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Outside Edge | Exploring the highlands of Maine

The Maine Outdoor Education Program, founded in 2012 by Butler Conservation, funds excursions for students in eastern and northern Maine.

MAINE, USA — On this week's Outside Edge, we are exploring the highlands of Maine on the east branch of the Penobscot River.

We went back to the New England Outdoor Center and were introduced to the Penobscot River trails, about 45 minutes away in Medway. Modeled after Acadia’s carriage roads, trails provide public and educational access in summer and winter.

“It’s a nice area to come to for free, so people can come outside and utilize the outdoors," Tallie Martin, registered guide at the New England Outdoor Center, said. "We have mountain bikes here. We have cross-country skis. And in the spring, we use paddling on the river with students as an opportunity to get outdoors.” 

The Maine Outdoor Education Program, founded in 2012 by Butler Conservation, funds excursions for students in eastern and northern Maine along the Penobscot River and Cobscook Bay region. They utilize New England Outdoor Center guides to teach three seasons of programming.

“We do mountain biking in the fall, cross-country skiing in the winter, and paddling on the river in the spring," Martin explained. "So we bus those students in, give them all the gear, and then we get out on the trails, and they substitute a full day of school to learn outdoor education.”

An area once used as a logging facility and hunting grounds is now conserved land for public use, and it is truly one of a kind. 

“We have a stretch of trail that runs directly along the east branch of the Penobscot River, and that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the United States, where we have such a long section of that on the river,” Martin said.

Mountain bikes are readily available at the visitor’s center, but kayak rentals and guided trips are available through reservation. Our biking adventure brought us 8 miles up the east branch of the river to Link 3, before we loaded up our kayaks to head back downstream. We encountered a few small class 1 rapids and swift water, quite different from the west branch.

“The west branch is way [more] technical in my opinion. You have your classic rafting areas with class 1 to class 5 rapids. There's also a lot of world-class fly-fishing,” Martin said.

The east branch provides peaceful tranquility only found in the north Maine woods. Aside from eagles and hawks soaring overhead and a few sunbathing turtles, it was as if we were at the ends of the Earth.

“I love how desolate it is. It’s just so pristine and beautiful. You know, at any given time, you can see any wildlife and nobody else around you. And if there are people, you don’t know because it’s just so quiet out here,” Martin said while smiling. 

And on one of the hottest days of summer, it was the perfect way to stay cool, enjoy the outdoors, and develop a greater appreciation for the beauty Maine has to offer. 

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