Ethan Landry, center, looks as Bri Dostie shows him and other students some of the bugs and flora that live in the water during a fly fishing class at the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center in Brunswick earlier this month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

BRUNSWICK — Dan and Ethan Landry laughed out loud at the same time while talking about fishing.

Such is the enthusiasm often found at the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center, which helps those with disabilities learn outdoor skills. The nonprofit has expanded its reach since it opened six years ago in Carrabassett Valley, and will have a grand opening later this summer at its newest location, in Cumberland County.

At one of the first fly fishing classes at the new Brunswick center, the father-and-son team reveled in talk of fishing and skiing, and the non-profit that has taught Ethan both in a helpful, welcoming way. 

“This sounded like fun. We learned a lot of stuff. And you can do (fly fishing) without a boat,” said Ethan Landry, 17, who has a rare cognitive condition.

Ethan Landry had three strokes at birth, and as a result has no peripheral vision in his right eye, epilepsy and autism. Though to hear Ethan talk fishing, his health challenges are not evident.

The Landrys, who live in Brunswick, have fished together with spinning gear for 15 years but wanted to learn to fly fish. The fact they were able to do so in a class together was no small gift, said Dan Landry. Classes offered at other outdoor organizations, he said, would not have made the lessons as accessible to Ethan.

“My wife is a registered child therapist and she (directs) some of her patients to AOEC (at Sugarloaf),” Dan Landry said. “From the beginning, they’ve treated Ethan like gold. When I drove by here, I thought, I know that sign!” 

In the six years since the center in Carrabassett Valley – now called AOEC North – opened with an overnight lodge and yurt for community gatherings, those with disabilities have learned a variety of outdoor activities such as skiing, sailing, rowing, rock climbing, and waterskiing. 

In that time, Adaptive Outdoor Education Center co-founders Bruce and Annemarie Albiston have expanded their footprint across Maine to Portland, where they partner with Sail Maine; to Camden, Acadia National Park and Clifton for rock climbing classes; and to Camp CaPella in Dedham outside Bangor, where paddling and waterskiing are taught on Phillips Lake.

Annemarie and Bruce Albiston at the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center in Brunswick, with their dog Ivy. The Albistons started an adaptive center in Carrabassett Valley six years ago and have expanded with centers in Dedham and Brunswick. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The accessible classes drew about 750 participants in 2019, and continued to a lesser extent in 2020 during the pandemic, Annemarie Albiston said. Most participants come from Maine, but others travel from across New England.

Now with a 3,000-square-foot events center in Cumberland County that has 5.5 acres with gardens and accessible trails, the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center can serve more people closer to Maine’s population center.

The new adaptive center is still being completed and will host a grand opening in early September, but some classes already are being offered.

It has a theater and stage, a commercial kitchen and large classroom, an amphitheater outside and crushed-gravel path around the perimeter of the center – all of which is accessible by people in wheelchairs. In fact, Annemarie Albiston said, the entire center was tested by participants who use wheelchairs.

Now with a fully accessible event center – which will be rented out for other events – “the sky is the limit on what we can do now,” she said. 

The idea for serving those with disabilities had been building for the Albistons for more than 15 years after Annemarie’s father, Andre Hemond, had a stroke and lost his ability to communicate, a condition known as aphasia.

In 2012, a year after Bruce Albiston sold his company Maine Oxy, the couple founded the Aphasia Center of Maine to hold annual retreats for people with aphasia. 

In December, 2015, they opened their first adaptive outdoor campus on land they rent from the town of Carrabassett for $1 a year.

Two years ago, they purchased 5.5-acres in Brunswick that was a former Spurwink campus and proceeded to renovate and expand the main building and update two additional buildings at a cost of $1.8 million. 

Later this summer, they plan to purchase an adjoining 15 acres at a cost of $500,000. The Albistons formed an LLC in the past year to purchase the land in Brunswick – and now rent it back to the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center for $1 a year.

The additional buildings on the campus they will rent to non-profits – all of which serve people with disabilities, such as Maine Paws for Veterans, an organization that connects veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with service dogs.

The events room at the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center in Brunswick will host programs for people with disabilities. Founders Annemarie and Bruce Albiston are planning to rent the center out for other events and groups, as well. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“When this is finished, Bruce envisions taking the old building and renovating and expanding them – turning it into a campus with many nonprofits,” Annemarie Albiston said as she stood on the new stone-dust accessible path in Brunswick – and then raised her arms.

“If you’re going to dream, dream big.”

Two weeks ago, Bruce Albiston was one of five participants in a small group being taught to fly fish. The Adaptive Outdoor Education Center classes, he pointed out, are not just for people with disabilities, but also for their friends and families, to make them more inclusive.

With four participants who had disabilities joining him, they learned from four Registered Maine Guides about bug life in the pond on campus and how to tie flies to mimic it.

“We never forget the education piece,” Bruce said. 

Programs at the new center will include classes in fishing, conservation, and gardening as well as art, theater and music. With a spacious theater that holds a karaoke machine full of 1,500 songs, the Albistons plan to form a choir that will be named, Horizons Choir.

Ajay Beaudoin, center, listens to Nathan Wight talk about different kinds of flies in a fly fishing class at the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center in Brunswick earlier this month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“I can’t wait for the cooking classes, to learn how to make Annemarie’s famous macaroni and cheese,” said Ajay Beaudoin from Lewiston, a member of the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center’s Alpine ski team.

Beaudoin, 23, found adaptive center soon after it opened in 2015 and said it changed his life. He was born with a cognitive condition called agenesis of corpus callosum, or ACC, a rare disorder in which the two cerebral parts of his brain do not connect completely. 

At the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center, Beaudoin said, he has thrived after “coming out of my shell,” and finding friends he could trust.

“This ski team is very accepting of all people,” Beaudoin said during a break in the fly fishing class. “I told my parents, when I came to AOEC, I felt like I was home. Everyone is so helpful. They’re willing to slow things down. And Bruce is like a grandfather.”

Annemarie Albiston said she and Bruce are often asked when they will retire. She laughs at the question. She said at 59 and with Bruce now 71, they’re having too much fun. They’re also not done expanding the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center’s reach.

Bruce Albiston plans to travel to Aroostook County in the coming months to explore the possibility of a chapter in The County.  

“It is an underserved area,” he said.


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