WINTHROP — Winthrop bills itself as the town where you play outside. The Bailey Public Library is now making it a little easier for those hoping to live up to that motto this winter.

Earlier this week, the library began offering snowshoes of all sizes for members to check out free of charge just as they can the library’s books. Patrice Putman, chairwoman of the town’s recreation committee, said the meeting of books and snowshoes makes perfect sense.

“We play outside,” Putman said, “and we read a lot.”

Putman helped drive the effort to get Winthrop to adopt the play outside slogan about five years ago. Putman, who served on the town’s comprehensive plan committee, noticed many of the plan’s goals promoted outdoor activities.

“She decided we should be the play outside town,” said Margy Burns Knight, the town’s Play Outside coordinator.

These days there are regular reminders of the slogan with signs that read “Winthrop Plays Outside” in yards and commercial spaces across the community.

But the playing outside is about more than a slogan, Knight said. It’s a reflection of the town’s commitment to highlighting outdoor activities and encouraging people to enjoy them. Toward that end, Knight a couple of years ago began seeking grants through the Oak Grove School Foundation to purchase L.L. Bean snowshoes to loan out to anyone who was interested. Knight purchased a total of 40 pairs of snowshoes with grants awarded in 2013 and 2014.

The shoes proved a hit. Knight, working with the YMCA, checked out the shoes more than 2,000 times in the past three years.

But neither Knight nor the YMCA has a process for lending equipment. Enter Bailey Library Director Richard Fortin. Knight approached Fortin last spring with the idea of using the library to lend out the snowshoes.

“The library’s in the lending business,” Fortin said.

The library’s system will make it much easier to keep track of the snowshoes, Knight said.

“We hatched this plan that we would lend out snowshoes like library books,” she said. “I’ve handed them out in a very haphazard and fun way. This is going to work a lot better.”

Fortin said he and the library staff cataloged the snowshoes just as they do books. Each pair is marked with a catalogue number that has a corresponding library card. Fortin said it cost about $50 in material to set up the lending system, which he said is no more complicated than borrowing a book or anything else from the library, Fortin said.

“I tried to make it as easy as possible for the staff,” he said.

Members can visit the library’s Bowdoin Street location and check out a pair of snowshoes, but just as with its books, the library also allows members to reserve snowshoes by visiting its website, baileylibrary.org. Fortin said those interested in reserving a pair, or multiple pairs, should type in “snowshoes” in the search the catalog bar at the top of the home page.

“They can even place a hold with their library card and come in and pick it up,” Fortin said.

The snowshoes can be checked out for a week.

“If there’s no reserve on it, we’ll renew it,” Fortin said.

Library cards are free for anyone who lives, works or goes to school in Winthrop, and non-residents can get a card for $40 a year.

The snowshoes, which went on display Wednesday, are ready to be lent out. A chart on the wall next to the display includes a list of sizes and the appropriate weight range for each size. Fortin hopes the sign will avoid an uncomfortable conversation.

“We don’t want to ask people how much they weigh,” he said, smiling.

The display captured the interest of resident Mike Hersom, who was visiting the library as the snowshoes were being stacked on a portable shelf. Hersom, who said he enjoys snowshoeing and cross country skiing, hopes the program will get young people to enjoy the outdoors more during the winter months.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Hersom said. “If it gets them out snowshoeing it would be great.”

Putman said the snowshoes have already helped encourage her family to enjoy the outdoors.

“Last year I had them out and my 83-year-old mother went,” she said. “They know they’re going to be playing outside. This is Winthrop. This is where we play outside.”

Fortin said libraries across the state have expanded their horizons in recent years to offer more than books, but still Fortin believed Winthrop would be a trendsetter when he and Knight decided to partner up to lend snowshoes.

“I wish I could say we’re the first library to lend snowshoes in Maine,” Fortin said. “Biddeford beat us to it last year.”

Fortin said he has talked to library board members about expanding the opportunities for people to get out and enjoy the outdoors. The town’s recreational activities are important to people who live in town, Fortin said, and a draw for those who don’t.

“I want to work more with Margy to figure out year-round activities,” Fortin said. “I understand (lending) cooking pans and stuff, but I’m more interested in what Winthrop has to offer outside.”

Knight said the library and the town have been faithful supporters of her group’s effort to promote outdoor activities. Increasing access to the snowshoes is more fruit of that cooperation.

“We can offer them all for free,” Knight said. “People are very appreciative of that because it’s very expensive. Everyone can snowshoe now.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @CraigCrosby4

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