CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Julie Galliegher hiked for an hour around the mountain bike trails near the new Adaptive Outdoor Education Center below Sugarloaf, all the while looking up to the Alpine ski mountain where she had competed in the Maine Special Olympics.

Galliegher, 40, a participant at the Elmhurst center in Bath that helps people with intellectual disabilities, kept asking those around her if she could come back to stay at the education center in the winter.

Annemarie Albiston, who held Galliegher’s hand during the hike, assured her again and again: “We will get you back here in winter.”

Since Albiston and her husband, Bruce, opened the nonprofit center in December, it has been slowly introduced to dozens of Mainers with disabilities. The Albistons built the center with their own money, erecting a spacious lodge with a kitchen and several bunk rooms, a challenge course, and a yurt for meals, craft making and dancing.

The Albistons’ goal is to offer a center with outdoor activities and the necessary adaptive equipment for people with all disabilities, as well as a lodge where they can stay overnight to experience Maine’s mountains and lakes.

The range of people the center plans to serve is wide. It includes those with brain or spinal-cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and those who are blind or visually impaired. The Albistons say they want to challenge the center’s guests in outdoor sports while teaching self-confidence, independence and an appreciation for nature.


The couple has volunteered for years with Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, and Bruce Albiston serves on the board of Maine Adaptive and the Pine Tree Society, which also serves people with disabilities.

The center offers fishing, hiking, cycling and a challenge course in the summer, and Alpine and Nordic skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Bruce Albiston said soon it will offer horseback riding and sailing at other locations. The center has just one full-time staff member, Kayla Miner, its director.

While hundreds of people with disabilities have learned outdoor sports through Maine Adaptive since 1982 – and while other centers, such as Pineland Farms, provide activities with adaptive equipment – the Albistons’ outdoor center is one of a few in Maine that offers lodging. At Pine Tree Camp in Rome, which offers year-round programs and cabins, there’s a waiting list to attend the summer camps, said Erin Rice, the Pine Tree Society’s development director.

The Albistons charge $15 a night per guest, or $20 for a private room.

“At organizations that serve those with disabilities there are two challenges: transportation and housing. We are providing a lodge, so if someone wants to come ski at Sugarloaf for a few days, they can,” Bruce Albiston said. “We provide the facility and the programs, and the organizations provide the staff.”

After another yurt is built and an interactive nature trail added, the total cost of the project will be close to $1 million, said Bruce Albiston, who recently sold Maine Oxy, an Auburn welding supply and industrial gas company that he had run since 1972.


The motivation for the center came from personal experience. When Annemarie Albiston’s father, Andre Hemond, had a stroke in 2005 and lost his ability to communicate, a condition known as aphasia, Annemarie founded the Aphasia Center of Maine to provide annual retreats for those with the condition. In August, the center will hold its fifth retreat, drawing nearly 150 people from around New England. When it’s over, Annemarie Albiston says she’ll cry.

“I brought my father to an aphasia center in New Jersey after his stroke in 2005. There’s not anything like it around here. The whole drive back I was saying, ‘This is what we need. This is what we need,'” she said.

“We fell in love with this work. We wanted to help people with all disabilities, so they could have fun in the outdoors and to enhance their lives. We started small, but this is the dream,” she said, glancing at the new lodge.

Carrabassett Valley provided a 50-year lease to the Albistons to build the lodge at the cost of $1 a year on town-owned land. Town Manager Dave Cota said Carrabassett Valley will continue to help the adaptive center.

“It’s a win-win for the town,” Cota said. “Recreation is our industrial park. It’s our economic lifeline. To have this additional recreational amenity is very important to us. People will come from all over. We feel very fortunate that this wonderful organization is in Carrabassett Valley. We’re very fortunate and proud.”

The group visiting the center last week came from the nonprofit Elmhurst center in Bath. They rode recumbent bikes, fished in the town’s stocked pond, and hiked the mountain bike and Nordic ski trails. Many of the 13 participants said it was their first time riding a bike.


“The people there went out of their way to talk to everybody and do activities with them. They had all their names learned immediately,” said Augustus Haferman, an Elmhurst support professional. “There aren’t too many opportunities to stay at a place like this that I know of.”

Participant Ricky Sturtevant, 55, who loves to toss flying discs, said the challenge of balancing on a recumbent bike was a bit unnerving, but a total thrill.

“It’s not easy,” Sturtevant said. “It’s fun. You make sharp turns. I’m very happy I tried.”

And Galliegher loved her first visit to the mountains in the summer. She enjoyed the solitude, and couldn’t wait to return.

“I’d like to stay in the cabin in winter. I like to cross-country ski. I need all the practice I can get,” Galliegher said. “Camping here would be good for me, too.”


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