outdoor Weekend (www.greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org) from March 2 to 4.
This new Maine tradition, scheduled to occur twice each year, offers a smorgasbord of introductory outings across the state -- most of them free.
Activities range from snowshoe treks and cross-country ski excursions to more unusual activities, such as a sled dog demo, digging for winter steamers and night "owling."
Why get yourself and the kids in your life outdoors?
• One of the best reasons is to experience memorable natural settings with family and friends.
Mainers are fortunate to have wonderful outdoor destinations close to home: even a quick outing to a local park or preserve can offer a fun time bonding with others and enjoying the wonders of nature.
Maine has nearly 3,500 miles of coastline and the largest acreage of undeveloped forest east of the Mississippi River.
Thanks to the hard work of countless individuals and groups, many scenic natural lands are accessible for the public to enjoy. Between 2005 and 2010, Maine saw 1.8 million acres conserved – ranking it first among Eastern states and second nationally in acreage protected during that time.
• Another good reason for getting outdoors is to enjoy greater well-being.
Exercise outdoors strengthens our muscles, bones and hearts while giving a boost to our immune systems. It can help burn calories and increase metabolism – trimming the pounds that have contributed to a nationwide obesity epidemic.
• Time outdoors helps us mentally, too, reducing stress and improving mood and confidence. Research suggests that those who exercise outdoors (rather than indoors) report higher energy and decreased anger and depression.
These psychological benefits are particularly critical for American children, who now spend on average 45 hours each week in front of electronic screens – compared to just 30 minutes each week in unstructured play outdoors.
Playing outside helps relax children, and improve their concentration and academic performance.
"Stress reduction, greater physical health, a deeper sense of spirit, more creativity, a sense of play, even a safer life – these are the rewards that await a family when it invites more nature into children's lives," writes Richard Louv, author of the best-selling book "Last Child in the Woods."
• Time outdoors helps people feel connected – not just to friends and neighbors, but to the larger natural communities that sustain us.
Hours of daily screen time have left many kids disconnected from the natural world. The average American child can now recognize 1,000 corporate logos but cannot identify even 10 plants or animals native to their home ground.
• In challenging economic times like these, outdoor recreation offers the promise of affordable adventures.
A family of four can spend an entire day at one of Maine's beautiful state parks for the price of a single movie ticket. And many nonprofit organizations and outfitters offer guided excursions at minimal or no cost year-round.
The first-ever Great Maine Outdoor Weekend provides Mainers a chance to celebrate their connections to the natural world and enjoy the state's exceptional outdoor offerings. Even as winter slides into mud season, there are plentiful outdoor activities to sample.
Start your explorations during Great Maine Outdoor Weekend, March 2-4, but don't stop there: www.greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org includes links that will inspire you to get outdoors every weekend, and maybe even every day!
– Special to The Press Herald