Amanda Bluda gets back into a canoe during a water rescue drill in preparation for the registered Maine Guide test at a retreat a week ago in western Maine. Behind her, steadying her canoe, is Victoria Jeffcoats. In the canoe to the right are Angelica Anders and Kiani Camire. All four are teachers studying to become registered Maine guides. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Alex Johnson climbs out of a temporary shelter made by teacher-students studying for their registered Maine Guide test at a retreat in Roxbury. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Corey Norman, left, works with written study materials. Videographers from The Timber Cross were invited in to create a mini-documentary about the new registered Maine Guide study course tailored to educators. “I wanted to capture the student’s experiences in real time,” said Kevin B. Frost, owner of Maine Guide School 360. “And hope to inspire other teachers who may want to do this, too.” Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Ryan Holt, left, a four-time contestant on “Naked and Afraid” and owner of The Human-Nature Hostel in Roxbury, acted as a guest instructor for the weekend. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Corey Norman, left, and Jay Linsey prepare a canoe for an assisted water removal during a practical drill for the registered Maine Guide test during a retreat a week ago. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Alex Johnson, left, Kiani Camire, center, and Angelica Anders work on some of the written study materials for the registered Maine guide test while sitting inside The Human-Nature Hostel in Roxbury a week ago. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Kevin B. Frost, left, owner of Maine Guide 360 and an ed tech in Auburn, goes over the parts of a canoe at a registered Maine Guide study course he is running for educators in Maine. The group went to Swains Pond in Rumford to practice canoe rescues. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Out in the New Hampshire woods earlier this month, four miles from a trail head, Corey Norman’s friend started to black out, suddenly at real risk of going into hypoglycemic shock.

Norman had just learned that the tips of red spruce are edible this time of year, loaded with carbs and vitamin C.

“He was unbelievably incoherent,” said Norman. “I took the first one, I put it in my mouth, I chewed it, I said, ‘It tastes like a lemon peel, get ready.'”

His friend ate four handfuls of the bitter buds and it worked. “(It) gave him just enough energy to stave off passing out so we could get off the trail.”

Norman, a filmmaker and associate professor at Southern Maine Community College, is one of nine educators around the state involved in a pilot program teaching teachers to be registered Maine Guides.

“I’ve been drilling my flashcards with trees and that just happens to be one of those little factoids that stuck in my head,” he said.

The group is taking their official state test in two weeks.

Last weekend, during a two-day intensive practice in Roxbury, several teachers told Kevin B. Frost that they’re nervous about test day.

“I looked at them all and told them they should be afraid,” said Frost, owner of Maine Guide School 360 and an ed tech working with English language learners at Edward Little High School in Auburn. “Being a Maine Guide is an enormous responsibility.”

He hopes the course, and more like it, leads to more teachers taking their kids out on field trips, soaking in nature. And as Norman discovered, knowing their way around the woods can become unexpectedly life-or-death serious.

Frost is feeling good about his first crew. “These students have the desire, the dedication and the character that it takes,” he said.

‘IT STARTED TO BECOME A MISSION’

Frost, 46, from South Paris, became a registered Maine Guide in 2015, after a few decades working in the hospitality industry.

“I grew up in Maine and I spent a lot of my time outside,” he said. “After 20 years or so, I was inside all the time, working on weekends, so I was like, ‘I need to get back to my roots,’ because that’s all I ever did as a kid, but I wasn’t doing it as an adult.”

He’s since created his guide school and an affiliated company, Bug’n Out Adventures, which specializes in gold prospecting expeditions on the Swift River, and taught adult ed classes on wilderness survival, gold prospecting, and map and compass use.

“It started to become a mission, to teach others,” he said.

The pilot program teaching educators was two years in the planning. Frost was inspired by the tragic drowning at Range Pond during a Lewiston school field trip in 2018. He used Maine Guide Gil Gilpatrick’s “The Master Guide Handbook to Outdoor Adventure Trips” as a basis for the lessons.

They’ve studied map reading, knots, lost person scenarios, camp cooking, building fires, building shelters, canoe rescues and more.

The course started in February and only got in one monthly in-person session before COVID-19 hit. Frost had to move online until last weekend in Roxbury at The Human-Nature Hostel owned by Ryan Holt, a registered Maine Guide and four-time participant on the Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid.”

(Out of health concerns, the final in-person weekend was pushed back a few weeks, from May. At last weekend’s session, educators were given the choice of wearing face coverings. The day was hot and the retreat involved mostly outdoor and often demanding activities, as well as work on the lake in the water, and they opted not to.)

Most teachers came in to Frost’s program with a fair amount of outdoor experience.

Kiani Camire, who just finished her fourth year teaching sixth grade at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston, spent her summers at camp as a kid and graduated from the Junior Maine Guide Program.

“I like the sunshine, I like hiking and water trips like canoeing or kayaking. I still do that now in my personal time,” said Camire.

The course has been a helpful refresher, she said.

“Becoming a guide would make it easier to take the kids out of the school and on field trips and things like that, just being certified and having all the safety measures,” Camire said.

Andreska Jeffcoats, who works in special education across several grade levels for the Auburn School Department, found out about the course and mentioned it to her sister, Victoria, who works locally as a one-on-one behavioral health professional. Both signed up.

“I try to make curriculum as engaging as possible for students,” said Jeffcoats. “Being outdoors will give them that hands-on experience. Also, being outdoors can help people grow emotionally — using coping skills, team work, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, being creative.”

Victoria said she, too, was looking forward to taking her students outside.

“Unfortunately, the population that I work with, they’re not often thought of as a group that wants to go out into the woods,” she said. “So by taking this class, it will help give me the tools to be able to safely provide a trip for them. I would probably start off with simple day hikes and move the challenge up from there, depending on what I get a feel for where they are at.”

She’s learned how to use flint and steel to start a fire, learned a few more knots and had a built-in study partner with her sister.

REDISCOVERING A PASSION

Norman, who teaches in the communications and new media department, envisions leading one-week to two-week photo and video expeditions into the woods as summer college courses, “where we pack all of our gear, we hike to these beautiful remote locations that they may not normally encounter.”

“I don’t feel like it would be responsible for me to do something like this without being a guide,” he said. “I want to be able to teach them not only to do the expeditions in these surroundings, but also how to charge their equipment with solar power and how to properly maintain and take care of their gear in the elements. I am going to be responsible for them and their well-being. I feel like I need to be as prepared as humanely possible.”

He, too, was outdoors a lot as a child, but got away from it as an adult. Norman said he recently changed his diet and over two years lost 170 pounds.

“My father was an archeologist, my mother was a landscape photographer, so I always spent a lot of time either in a hole in the ground or the woods,” he said. “As my weight was falling off, I found that I could actually start hiking again, which was something that I hadn’t done in 15-20 years. In rediscovering my passion for hiking and the outdoors, I pretty much spend all my free time now on the trails.”

He’s a bit nervous about test day but likens it to the nerves in starting a new movie project: “That means I’m thinking about the outcome.”

Camire, too.

“I’ve heard they try to trip you up on purpose to see how you react,” she said. “The lost person scenario is what I’m most nervous about, just because it’s so unpredictable and you don’t know what they’re going to say. You just have to be quick to think — if this scenario happens, what are you going to do?”

Frost said the teachers will take the registered Maine Guide test with a recreation specialty, qualifying them to lead boating, camping, ATV and snowmobiling trips.

It starts as an oral exam that typically lasts one to two hours in front of a panel. Pass that, and they’ll immediately take a written exam for another one to two hours.

“They’re going to run you through map and compass, ask you some plant and animal identification, then they give you some scenarios, probably have to do a canoe rescue,” he said.

According to a spokesman at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, 227 people passed the guide test last year. While the department doesn’t track pass/fail stats, “if we had to estimate, the pass rate is below 50%.”

Frost hopes to offer his course for educators again this fall and spring with both groups again coming together next summer for an intensive weekend training before taking the test.

“These teachers are on individual missions and the hope is schools across Maine will see the value of having trained registered Maine Guides on their staffs,” he said.

Holt, the “Naked and Afraid” alum, acted as a guest instructor for the weekend, teaching a lesson in primitive fire making with a bow drill.

“From what I saw, I think they’re all ready to be taking their test, they’re studying hard,” he said. “I think what Kevin is doing is great. I wish they had something like that when I was a kid in the school system. I think a lot of healing and a lot of education comes from nature, and I think bringing kids back into nature is going to be extremely helpful.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: