PARIS — Getting students involved with outdoor activities in a natural setting isn’t easy when you can’t find a car to transport a canoe to the river.
Students and teachers say a lack of transportation and student involvement in other activities are some of the reasons the once-popular Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s Outing Club is now in jeopardy of disbanding.
High School senior Riley Eusden, who took on the leadership of the Outing Club two years ago, said the goal of the Outing Club was to simply get students outside to experience and learn about the outdoors … “somewhere outdoors not on the playing field,” he said.
But problems outside of his control have taken a strain on the club, which was a staple of the school’s offering five or more years ago.
“There are worries. Transportation is a big one,” said Carol Leone of Edgecomb, who organized the Teens To Trails program in 2006 with her husband Bob to involve students in the outdoors. People have to be creative, particularly in these bad economic times, to support a local outing club, she said.
“There are outings clubs that are doing stuff,” said Leone Friday, a day before Outing Clubs from high schools across the state met in Windham for the second annual Teens To Trails program conference.
Teens to Trails reaches out to not only administration, teachers and students but to the community at large to help students organize and keep an Outing Club going.
“We think it’s a lot about being creative and priorities,” said Leone. “It’s not an easy time, but they share ideas … I think it’s all about people being inspired.”
Leone said there are years when high school Outing Clubs don’t have great participation. But the key is to persevere, she said.
“The most important thing is to keep it going,” she said.
The resurgence of the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Outing Club was the result of a student “summit” held two years ago where teenagers brainstormed what activities could enhance the community at large.
Because there was an interest in bringing back the Outing Club, Eusden said he and another student took over the leadership role and began to plan activities.
“I planned eight outings in a year,” said Eusden of events like hiking, ice skating and even sledding down Tuckerman’s Ravine in the White Mountains.
Other outdoor activities were also planned.
“We volunteered at Roberts Preserve,” said Eusden of the area’s new trail system on Pikes Hill in Norway. “It was a blast.”
This year, time was limited for the senior student, and only three events were planned.
“This year we had our first overnight hike. There were not a lot of students, but we had a teacher and his wife. We went to Crag Camp. It was rainy, but we still had a lot of fun,” said Eusden. The camp is about 4,000 feet high near Mt. Adams in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire. “It was raining and cold, but it cleared up the morning after and we hiked up to another hut.”
Eusden said there is concern sometimes from parents about trips where students might encounter bad weather and other hazards.
“You have to be smart when you’re out there,” said Eusden of potential hazards. The group always has at least one adult adviser with them and an emergency contact device that he said usually gets good reception. Both are constants for good reason.
In 2004, students from a previously disbanded Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Outing Club took a winter trip that coincided with a more than three-foot-high snowfall. The group was late returning from the outing and failed to meet a school bus at a prearranged site. The Maine Warden Service, helicopter pilots and Maine Army National Guard began a search and found the group hiking on unplowed Route 113 in Evans Notch.
A review by the school board of directors showed that the storm was not predictable, but board members did require that satellite phones be used on future wilderness outings.
Riley said safety rules are still in effect, and the Outing Club provides information to administrators, release forms and other things to ensure their safety.
“We call when we leave and get back,” said Eusden.
High School teacher Jeff Norton, who advises the club along with Atticus Ford and was on the 2004 trip, said the Outing Club numbers have diminished significantly in the two shorts years it has been revived since its disbandment in 2007 when former adviser Ann Speth left to pursue a master’s degree.
Last year they“were able to do a number of day trips with six to 12 participants on most of the outings,” said Norton. “This year the first two trips had very poor participation, so we haven’t done any since. The club has no budget or stipend, and most of the kids involved are involved in other activities, so at this time it really doesn’t exist, although we might do a trip if there was sufficient student interest.”
Eusden, who concedes that he and the other students may have “faded a little,” said he still hopes to pass along leadership of the club when he graduates in June.
The group has stopped meeting, but Eusden said he hopes to plan one more trip to the White Mountains this spring.
“I think it’s neat that it’s student-run, but we need someone to do it all the time,” he said.