Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative: Maine Students’ Forestry and Recreation Careers Blossom Thanks to Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters Summer Program 

Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters - students on mountain with view behind

Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, in partnership with the Katahdin Learning Project and numerous local outdoors-oriented organizations, facilitated multiple summer experiences for 217 youth grades 6-12 from the Katahdin Region and beyond this summer as part of the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative. 

The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative was launched by the Maine Department of Education in 2022 at the request of Governor Mills with the goal of expanding student access to hands-on, immersive experiences allowing them to explore while learning in Maine’s beautiful bounty of natural resources. Summer 2022 focused on coastal education and career exploration opportunities; this year the Initiative was expanded to include inland forestry opportunities. More than 1,000 middle and high school students participated in programs across Maine this past summer.  

Through the programs offered by the Katahdin Learning Project, a program of the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, career development conversations took place during hiking, camping, paddling, and mountain biking trips across the region. During their excursions, students got to experience hiking, biking, fishing, camping, outdoor cooking, canoeing, wading, stargazing, team building, plant identification, career discussions, fire-starting, and more!   

After spending time outdoors engaged in these activities, one student remarked, “I make better decisions, my brain feels much more clear. I’ve started to ride my bike. And you get to appreciate nature and see beautiful views.” 

Pictures from a day hike this summer:

During their summer programs, students also engaged in career-related conversations with Maine professionals from logging and outdoor recreation businesses and nonprofits, exposing them to multiple support networks, and enabling them to understand possible next steps in their forestry or recreation careers. 

“I truly have learned a lot, and I’ve been able to reflect on my abilities, passions, hobbies, and think about exactly what career would fit me best,” said one high school participant. “I have never thought about a future career path in that sense before.” 

“Students have formed lifelong connections to their place and the people in it,” said Kala Rush, Education Director for Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters. Rush explains that some youth arrived at their summer programs unaware of how to explore their interests or were hesitant to initiate career-related conversations. Many arrived knowing little about Maine’s vast and varied woods and backwoods. Through career discussions along a hiking trail or on a paddling trip, they strengthened bonds with not only the lands and waters of Maine but importantly, the people whose careers are based on forest stewardship and outdoor recreation. 

Pictures from an overnight paddle this summer:

A key tenet of The Katahdin Learning Project is the support of students along varied developmental pathways.  It is hoped that by combining outdoor adventures with career discussion and mentorship, students develop a love for the outdoors and a desire to grow and thrive as individuals. Katahdin Learning Project students are able to begin their next school year with knowledge, experiences, support, and connections critical for making decisions about their next steps in life. 

“I want to go to college to work just like you guys,” said one of the elementary students who participated. 

“We now have multiple young adults who want to continue with additional training and head into a career in the outdoor industry,” said Rush. “They know who to reach out to in their community and feel well-supported.” The summer 2023 programming provided participants with a great breadth of new experiences, connections, and resources for their personal, academic, and career futures.” 

Looking ahead, The Katahdin Learning Project hopes that students who participated in the summer career exploration program return to their schools comfortable and ready to share their experiences while staying connected to summer leaders and co-participants.  

Community organizations collaborating with Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters included The Katahdin Gear Library, Katahdin Area Trails, The Outdoor Sports Institute, Skowhegan Outdoors, and Syntiro, a Maine-based nonprofit that provides professional development and services, focusing on career exploration, and promoting equity and social justice. 

Pictures from an overnight hike this summer:

 A project of the Maine Department of Education, The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative, was offered to middle and high school students during the summers of 2022 and 2023. The summer programs provided opportunities for students across Maine to participate in either marine and coastal ecology or inland forestry experiences allowing and encouraging them to learn about and interact with nature through hands-on, interactive projects and experiences.  Career exploration opportunities that connect them to Maine-based industries were a key component of all programming.   

Governor Mills’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Program funds received from the US Department of Education supported the implementation of this project.  The $1.3 million dollar project was fully funded with GEER funds to support The Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by the USDOE or the U.S. Government. 

Read more about the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative and see a listing of summer programs. To learn about more outdoor education initiatives and opportunities provided by the Maine DOE  visit our website.