FARMINGTON — A collaboration between Mainely Outdoors, the University of Maine at Farmington’s outdoor recreation and excursion program, and a composite manufacturing class at Foster Career and Technical Education Center is reaping benefits.

The composite students are gaining hands-on experience repairing five canoes for Mainely Outdoors, which offers free gear rental to Mt. Blue students and UMF students, said Andrew Willihan, outdoor recreation coordinator.

The details for Mt. Blue students using the equipment are still being worked out, said Chris DeMarco, composite program instructor at the Foster center.

But collaboration has already shown promise.

Mt. Blue’s YETI Outing Club needed more equipment and supervision for over 30 students to spend time paddling around Clearwater Pond in Industry as part of a back-to-school-week event, said Jim Toner, UMF director of fitness and recreation. Mainely Outdoors staff provided some extra gear and their expertise to help the students learn canoeing and kayaking skills, he said. 

Although Mainely Outdoors primarily serves the UMF campus, programs and equipment are available to the community, Willihan said.

Through the Mt. Blue YETI event, Willihan connected with DeMarco, who accepted the canoe repair as a winter project for his class. 

A grant helped Mainely Outdoors purchase eight canoes and six kayaks to add to the 2o-plus-year-old canoes they had that needed maintenance, he said.  

“Students in the class learn how to design, build and repair a variety of fiber-reinforced projects,” according to a UMF release. “Maintaining the UMF fleet of canoes and kayaks fits right into the class need for projects that provide hands-on experience in the industry.” 

Recently, Foster students made plans to protect the bow and stern of the canoes and repair damage from the general wear and tear from moving against rocks in the water, DeMarco said. The juniors and seniors accept work on items such as boats from the public for the experience, he said. Donations help purchase needed materials.

Working on Mainely Outdoors’ canoes provides a great opportunity to support what the UMF program makes available to the public, DeMarco said.

The knowledge and experience learned prepares them for future schooling and job opportunities, DeMarco said.

“There are not many programs like this,” said William Salisbury, a junior. “We are lucky to have it.” 
Along with the projects, there is a curriculum, DeMarco said. A material testing lab provided by Cousineau Wood Products helps students test and understand how strong different materials are and how they work together.
In another corner of the work area is a 11.2-ton press for skis and snowboards. Working with Olympic champion snowboarder Seth Wescott’s Winterstick research and development provides experience in the use of different materials, he said.
It also helps students gain knowledge of the business side of the work, he said. They see the work of Wescott and Brody Cousineau who have been models for them.
Willihan said Foster students treated like a customer and were polite and attentive.
Another goal of the class is to produce a mold, which takes a higher level of work and skills, DeMarco said while holding a mold for a table saw push stick made by Eli Bessey, a student in the composite manufacturing class.
The composite material will last longer than wood or metal, Bessey said. He likes the hands-on process of taking some material and making something out of it, he said.
At the end of the year, each student will be able to test for American Composites Manufacturers Association certification, a globally recognized entry-level certification, DeMarco said. A couple of students made it last year, he said.
More information about Mainely Outdoors programs and gear rentals can be found on its Facebook page, Willihan said. 

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