August 4 – 10, 2017Vol. 19, No. 9

Youth Learning About the Outdoors

Gil Whitehead (fifth from left, back row) with Kroka Semester team mates.

by Pete Kallin

This was an abbreviated week for me. My wife and I took a long weekend to visit our kids in MA and NH, which was a lot of fun but we sat in enough traffic to remind us how lucky we are to live in Maine.

I got back in time to head to Rangeley for a day, where I spent a few hours fly-fishing the Kennebago River in the rain and then served as the opening night campfire speaker for the Junior Maine Guides' 80th annual encampment. The JMG Program was established by the Maine Legislature in 1937 and is a joint initiative of Maine's Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife and Maine Summer Camps. The program is designed to foster rewarding, enjoyable and healthy outdoor living experiences for youth ages 9 – 18, who attend summer camp at one of the roughly twenty camps throughout Maine that host programs, including Camp Runoia on Great Pond. Its progressive curriculum of 15+ skill sets is aimed at not only teaching campers to be self-reliant but to cultivate their respect for the environment.

Each summer, roughly seventy-five 16- to 18-year old JMG candidates who are striving for certification come to the annual week-long encampment to demonstrate their master of various physical and cognitive outdoor skills to roughly 20 JMG counselors and testers. Shelter and fireplace building, outdoor cooking, axemanship and canoeing are examples of some of the physical skills, and things like first aid, tree identification, environmental concerns/regulations, map reading/orienting and identifying points on the map of Maine are examples of some of the cognitive skills. It was a lot of fun to be involved with so many young people who were "fired up" about the outdoors and learning the skills that will enable them to thrive in the outdoors for the rest of their lives.

Another great program that provides a life-changing experience for young people is Kroka Expeditions based in Marlow, NH. From January to June, Gil Whitehad, of Belgrade's Winterberry Farm, and a student at Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Goodwill Hinckley, participated in Kroka's "Winter Dreams" semester. The students learned outdoor skills, built a lot of their own equipment, and then spent a month skiing across the Gaspe Peninsula and camping in the Chic-Choc Mountains, ran the Clyde River in white water canoes, spent two weeks rowing 200 KM down Lake Champlain, and then biked 170 km back to Marlow, NH. They took academic classes, kept a journal, and BLOG along the way, graduating in early June. Gil's older sister, Kenya, now a student at the College of the Atlantic, participated in a similar program a couple of years ago.

Three generations of the Brackett/Johnson family from Connecticut and New York enjoy a kayaking excursion on Long Pond.

Meanwhile, back in the Belgrades, I foraged mushrooms, picked berries, did some hiking, and got in a little fishing. At one point, I caught a roughly three-pound bass on my fly rod on a shoal about 100 yards off of the Village Inn docks on Long Pond. It took about 10-15 minutes to land the fish and three generations of the extended Brackett/Johnson family, who were kayaking by stopped to watch the action. They were renting a cabin in the village for a week and having a great time forging lifetime memories.

Take advantage of the rest of the summer and get out on the lakes or hike or bike in the hills. And take a kid along. You will be creating memories that will last.

Pete Kallin is a past director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance.