This past weekend, L.L.Bean was proud to sponsor the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend, a series of events all across Maine designed to help Mainers get out and enjoy the natural wonders of their native state. We asked guest blogger Justin Chase, writer of Outdoors, by Cracky!, to check out a couple of the events and report back:
When Maine hosts an outdoor open-house, you can bet my family and I get excited. For the fourth time, the Maine Outdoor Coalition organized their aptly named “Great Maine Outdoor Weekend.” This time they offered a hundred events spread across every county. For a few weeks I scanned their offerings like an excited kid with a holiday catalog. Finally, I gave up on the idea of choosing just one and decided to make a weekend of it. We enjoyed wonderful family time outdoors – filled with insight, hospitality, and Maine’s natural beauty.
“Fabulous Fall Canoe Tour in Scarborough”
Just South of Portland sits Maine’s largest salt marsh, Scarborough Marsh, where we joined a canoe tour led by Marsh Director, Linda Woodard, and Assistant Director, Marie Goodman. We simply couldn’t refuse an autumn paddle with Maine Audubon naturalists through such a vast and well-managed natural treasure. Since New England fall paddling is some of the best, my wife, kids and I jumped at the opportunity to drop a canoe in the marsh.
Our tour started with an informative discussion and presentation about salt marsh ecology and canoeing how-tos. Next, we put-in on the marsh against the outgoing tide. The sun shone brightly and gentle puffs of air blew in from the West. The sky was deep blue and the marsh took on its fall golden-browns. Though the water was still warm, a spectacular autumn backdrop made it impossible to ignore cold water will soon arrive.
We made our way along a crooked river within a sea of grass. Cormorants flew low as sandpipers hopped delicately along the shore, looking for a meal to tide them over. As we paddled along, Marie patiently took time with my boys, explaining “Marsh” things on a kid-friendly level. I hope Maine Audubon knows what a gem she is.
Upon reaching our turn-back point, we huddled our canoes to chat about our surroundings before drifting back with the current to the Nature Center, where Audubon staffers helped us out and invited us in. Before returning to our car, my wife and I had already discussed a return trip for next summer. It really was, “A Fabulous Fall Canoe Tour in Scarborough.”
“Guided Tours of Fort McClary’s Trails, Kittery”
Noting an opportunity to visit Fort McClary State Park at Kittery Point, we headed to the mouth of the Piscataqua for a relaxed day to learn about the area and its military history through Maine’s Department of Conservation. With passion and expertise, Environmental Steward, Wes Ham, shared with us a ton of local ecology and history.
We toured the new, short lollipop-shaped “Harbor View Trail”, lined with stands of young birch and old pines. While walking this perfect kid-sized trail, we learned of the natural forces that carved Maine’s spectacular southern-most shoreline before we broke to explore the old fort for which the park was named.
The fort is an 1844 military installment that replaced a crude defensive bunker previously used in the American Revolution. Surviving several wars, neglect and now loads of excited kids, the fort stands proudly offering incredible views of a bustling waterway. Kittery Point is a special place and Fort McClary provided a seriously awesome vantage from which to take it all in.
We climbed on old cannons, inside secret chambers, and up onto lookouts. Looking through a gun turret and out over the harbor really put into perspective the purpose of such a place. While we had a blast, I couldn’t help but imagine how it must have felt to peer through tiny windows at an enemy, or to desperately search for submarines patrolling secretly so close to home. The fort was real and I felt it.
Truly, the architecture and choice of materials was also incredibly interesting. The blockhouse – the main fort – was a blocky, chunky, hexagonal structure built of interlocking wood and stone. It was surrounded by brick and stone buildings and brick-lined tunnels dug deeply into the hillside. Super cool!
Combining time outdoors with history and ecology was a big win for my family. We will certainly pack a picnic and return this fall. You should too.
Overall, the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend stood up to its name. It gave us two wicked great adventures, spending time together exploring some of Maine’s treasures. I’m already looking forward to the next one this winter!