Jahnavi Howell, a member of the Cony High School Outing Club, practices casting with a fly fishing rod and reel in Augusta. Photo courtesy of Brenda Weis

AUGUSTA — Having grown up on a farm, Brenda Weis, adviser to the Cony High School Outing Club, seeks to instill in students her love of the outdoors.

“We live in Maine,” Weis said, “but many of them haven’t stepped into the woods.”

Weis has been the outing club’s adviser for 19 years, during which Cony students have enjoyed many adventures. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Weis to be even more cautious and creative when planning trips.

The club can still go on local excursions in Augusta, but is unable to travel outside the city or mix the hybrid-learning cohorts during the week. The club has adapted, be it by visiting Howard Hill in Augusta, cleaning local trails or showing movies.

“We have Zoom meets every other week, and we have ideas for every month of the year,” Weis said. “I have outing club alumni that plan to talk with us, some snowshoeing and sledding, winter camping skills.”

Members of the Cony Outdoor Club can look forward to a trip courtesy of Teens to Trails. The Brunswick-based organization has granted free trips to the outing clubs at Cony, Gardiner Area and Maranacook Community High schools.

Red Fong, communications director for Teens to Trails, said the trips are especially important now because many teachers and students are feeling increased stress related to the pandemic.

“Trips are important right now,” Fong said, “because outing clubs (need) administrative support to come up with information to pass over to supervisors, and they need funding support.”

Members of the Cony High School Outing Club receive a lesson in casting with fly fishing equipment in Augusta. Photo courtesy of Brenda Weis

To sign up for the “trip lottery,” as Fong calls it, outing clubs must be a member of the organization and pay a $20 entry fee. Clubs can choose the trips they would prefer.

Gardiner Area High School won a hike with goats.

Sharon Gallant, adviser to the Gardiner Area High School Outing Club, said the group so far had not been able to go on trips during the current academic year. As a science teacher, she said she understood the importance of maintaining safe social distances and adhering to other safety precautions.

The GAHS Outing Club this year has missed out on its annual trips, including “HobbitLand” in Hallowell and hikes in Camden. Gallant said she was excited to have won the trip from Teens To Trails, but was unsure when the club would be able to go. She is now working on the details.

“The biggest issue is transportation,” Gallant said. “The trip is in Gray, so we would have to wear masks and bring three cars instead of one, and make sure we get there and back safely, which is probably more of an issue than being outside and hiking.”

Because Gardiner is learning under a hybrid model, the two cohorts are unable to come together for trips during the week.

“We have been thinking Jan. 1 (2021) is our to-go date,” Gallant said. “We are hoping things by then will be more under control, and we hope we can get pods A and B together.”

Teens to Trails does not provide a trip guide for the clubs, but, instead, provides financial and logistical support. Most of the trips the organization awards are funded in partnership with L.L.Bean.

Members of the Maranacook Community High School Outing Club gather for a photo during a trip to Pleasant Pond in Caratunk during the 2019-20 school year. From left: Rebecca Dorr, Emily Lucas, Kusha Kane, Claire Holman, Juila Riley, Sara St.Clair, Vita Scott, Tom Ferrero, Robbie McKee and Thomas Poling. Photo courtesy of Red Fong

At Maranacook Community High School in Readfield, the outing club has won an overnight trip for students to learn winter camping skills.

“I was so excited when I found out we won the overnight, but we don’t know how it will look in terms of COVID,” said Robyn Graziano, adviser to the outing club. “I was curious to see what they (Teens to Trails) were thinking of.”

Graziano said the club, now in its second year, might have to opt out of the overnight trip, which would involve staying in cabin and yurts, and, instead, take part only in winter survival skills training.

Maranacook’s club has also not gone on any trips this academic year. The club had a canoe trip planned for earlier this year that was canceled due to weather.

As with the outing club at Gardiner, transportation is one of the biggest issues at Maranacook. Specifically, trying to take trips while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines established by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

“We are faced with, ‘How do we get kids to where we are going?'” Graziano said. “Even for this trip (winter camping), we would request that students get transported from their parents. It’s in Jefferson, not too far, but we wouldn’t feel comfortable about transporting students in vehicles.”

In a “normal” year, Graziano said, Maranacook students would help plan the trip, including transportation and food.

Alternatively, Graziano has looked to students to help lead trips that can be done nearby and allow for social distancing, such as ice fishing or snowshoeing at the school’s campus.

“I don’t know anything about ice fishing, and there are a number of students that know how to,” she said. “I want to get some kids to lead some ice fishing adventures, sometime after school. We are right near Maranacook Lake and we could walk down there and do it.”

The outing club at Cony is looking to do some ice fishing in the coming months, too, as Weis also schedules the Teens To Trails excursion.

In the meantime, Weis said she is showing the 20 students in her outing club how trips can be done almost anywhere, including at the Cony campus.

“That’s one thing I hope my students walk away with,” Weis said. “The Cony campus is beautiful, and we have a lot of access. I hope the kids have an appreciation for what they have. We are showing that what we do have can be right at their door steps.”

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