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Backcountry Squatters: a diverse outing club for students

Backcountry Squatters is a club at the University of Maine that focuses on outdoor involvement for women and genderqueer individuals of all experience levels. They have meetings every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Foster Center.

The club is a national nonprofit organization with a growing on-campus chapter. They primarily focus on hiking and backpacking trips although they do branch out to other types of outdoor activities.

The club meets once a week for casual meetings. These can be for socializing with other club members or for small clinics such as gear swaps or yoga courses.

Outside of these meetings are the group’s main activities. Two to-three times a month the group hosts larger outdoor trips. These can be day trips or overnight trips. While always in Maine, they range in distance from being close to campus to hours away.

Among the list of things the club has done are bouldering, lead climbing, mountain biking and  climbing Cadillac Mountain. They also host a yearly Squatter’s Prom:, an outdoor music fest featuring local bands as a way to kick off the year. This year’s event was held last Friday.

While the group focuses on their activities, a large draw is the community aspect.

“Team bonding is probably the best part,” Vice President Melissa Genoter said “Everyone is so talkative. You’re getting to share these amazing experiences, getting to look at a sunset with these people.”

Community plays a large role in what makes the Backcountry Squatters different from the other outdoor clubs on campus.

“Squatters has the most close-knit, energetic, exciting community and that’s what makes it so special,” Genoter said.

The club was originally founded in 2014 in Montana. Their mission was to encourage women to pursue outdoor interests. The founders felt that women were underrepresented in these sorts of activities. Over the years, the club has expanded to include genderqueer individuals in their demographic as they want to show support and inclusion to everyone. While the UMaine chapter is made up primarily of women, they are open and in support of genderqueer members looking to join their community.

“Everyone is energetic and ready to be out. Gender and any sort of baggage can be left behind,” Genoter said.

For the UMaine chapter the group was revived in 2019 and has been growing rapidly since 2020. The group exists as a part of the larger organization, with officers participating in talks about diversity inclusion, ideas for trips and more. Other chapters are able to show their support for what occurs at UMaine and vice-versa, mostly through social media. The Backcountry Squatters are active on Instagram under the handle backcountrysquatters_umaine. On their social media, they post the month’s activities as well as photos from their trips.

Anyone can come to a meeting at any point, although there are dues and fees related to the trips. Most of their events are off campus and the group often carpools to get to locations. Trips are open to everyone. On overnight trips limitations depend on the availability of campsites.

One such overnight trip occurred last spring and involved members backpacking along Cutler Coast, an area of preserved land along the ocean. They spent the day along the ocean before staying overnight and heading back the following day.

Turnout for trips tends to depend on scale. For shorter trips, like day hikes, there can be over 40 participants. Overnight trips stay in the eight to 20 range. For a core group of members, there are around 20 to 30 people showing up regularly.

The Backcountry Squatters is one of many outdoor clubs on campus. All of them mesh to make the campus’ outing culture. While each club has its own unique specialty, they have some overlap and will help each other.

When a different club in the coalition is hosting a trip the Squatters may be interested in, the word is spread.

“We’re one piece of the bigger outdoor culture here,” Genoter said.

You can find more information on their instagram page. They meet Tuesdays at 7 pm in the Fosters Center for Innovation.

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