Holden, Maine -- 05/13/20 -- A long stretch of bog bridging leads hikers through a floodplain swamp on May 13, at Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden and Orrington. (Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN)
By Crystal Sands

Maine is a state known for its natural beauty and outdoor recreation, but when Covid-19 led to a shutdown of most indoor activities, Mainers and Maine visitors turned to outdoor activities more than ever. Thanks to quick pivots to adjust to new safety guidelines, many Maine companies and organizations that focus on outdoor recreation are seeing a boom in business. 

Rob Benton is the climbing school manager at Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School. Acadia Mountain Guides offers rock climbing lessons, guided tours, ski tours and outdoor adventure camps with locations in Bar Harbor and Orono. Benton says there has definitely been an uptick in business since the pandemic began last year. He says there was a huge upswing in the first few months of summer 2020, as Mainers were just coming out of the first lockdown. 

But the growth wasn’t just for the summer. Benton says that their avalanche and ski course is full each time it is offered, and he says, “There has really been a boom in backcountry skiing.” 

The Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden has also seen an uptick in outdoor activities, even though indoor classes and activities have had to be cancelled or adjusted to online settings. Before the pandemic, the center offered a variety of regularly-scheduled talks and walks related to the Maine environment. Although the center has had to close its indoor spaces to the public during the pandemic, David Lamon, manager at the Fields Pond Audubon Center, says more and more families are taking advantage of the outdoor opportunities the center has to offer. 

“We have seen a tremendous increase in the use of the Fields Pond property and trails since the COVID outbreak,” Lamon says. “This is true at all of Maine Audubon’s Sanctuary properties throughout the state. It’s been especially nice to see so many families spending time outdoors together!”

Lamon says the Fields Pond Audubon Center adjusted when they noticed the differences in activity and the increased use of the nature trails. “During last spring when we noticed the increasing use of our trails at Fields Pond we began a weekly ‘Mystery Wildlife Trail.’ Clues are left out on a specific trail for families to find and see if they can figure out that week’s mystery animal. It’s been a fun way to engage with people in a distanced way.”

Of course, even outdoor activities have had to be adjusted somewhat in times of Covid. Benton, of Acadia Mountain Guides, says the company had to close down its in-person sessions that would normally take place in a classroom. Instead, part of the educational session is offered online, and then students meet with instructors outside. This has come with some drawbacks because instructors are not able to visit with students as much — and get to know them. Benton says, as an instructor who enjoys connecting with his students, this has been one of the toughest adjustments to make. 

But the opportunities are important, and Mainers are taking advantage of the way places like Acadia Mountain Guides have adjusted to meet their needs in a time of crisis. The Fields Pond Audubon Center has adjusted as well and continues to offer creative ways for visitors to engage in nature. This May, Lamon says the Fields Pond Audubon Center will offer a series of bird outings. 

Of course, safety is always a top consideration. “We’ve limited the group sizes for all of our outdoor programming and require social distancing and masking,” Lamon says. “We also send a pre-program Covid risk questionnaire to all participants, asking them to stay at home if they can answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions. We want everyone to be safe and feel safe.”

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