SKOWHEGAN — Tom Mason and his 6-year-old daughter, Alana, climbed into the plastic blue and yellow sled, waited for the go-ahead, and shoved off, sailing down the snowy hill toward a frozen Lake George Regional Park.

“It’s really fun — the girls love it,” Tom Mason said just before launching. “It’s good to get the kids outside, with all the restrictions on right now.”

The Masons were taking advantage Saturday of a free, family sledding event hosted by Skowhegan Outdoors, a program of Main Street Skowhegan, and REACH After School Program, a Maine School Administrative District 54 program. REACH stands for relationships, education, aspirations, community and health.

The two programs partnered up with the goal of getting families out in the fresh air and doing healthful activities, particularly during the coronavirus when many children — and adults — don’t get to see each other often, according to Emma Corwin, Skowhegan Outdoors program manager, and Dawn Fickett, REACH director.

“Lake George Regional Park is a wonderful partner for both us us,” Fickett said. “They built up the hill and let us liberally use their property for it.”

It was a chilly 15 degrees at the lake, but the sun was shining, which afforded some warmth for the outdoor enthusiasts.

Delilah Jones, 9, of Skowhegan, had taken several sled rides by late morning Saturday and was playing with her friends in the snow. The fourth-grader who attends Margaret Chase Smith School in Skowhegan squinted into the sun as she exclaimed her approval of the sledding event.

Anna Wiser holds onto her 2-year-old son, Theo, at Lake George Regional Park in Skowhegan on Saturday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It’s fun to come here, because I get to see my friends,” she said.

Jones’ parents, teachers Aliza and Mike Jones, and their younger child, Zeke, 6, also were enjoying the physical activity and socialization. The family is heavily into outdoor activities. Aliza and Mike Jones have been rafting guides. Mike formerly ran an outdoor program through the recreation center, and he directed the outing club at Skowhegan Area High School.

“We try to stay involved with any of these community programs, because we want to support them and help keep them going,” Aliza Zones said.

Donning snowshoes, Fickett’s daughter, Cyneburgh Plourde, 8, a student at Mill Stream Elementary School in Norridgewock, said it was her first time snowshoeing. Plourde said she likes being in the after-school program and doing activities with Skowhegan Outdoors.

“I like swimming when it’s warm,” she said. “I like building snowmen. I like the sledding. We went down the farthest.”

She and Fickett’s partner, Brad Corson, had sledded earlier and said their sled traveled all the way to the end of the run, passing between two piles of snow. Doing so meant they had made a “touch down.”

More than 30 people, including Americorps volunteers who support and work with Skowhegan Outdoors, flocked to the west side of the lake Saturday for the sledding event. Hot cocoa and apple cider were served.

Skowhegan Outdoors is funded by Volunteer Maine and the national government, according to Corwin.

“A big part of Skowhegan Outdoors is bringing together all the agencies that have the same goal in the community,” Corwin said.

Skowhegan Outdoors offers three, free programs every week, all year long, including cross country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking in the winter, and water sports, yoga and hiking in the summer, Corwin said. Once a week, Skowhegan Outdoors and REACH have outdoors clubs at Skowhegan Area Middle School and Margaret Chase Smith School.

“At the heart of all our programs is accessibility,” Corwin said. “We try to keep our programs beginner-friendly and once in a while, we introduce programs that are more challenging.”

Both Skowhegan Outdoors and REACH have “gear” libraries where they loan equipment including skis, sleds and even outdoor attire such as parkas and helmets for the events.

Fickett said the REACH program is funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant and its programs are academic-based, though because of the pandemic, it has focused more on outdoor activities. The silver lining is that the program may not have partnered with Skowhegan Outdoors had there not been a pandemic, she said. The goal of the grant is to provide educational enrichment to children who are low-performing during the school year.

Lev Yudin competes in an informal sledding contest Saturday during a family friendly outdoor recreation event at Lake George Regional Park in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We’re kind of that missing link for reaching success academically, focusing on literacy, math and science,” Fickett said.

On Sunday, a Yankee Woodlot Snowshoe Stroll will be held 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 7 Country Drive in Skowhegan. The schedule for outdoor activities in February is available at skowheganoutdoors.com.

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