Junior Maine Guide tester Ron Fournier, left, congratulates Junior Maine Guide program student Toni Usher of Brownville on Thursday afternoon in Rangeley after she successfully set up the individual shelter in the foreground using a small tarp, ropes and outdoor skills knowledge learned from experienced instructors at Maine summer camps.

RANGELEY – With clipboard in hand and future employment as a licensed Maine camp trip leader on the line, 14-year-old Jack Dixon of Litchfield stood near the Kennebago River.

He fine-tuned his “map of area” exam in the Junior Maine Guide program, before handing it to tester John “Moose” Curtis of Hebron.

“This was one of the longest tests I’ve had to do,” Dixon said of his compass-orienteering drawing of the Rangeley leadership proving-grounds.

“But, it looks nicely done,” said Curtis, who, like other testers, sat under a canopy a mile into the Rangeley wilderness off Route 16.

Dixon waited four years to participate in the 72-year-old outdoor skills program, which is designed to foster enjoyable, safe and healthy outdoor living experiences for youths ages 9 to 18.

“My cousin did it and said it was one of the best experiences of his life, and I’ve always loved being in the outdoors, and making fires and cooking,” Dixon said.

Sponsored by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Youth Camping Foundation, the Junior Maine Guide program was created by the Legislature in 1937 to promote use of Maine’s wilderness for recreation, while training conservation to new generations of youth.

Various Maine summer camps teach it through experienced instructors.

The program culminates with a five-day encampment along the Kennebago River, four days of which include tests on things such as starting a campfire with wet wood, canoeing, and axmanship.

“It’s a pretty intense program,” said Curtis, a Hebron Academy teacher. “These candidates worked hard to learn the paperwork and skills.”

Sixty-two boys and girls ages 14 to 18 from Maine and North America participated in this week’s testing to achieve Junior Maine Guide certification.

The achievement can establish the groundwork for later training and certification as a licensed trip leader and registered Maine Guide. It can also provide a lifetime enjoyment of living with nature in Maine’s wilderness, Curtis said.

Not everyone passes.

Curtis said this year’s pass rate was in the lower 50 percent. Last year’s was 45 percent.

Participants can fail one of 11 major subjects and three of nine minors and still pass overall.

Majors include axmanship, canoeing, individual shelter and fireplace, topographic map, map of area, map of Maine, trip equipment, first aid, cooking and group encampment. Minors are Maine issues, wet-day fire, trees, hiking/backpacking, equipment and general knowledge, environmental concerns, minimum impact camping and wilderness regulations.

For Dixon, Max Zambito of Columbus, Ohio, and Brownville brothers Josh and David Usher, failing wet-day fire was a setback to overcome.

None was able to boil a can of water over a fire made from wet wood they’d split with an ax and furiously shaved into kindling with a knife in the allotted 20 minutes.

“It’s very frustrating,” Zambito said. “You try so hard. I had my fire going at one point and it just died out.”

“It’s extremely nerve-wracking,” said Josh Usher, 16. “This was one of the hardest tests.”

“At first, I had it going pretty good and then I ran out of shavings, so then I was using the dead matches,” said David Usher, 18.

“The hardest thing is the stress,” their sister Toni Usher of Brownville said after Fournier scored her well for individual shelter and campfire.

“Like worrying about what you’ve learned all this time and putting it all together in one week,” Toni Usher said. “You learn this stuff separately all year and you put it all together and it’s like, ‘Wow, we’ve learned a lot.'”

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Max Zambito of Columbus, Ohio, softly blows flames up the back side of a can of water on Thursday in Rangeley during state testing of Junior Maine Guide program participants. Zambito attends Camp Kawanhee in Weld.

Cheeks puffed out, Max Zambito of Columbus, Ohio, splits wood to use during Thursday’s wet-day fire exam in the Junior Maine Guide program testing in Rangeley. Participants had to demonstrate axemanship skills by splitting wet wood, shaving it with a knife into kindling and starting a fire to boil a can of water, all in 20 minutes.

Jack Dixon, 14, of Litchfield finishes up his “map of area” exam during Thursday’s state testing in the Junior Maine Guide program in Rangeley. The exam tests compass and orienteering skills learned from instructors at Maine summer camps. Dixon attends Camp Kawanhee in Weld.

Charlotte Cleveland, 16, of Chicago takes a bearing from a compass atop one of several marked posts during Junior Maine Guide program testing on Thursday. Many of the 62 youths participating in the four-day outdoor testing were trying to pass the program to become licensed Maine camp trip leaders. Cleveland said she was participating for personal enjoyment and the chance to escape bustling city life for Maine wilderness.

To boil water in the can in the allotted 20 minutes, David Usher, 18, of Brownville, tries to blow up some flames on kindling he shaved and cut from wet wood during Thursday’s state testing in the Junior Maine Guide program a mile into the Rangeley wilderness off Route 16.


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