Sheridan Steele, Acadia National Park’s superintendent, started a push to get kids into Maine’s outdoors during a summit back in 2006, hoping the idea would gain momentum.

In three months, the results will be felt across Maine.

It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend is scheduled for the first weekend in March. It is the culmination of what Steele started five years ago, aided by the work of a new outdoor coalition.

Outdoor groups, agencies and nonprofits across Maine met in September to discuss how to connect more Maine families with the outdoors. They decided an extraordinary weekend would be a good first step.

So on March 2-4, outdoor groups, land trusts and retailers will collaborate to teach, guide and mentor Maine adults and youth in outdoor skills and wildlife activities at a number of locations.

“My concern is kids are not connecting with the outdoors and their surrounding environment. If you spend all your time on electronic media, who cares about air quality or water quality or environmental issues?” Steele posed. “I knew there was wider interest in this beyond my little corner of the world, at the national parks or Acadia. Health professionals and the outdoor industry, mental health and social workers are all interested in these trends. It really needs to be addressed on a wider scale than just through park offerings.”

The movement was embraced four years ago by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands with its Take It Outside campaign and then the successful First-Timer Campers program that gets families to take camping vacations at select state parks.

But the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend could get the message out like never before, Steele said.

The group behind the weekend, the Maine Outdoor Coalition, already has support from dozens of groups, said Brian Wentzell of the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Coalition members include WinterKids, Ferry Beach Ecology School, the Appalachian Mountain Club, L.L. Bean, the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Teens to Trails, the Chewonki Foundation and the Bureau of Parks and Lands.

In early January, a website will be launched listing the events taking place during the three-day festival.

“I think there is now good momentum for this coalition, and this event. There are so many organizations involved,” said Wentzell, the AMC’s Maine woods advocate.

Wentzell said the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend will feature outdoor activities across Maine — and a follow-up assessment by the coalition will determine how to do it better next time. Then next summer, they’ll repeat it with a warm-weather statewide outdoor weekend.

Coalition members believe both weekends will be successful annual events.

“I think everyone involved in this effort, they are all committed, they’re trying to turn this around. It is so important to the health not only of individuals, but society,” Steele said.

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

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