Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative: Past Programs

Summer 2023 Programs 

Governor Mills’ Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative is a statewide effort to increase student access to hands-on, outdoor learning experiences and career exploration over the summer. The summer program provides opportunities for middle and high school students across the state to participate in either marine and coastal ecology or inland forestry experiences that allow them to learn about and interact with nature through hands on, interactive projects and experiences. Many of these programs also offer students career exploration opportunities and connect them to Maine-based industries connected to the land and sea.  

Coastal Ecology Programs

Boothbay Sea and Science Center hosted students for two one-week residential experiences on the shore and water along Linekin Bay in Boothbay Harbor. They were immersed in marine ecology programming and worked alongside shipwrights, scientists, aquaculturists, and fishermen and women and learned about marine-based careers.

Chewonki, in Wiscasset, hosted high school students for a three-week Coastal Ecology Kayak Expedition, an in-depth experiential training in off-grid marine living. Students developed leadership skills and learned small craft handling, map and compass navigation, weather and tide impact, individual marine survival skills, and coastal animal and plant habitat. Students camped at a different island each night and had exposure to marine-related careers as they learned from fishermen and women, fisheries researchers, maritime construction professionals, coastal ecology and conservation scientists, and maritime-related governmental and nonprofit agencies. They visited the Marine Aquarium in Boothbay Harbor, the Darling Center in Walpole, Oyster farms in Damariscotta, the Wooden Boat School in Brooklin, the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership, and The Gulf of Maine Marine Research Institute.  

Students participated in a three-day intensive marine ecology program, working aside scientists at the Beals Research Hatchery and in the field along the coast. They learned about sustainable natural food resources, observed the placing and growth of juvenile “seed” clams, threats from invasive green crabs, and clam survival and growth. Students set and monitored traps, learned research and critical thinking skills, and presented their findings to their group and adult mentors. Half-day sessions were also offered to a wider cohort of Washington County students and five current aquaculture students at Coastal Washington County Institute of Technology were interns in the programs.

Herring Gut, in Port Clyde, offered five coastal ecology programs to students on the coast and through bringing the coast inland.  

  • Junior Marine Scientists Camps was available for middle school students on the St. George Peninsula and on the Colby College Island campus. Students were immersed in the marine environment while they kayaked the St George River and sailed in Penobscot Bay, observing marine birds, mammals, and other wildlife. Students participated in hands-on marine science projects during these on-water experiences as well as in the saltwater lab on land. Career exploration with marine science and trade careers as well as community science projects were key elements of the week-long camps. 

  • Experiencing Maine’s Marine Economy offered high school students a three-day camp focused on emerging coastal and marine industries. With a focus on STEM and interdisciplinary learning, students assisted in setting up the new Saltwater Lab which features kelp farming, shellfish production, and the American Eel industry.  Students kayaked to an oyster farm and took field trips to local marine-related industries. 

  • Coastal and Marine Career Days at Lincoln and Knox County Libraries. At least ten inland town libraries offered programming to middle and high school students to expose them to marine science and coastal trade careers highlighting Maine’s Blue Economy. Herring Gut brought their Marine Life Touch Tank and related marine ecology and trade equipment and gear for students and families to engage with and learn from.  

  • Coastal Tidepool Treks and Beach Clean-up Days. Offered monthly at three separate locations, middle and high school students participated in full-day coastal experiences under the leadership of marine educators. Students explored tidepools and identified their inhabitants. They learned about animal adaptation, classification, invasive species, and tides using field research methods. This program focused on the human impact on the coast of Maine. 

  • Watershed Watchers Along Knox County’s St. George River. This program offered middle and high school students, and their parents, in-depth community science exposure at three different locations along the St. George River. Together, they examined the ecological differences along the river. These experiences complemented the “Fresh to Salt:  Flowing Together” educational resources piloted in area schools this academic year on the Kennebec River from Richmond to Greenville. 

Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership, in the Midcoast, offered coastal opportunities and four programs on the island in Penobscot Bay.  

  • After intensive pre-trip training, five participants in the Hurricane Island Pinnacle Partners for Explore YOUR Coastal Maine sailed or kayaked along the Maine coast for up to 15 days where they learned nautical navigation and safety, Leave No Trace (“LNT”) campcraft, outdoor cooking, maritime knots, the natural history of Maine, the science of tides and currents, and marine ecology while gaining leadership and resilience skills.  

  • More than a dozen students from the Northstar youth mentoring program at Telstar High School in Bethel spent six days on Hurricane Island where they studied life in Maine’s intertidal zones and on the water, engaging in coastal ecology challenges focused on plankton, the interconnectedness of marine ecosystems, and the human impact of marine debris and water chemistry, while learning to live together in an island community. 

  • In partnership with the Game Loft of Belfast, Hurricane Island provided programming for 28 students in two groups. First the Game Loft Student Leadership Team spent five days envisioning and planning the integration of coastal management into Game Loft programs. In the second program, a cohort of students from Mt. View High School in Thorndike experienced the “I Know ME” program which also focuses on quality science learning. Group relationship building, problem-solving, and decision-making are central to the Game Lofts non-electronic game programs. Living and learning on the island offered inland students exposure to marine science, research, coastal ecology, sustainable fisheries, and marine habitat. 

  • The Island Institute of Rockland and UMaine Cooperative Extension partnered to offer 14 students from inland Maine an on-island, five-day program to study the science and practice of aquaculture. The program focused on the Blue Economy, climate change, challenges to the lobster fishery, and the need for fishing industry diversification. Students learned about scallop and kelp farming and took home “DIY/Do it Yourself” aquaculture labs. 

This summer, students had the opportunity to attend a 15-day Hurricane Island Outward Bound Sailing Program. A 30-foot open sailboat served as both a home and a classroom. Students became self-sufficient in skills such as intermediate and advanced chart and compass navigation, small boat seamanship, weather observation, and anchoring. Students engaged in regular group discussions, reflected on each day's progress, and shared leadership and onboard responsibilities so that every crew member was part of planning each day. As they lived and worked closely together, they learned far more than seamanship. The habits learned and strengthened on these expeditions will lead to stronger academic outcomes and stronger career aspirations and outcomes. 

Rippleeffect served students in grades 6-12 at their summer outdoor programs on Cow Island in Casco Bay. Offerings included:   

  • WAVES, a five-day summer day camp program for 7th and 8th graders focused on sea kayaking with an optional overnight. 

  • Islanders, a week-long overnight program for 6th graders based on Cow Island focused on leadership skills, outdoor living practices, and kayaking. 

  • Explorers, a week-long overnight for 7th and 8th graders which includes a one-night paddling trip and visits to nearby Casco Bay islands. 

  • Journeys, a week-long overnight camp for 8-10th graders with visits to nearby islands and a two-night paddling trip. 

  • Trippleffect, a ten-day adventure kayak in Casco Bay and backpacking trip in the White Mountains. 

  • Paddle Trek, a week-long expedition offered to 7-9th graders who studied marine ecosystems while camping on different Casco Bay islands each night. 

  • Sea Kayak Guide-in-Training Program, Rippleffect’s most advanced program, was offered to students grade 10 and above. This was an 11-night sea kayak expedition to transform students “from participant to guide.” 

Sailing Ships Maine offered students one-week marine ecology-themed voyages on board large sailing vessels where students learned sail handling and ship steering, watch-standing, and how to monitor the ship’s health, safety equipment and procedures, coastal navigation and piloting, marlinspike, bosunry, ropework and line-handling, weather observation, marine engineering, basic marine biology and ecology, and the math of navigation.  

More than 100 Maine students received scholarships to attend the Governor’s Academy for Coastal Ecology. Four six-day sessions based at the Ecology School's Saco campus featured experiential learning for students in grades 6-9 with a focus on science, coastal ecology, conservation and sustainability. Hands-on learning, field ecology and observation were touchstones of the program, along with canoeing, art projects, evening recreation, and elective activities. Capstone “Eco-inquiry” projects allowed students to demonstrate their new knowledge and confidence. 

University of Maine Extension/4-H, based at the “U-Me 4-H Camps and Learning Centers" at Tanglewood and Blueberry Cove in Lincoln County, offered Maine students a marine-focused multi-day immersive program with a focus on community science, marine debris education and clean-ups, and interactions with local scientists and representatives of marine-related professions for career exploration. Hands-on science projects developed with these professionals deepened students understanding of their work.  A focus on cooperation, teamwork, and community science enhanced development of leadership skills. Exposure to the University of Maine Marine Sciences Department and its Sea Grant Program, 4-H aquaponics specialists, researchers, marine biologists, sea farmers and others was provided during the summer programs. 

Inland Forestry Programs 

Chewonki, based in Wiscasset, provided students in grades 9-12 with an intensive three-week expeditionary camping experience. Students gained self-confidence, learned woods and forest ecology and stewardship, and gained wilderness skills, including off-grid living, navigation, map usage, survival skills, navigating changing weather patterns, and plant ecology. Students met with and learned from numerous woods and logging business, stewardship and recreation professionals, and nature-based nonprofits throughout the trip.  ;

Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, in collaboration with the Katahdin Learning Project, provided hundreds of Maine students in grades 6-12 with daily interior woods experiences in the Northwoods Gateway region. This day camp experience provided exposure to the fields of forestry, forest management, outdoor recreation, and hospitality, as well as Maine’s logging and woods ecology and history.  High school students earned a Maine Career Badge and younger students participated in woods-related career exploration activities.  

Maine Audubon partnered with nonprofits and schools in Portland, Lewiston and Bangor to provide students between the ages of 14-17 with immersive two-week day camps in woods and urban forests surrounding their communities. Students learned forest ecology and stewardship and developed forestry and leadership skills while earning service-learning credits.

Maine TREE Foundation provided an immersive 6-week overnight experience for 9 Brewer High School students in the Gulf Hagas-Katahdin Iron Works region. Six unique weekly themes provided campers with basic forestry and forest ecology education and stewardship while exposing them to careers in forest manufacturing, habitat, outdoor recreation, and Maine’s forest and forestry history. Students will built their own tent platforms, planned and cooked their own meals, built a timber-frame shed at base camp, and learned wilderness and outdoor living skills. 

The Portland Parks Conservancy in conjunction with the City of Portland and Portland youth Corps, provided dozens of Portland-area students with job-readiness ecological stewardship, trail building and maintenance, habitat restoration, and bridge-and boardwalk construction skills. After kicking off the experience with a three-day overnight immersion in the woods at The Ecology School, students job-shadowed and worked alongside city maintenance staff and the city’s Maine Conservation Corps Environmental Steward. 

The Ecology School provided more Maine students in grades 6-9 with a six-day overnight experience at their Base I campus in Saco. Students were exposed to the Ecology School’s diverse forest ecology system through their “Battle of The Biotic” curriculum.  Students learned forest sustainability outlined in the TES “Ten Year Forest Management Plan” and about Maine’s sustainable foods agroeconomy. Exposure to woods and forest careers was provided through visits from sustainable lumber industry professionals and others. Each student presented a capstone science project to their peers.  


Summer 2022 Programs:

Herring Gut will offer a field-based, experiential excursion program for students to learn about and experience the most innovative marine-based industries and research facilities in Midcoast Maine. The program will include day trips to several marine businesses and organizations along the coast where students will participate in tours, have opportunities to speak with professionals about their work, and discuss expertise they may need to enter various marine industries. Students will gather information from their excursions and culminate their work in an assessment of the facilities at Herring Gut Coastal Science Center’s aquaculture and aquaponics systems. Students will visit both indoor and outdoor facilitates like laboratories, hatcheries, and greenhouses, as well as outdoor locations like oyster farms, sea run fish accessible streams, and local beaches and mudflats as part of their immersive experience during the session. This pilot will pave the way for similar future programming to engage more and more Maine students in Maine’s coastal and marine industries. 

Hurricane Island + Bryant Pond will launch a new partnership between Hurricane Island and NorthStar to bring thirteen 7th graders to Hurricane Island this summer. Bryant Pond 4-H and Hurricane Island have developed a program for the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative that offers coastal ecology experiences to middle school students from Western Maine who have little to no exposure to Maine’s marine environment.  This program offers students extended opportunities for quality science learning and leadership development on the shorelines and waterfronts of Hurricane Island. Additionally, this new program will generate an exciting relationship with NorthStar, a youth focused non-profit in Bethel that allows them to extend the reach of their programs into areas of rural Maine where we have not yet been able to cultivate partnerships. The University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center at Bryant Pond’s NorthStar program is a hands-on mentoring program that connects young people with caring adults through community engagement, cultural exchange, and adventure challenge and leadership. Some of the program outcomes include: knowledge and appreciation of the marine environment through using the scientific process to come up with and answer their own research questions; working with Hurricane Island’s professional research team to get hands-on marine research experience with aquaculture projects; exploring the intertidal zone using field research methods to collect data; investigating marine debris from microplastics to large scale shoreline cleanups; using sampling methods to collect oceanographic data both onshore and on the water; hauling lobster traps and learning about the biggest economic industry in Maine; increased confidence and self-awareness while engaging the natural world; a feeling of stewardship and belonging that connects students to each other and a sense of regional pride and identity. 

Hurricane Island and Gameloft have designed a program for middle school students that highlights student leadership and coastal ecology. This new partnership will create opportunities for experiential learning and leadership in two ways: 1) It will bring the Game Loft’s Student Leadership Team to the island to vision how to integrate more coastal engagement into all of the Game Loft’s programs and 2) It will bring a cohort of 6th graders from the Troy Howard middle school as part of a new initiative of the I Know ME program. These weeklong programs will offer both groups of students extended opportunities for quality science learning and leadership development on the shorelines and waterfronts of Hurricane Island. Additionally, these new programs will solidify an exciting and valuable new relationship with The Game Loft, a youth focused non-profit in Belfast that allows us to extend the reach of our programs into areas of rural Maine where we have not yet been able to cultivate partnerships.

The Discovery Voyage Coastal Ecology and Marine Environmental Systems program will provide experiential educational opportunities for high school students on Maine Maritime’s campus, including hands-on learning through sample collection aboard a Maine Maritime Vessel, exploration of the wet labs and other campus facilities that allow for up-close experiences with various marine and aquatic species. The program will also invite participation in simulation labs and excursions aboard various marine vessels that include navigation lessons.

This program will include two sessions for middle school and high school students with exposure to collaborative teamwork in boatbuilding and exploration and studies in tide pools and mud flats along the Maine coast.  In Session 1, high school age students and teachers will build Bevins Skiffs which are 12’ wooden rowing boats, working in groups of five. Students will learn to row, work with tools, measure, follow written and verbal instructions, learn project management skills while working as a team. The stability allows rowers to exchange places while on the water and so every student learns to row without an adult in the boat. Students learn to row very quickly building their on-water IQ rapidly. Boats have enough space to carry tools for science exploration, water sampling, fishing, understanding tides and currents and basic navigation. In Session 2, the newly built boats will be utilized in the Coastal Ecology program for middle school age students. The Coastal Ecology program will include shore-based and water-based exploration to study tide pools and mudflats while learning to navigate and feel comfortable in various small boats of the Sailing Ships Maine fleet, including the Bevins Skiff and Ensigns. The curriculum will include observing the salt-freshwater interface and learning to navigate the tides and currents, measuring salinity, catching and releasing fish and identifying species of marine growth, sea birds and aquatic plants.

The Governor’s Academy for Coastal Ecology is an immersive coastal ecology summer learning camp designed for Maine students entering grades 6-9. During a week-long program at The Ecology School’s River Bend Farm campus and numerous field trips to coastal ecosystems (sand beach, tidepools & salt marsh), 60 Maine students per session will explore and connect with the ecosystems that make up our state’s unique coastline. Lessons will be grounded in The Ecology School’s 23 years of ecological, ecosystem-based teaching and taught by our team of experienced educators. The Ecology School will collaborate with programmatic partners such as the University of New England, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, The Climate Initiative, Atlantic Sea Farms, and Wells Reserve. The program will run for three separate weeks, serving 60 students in each session. 

BSSC’s Whitehead Island School Program is a weeklong island immersion for 6-12th grade students and their teachers to engage in experiential marine science and environmental education that applies their learning to real world and local issues that affect the ocean and their well-being. Immersed in a science-learning and research-based environment, students will work side by side with shipwrights, educators, scientists, aquaculturists, and local fisherman. They will then return to their communities with newfound knowledge of careers in aquaculture, boatbuilding, marine science, marine ecology, and a better understanding of the meaning of sustainability, entrepreneurship, and innovation that will galvanize their sense of leadership as stewards of the environment. 

Casco Bay High School and Rippleffect have partnered in the past to offer two immersive, coastal experiences to freshman and seniors that have proven to be extremely successful in helping students to build meaningful relationships with their teachers and one another and deepen their appreciation for the outdoors and learning in the outdoors. Many students, though living in Portland, have very little exposure to the ocean and coastal experiences and this program affords them the opportunity for a hands-on, immersive learning experience in the waters of Casco Bay.  

  • The Freshmen Quest is the touchstone fieldwork experience for freshmen's year-long, interdisciplinary exploration of the question: “What makes a successful community?” The Cow Island adventure is designed to orient freshmen to one another, their advisory groups, expeditionary learning and the possibilities of high school. Freshmen engage in kayaking and outdoor living skills as well as group initiatives and writing exercises that focus on community building. 

  • The Senior Quest is an opportunity for seniors to unite and take stock of who they are and where they want to go. The Quest serves as the launching point for a Senior Humanities course which focuses on students successfully completing the college application process and a senior project. During the Quest experience, students will learn coastal navigation, environmental stewardship, leadership skills, and more!

DEI will offer a summer intensive to students from Washington County entering grade 5 and up. In this full-day program participants will engage in a clam seeding project at a local mudflat (in Molly Cove). Students will strategically place juvenile clams in repurposed plant pots in different locations within the mudflat.  Over the experience, students will collect data on the survival of the juvenile clams in the various pot types and locations. The goal is for students to see and understand the impact that clam predators like the invasive green crab have on clam survival and growth. Throughout the course of the experiment, students will learn how to accurately record scientific data, properly take core samples of sediment near their experimental set-up, view samples under a microscope, and much more. Students will also design and test hypotheses and practice their critical thinking skills. On the final day of camp, students will present their findings (methods, data, and conclusions) to an audience to practice their science communication skills.  

  • In addition, DEI will offer six sessions throughout the summer focusing on different outdoor lessons and skills. Each session will be centered around fieldwork done at DEI’s nearby rocky shore. Session topics will be: A comparative microscopic analysis of the saltwater algae grown in DEI’s labs to saltwater samples of naturally occurring algae in local coastal waters; a study of the gastropod species found at three different tidal levels; a transect and quadrat survey of the number, size, and sex of invasive green crabs found at one or more tidal levels; a seaweed analysis protocol to assess the growth and abundance of rockweed at two tidal level; the use of equipment to collect the temperature, pH, and salinity of saltwater samples at three different locations on DEI’s campus; and an examination of tidal pool and rock scrapings to examine under compound microscopes. Through these additional sessions, students will learn how to do cell counts, make wet slides, collect samples, practice observational skills, determine seaweed age and phenophase, learn/review proper use of compound microscopes, follow scientific protocols, and use testing equipment.


HGCS will expand their existing Junior Marine Scientist Program to offer additional time and space for students to participate. In the Junior Marine Scientist Program, participants gain a unique perspective on the marine environment and marine career pathways in Midcoast Maine. Students entering grades 6-8 will have the opportunity to explore Maine’s coastal ecology through this weeklong program where participants will conduct field experiments, explore aquaculture and aquaponics, and learn about marine organisms and ecosystems that are unique to Maine. The program also provides leadership opportunities and familiarizes students to marine industry career pathways. Sessions will be offered in both July and August. 

Hurricane Island Foundation will expand its Penobscot Bay Leadership Collaborative. This program offers students extended opportunities for quality science learning and leadership development on the shorelines and waterfronts of Hurricane Island this summer. Expansion of this program will strengthen existing relationships with other local youth focused non-profits and allow the program to extend its mentorship of students into the school year, increasing the amount of hands-on nature based learning beyond the singular summer experience and creating opportunities for students to engage their peers and classmates in student lead, community-focused, sustainability projects. PBLC serves 6-8 grade students, teachers, and community members from schools in Lincolnville and Knox County including Vinalhaven School, North Haven Community School, St. George Elementary School, Oceanside Middle School, Camden Rockport Middle School, Lincolnville Central School, Hope Elementary, Appleton Village School, Medomak Middle School, and Troy Howard Middle School. The 14-day summer intensive serves middle school students directly, while the new student-led projects implemented in the fall will serve a broader constituency of teachers, administrators, and community members. This year, the program is targeting female identifying middle school students from our partners schools.

Weeklong program for first generation, immigrant and refugee, female-identifying students from Portland Public Schools. During the four-day immersive camp, young women from Portland will explore the Wells Reserve as their home base for learning about science and nature on Southern Maine’s coast. Here they will visit the beach, take part in a lesson on the marsh, and spend time nature journaling. Towards the end of the week, the group will take to the water and kayak on the Little River.  The Wells Reserve research team will lead activities at the Wells Harbor dock including pulling up crab traps, exploring pilings for marine invasive species, and learning about our System-Wide Monitoring Program station. Research Associate, Laura Crane will meet with the group and share about her career path as a female scientist.  Several guest presenters will introduce a mix of fun and educational topics to the group.

Rippleffect is an environmental and wilderness education organization located on Cow Island in Casco Bay. Their goal is to be a no-barrier program of access to outdoor learning experiences for all Maine youth. All of Rippleffect's programs work to lower the financial and cultural barriers that exist in accessing life-changing experiences in the outdoors. Through the Initiative, Rippleefect plans to expand two existing programs: 1. Coastal Vital Signs Study, which is an inter-tidal zone curriculum designed by the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. In this program, students explore Cow Island shorelines & tidal pools to search for sea life which provides information on the changing ecology of the bay. Students learn to identify species and to determine which are endemic, invasive, and learn about the environmental impacts of changing marine life, and; 2. Expansion of scholarship opportunities for underserved Maine youth to attend outdoor summer programs. Rippleffect provides over $80,000 in scholarships to attend summer programs each season. In 2022, the goal is to grow scholarship support to $100,000 to support additional staff and program materials to make this possible.

Sailing Ships Maine is offering students from grades 6-12 the opportunity to sail aboard a seaworthy commercial training ship as an active member of the crew learning: 1) sail handling and ship steering; 2) watch standing and monitoring ship health; 3) safety procedures and equipment; 4) coastal navigation and piloting; 5) marlinspike, bosunry, ropework, line handling; 6) observation of weather at sea; and 7) STEM subjects - marine engineering, basic marine biology, the math of navigation. Through this hands-on experience and necessity of 24/7 operations, sail trainees are engaged, they are needed, and they are fully immersed as an essential part of operations on the vessel at sea. Students will eat, sleep, sail and live aboard the Schooner for 5 nights and 6 days while exploring the Coast of Maine, islands and inlets. Students will take part in daily “classes” including marine ecology, maritime history, and sail training. 

The Schoodic Institute will engage 2,000 Maine students in summer day programs and up to 200 additional Maine students in our acclaimed multi-day immersive outdoor Schoodic Education Adventure (SEA) program. Schoodic Institute’s outdoor, hands-on coastal education programs encourage students to learn, discover, understand, and solve problems by experimenting and evaluating possible solutions. Curriculum-based outdoor education on the rugged coast of Maine offers an unparalleled experience for students and an exciting way to build science literacy and enthusiasm. These experiential learning opportunities are designed based upon our science efforts to provide critical information for managing coastal resources, and to increase public understanding and appreciation for science and nature. No-cost to low-cost programs and associated scholarships lower barriers for under-resourced schools and low-income families to participate in meaningful education opportunities. Furthermore, living-wage internship positions created through this project will be springboards for bright careers in outdoor education in Maine.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension summer camps at Blueberry Cove and Tanglewood have been bringing youth to the Maine coast for decades and support from the Maine Outdoor Learning Initiative will allow the programs to expand their capacity and enhance their current offerings. These programs provide affordable, nature-based experiences for youth from every county in Maine. Over 300 youth from across Maine will benefit from this program with 50 new camp scholarships being created. For these programs, emphasis is placed on community living, costal ecology, sustainable agriculture with campers working in and snacking from the 1/2-acre organic veggie garden and exploring the twenty-five acres overlooking Tenants Harbor. Blueberry Cove includes 1400 feet of protected ocean frontage, sleeping cabins nestled in a mature spruce forest, meadows, gardens, a fleet of boats, and spectacular field trips within 10 minutes of camp. Participants will be exposed to a myriad of outdoor activities, career possibilities along Maine’s Midcoast.