Nestled comfortably on the southeast side of the University of Maine campus in an old, white barn, Maine Bound Adventure Center makes its home. Inside, lighting is dim and energy is high. Though the tall rock walls and limber climbers seem daunting, the easy-listening Spotify playlist — created by one of the employees — and the smile at the front desk welcome visitors to come and hang out for a while.
As much as Maine Bound offers programs and space for the athletic and adventurous, it is a community focused on engaging people in all seasons and stages of life. The 24 undergraduate employees and the two professional staff are dedicated to making each person’s Maine Bound experience adaptable and personal.
For Meryl Nelson-Lee, a fourth-year student whose childhood fostered her love for the outdoors, Maine Bound has offered four years of growth as an instructor and opportunities to embrace her lifelong passion.
“I’ve learned so much about things I never thought I would do,” Nelson-Lee said. “It’s helped me as a person and a professional. I’ve become a better, more understanding leader.”
Braedon Lineman, a second-year student, was looking for a community during his first year at UMaine when he found Maine Bound. This is a place, he feels, where genuine, positive conversation can happen. Good friendships can form. Strength can be found.
“This was one of the more welcoming places I checked out. It felt warm being in the Maine Bound gym,” Lineman said. “This is a really encouraging workout space with a lot of nice people.”
What Nelson-Lee and Lineman call attention to doesn’t just happen within the confines of the climbing gym but on every trip they take or event they host. That personal touch is in every detail because student employees create all the activities.
If the students have a vision for adventure, they’re encouraged to pursue it. From treks up Katahdin and whitewater paddling to backpacking in the woods, each excursion is carefully planned with attention to inclusivity and the desire to enable students to take advantage of the natural world around them.
“We exist to help people know how to do things outside,” Nelson-Lee said.
Accessibility is also of high importance to the Maine Bound team. The people who walk through its doors or participate in trips fill a wide range of skills when it comes to outdoor adventure and sports. Being on a college campus, many students use the gym as a way to stay active or find a change of pace during a study break.
Maine Bound also makes significant efforts to create climbing opportunities for people with cognitive and physical differences. Maine Bound partners with the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center (AOEC) in Maine for biweekly, adaptive climbing.
Chris Bartram, one of the professional staffers, speaks to their dedication to this program.
“In order to make this happen and to have well-trained and professional volunteers, we have been hosting adaptive climbing training biannually,” Bartram said. “The format is largely based on training and education on disabilities, technical methods for adapting to individual needs, disability etiquette, and communication.”
The Nov. 18 training for volunteers will provide opportunities to apply what they learn.
“In the afternoon, we will have climbers from the Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research,” Bartram said. “This will give our newly trained volunteers an opportunity to work with participants and put their skills to work.”
Maine Bound is engaging and investing in this central Maine community by attending to the needs of people with cognitive and physical differences, facilitating as high-schoolers and sports team engage with the on-campus challenge course, and being a welcoming place to climb indoor.
The climbing, paddling, and hiking are more than simply hobbies to people; they’re passions that provide mental and physical strength. Maine Bound wants to offer whatever support it can in, whether it be through the knowledge passed along in an outing’s curriculum or through a word of encouragement on the bouldering wall.
If you would like to participate in the biannual training, it will take place Nov. 18 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Maine Bound Adventure Center.
Volunteer registration is online: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdhclrGyj7xeeNXJHNuacdchvCQCh3wE1wYqfrfdCCEgg4P6Q/viewform