LEWISTON — When the Gray family moved to Maine eight years ago, they bought 45 acres off College Street intending to farm.

Turned out they weren’t farmers, and that turned out to be OK.

Oldest son Simeon took a serious interest in the woods and inspired a different enterprise: Back to Creation Outdoor School, a new summer camp and one-day workshops 10 minutes from downtown.

They hope to get kids, and eventually adults, back to nature with a modest commute. This first season, it’s an all-family enterprise: Cathy Gray and her four children make up the entire staff.

The outdoor school is city-approved for four outhouses and eventually the Grays want to build a dirt-floor pole barn as a covered classroom. For now it’s even more basic, which they thoroughly embrace.

Simeon, 22, a certified Junior Maine Guide, has cleared a spot by a stream that he calls “our water ecology classroom and he teaches about clean water and the importance of the environment there,” said Cathy Gray, owner and director. “We have another spot he calls the amphitheater and he might talk about tree ID, wildlife or staying found, that kind of thing. He’s building an earth lodge now out of dropped trees.”

The Grays are Christian and the school’s name is a nod to that, but its programming isn’t religion-based. The point really is to come, unplug and learn, Cathy said.

“If you can put down your technology for a minute and you’re out in the woods, you start regenerating, renewing, refreshing and being out here starts decluttering things inside emotionally, spiritually, physically, and that’s research-based,” she said.

The camp caters to children ages 8 to 14 with a different theme each week, a maximum of 12 to 15 children per session. Most sessions run for five days and are held right on their property at 49 Old Farm Road. The outdoor school partnered with Lisbon Recreation to offer two weeks at Beaver Park in early July. Costs range from $150 to $250 with scholarships offered.

At Girls Adventure Camp, there was carpentry and basket weaving. At Nature Camp, there was track casting and dissecting owl pellets to see what the birds had been eating.

This week, Simeon will pretend to be lost in the woods with campers for three nights for Advanced Survival Camp. They’ll sleep in tents and pack supplies, but spend days learning how to purify water, carve utensils, build a shelter, build and set primitive traps for small animals and fish.

He said his interest in the outdoors was sparked growing up in Virginia, exploring a neighbor’s three-quarters-of-an-acre wooded lot with friends.

“When we moved here to Maine, we bought land that had 45 acres, so it just turned into a giant playground for me,” he said. “I very much believe the best way to learn something is to try to teach it.”

He’s a USA Archery certified Level 2 instructor trainer, a certified wilderness first responder and is studying now to become a Maine Guide, a certification that would allow for off-property adventures like canoe trips.

“He wanted to really reach inner city kids or kids that just can’t go an hour-and-a-half away to Bryant Pond or some of these other great camps that Maine has to offer, and for (less) money as well,” said Cathy.

They’d like to see the outdoor school become a nonprofit, grow into a four-season camp, host more overnight sessions and, next year, add more counselors.

For now, Bronwyn, 20, and Ethan, 17, also both archery-certified, pitch in to teach with 13-year-old Maddie as a counselor-in-training.

“(Simeon’s) passionate about the teaching; I’m passionate about seeing him successful,” said Cathy. “I know that he is awesome at educating and he knows I’m awesome at working with the public, so we stick to what we’re good at and that way we can both shine. We need each other to make this work; neither one of us could do this without the other one.”

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Sylas Mason, 12, of Lisbon, left, and Brody Gould, 6, of Lisbon, second from right, listen to Back To Creation Outdoor School director Cathy Gray talk about building a shelter in the woods at Beaver Park in Lisbon recently. Her son, Simeon, lead instructor, right, looks on.

Campers and staff from Back To Creation Outdoor School take a break from making shelters in the woods at Beaver Park in Lisbon recently.

Campers and staff from Back To Creation Outdoor School take a break from making shelters in the woods at Beaver Park in Lisbon recently.

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