Category Archives: Outdoor Health and Safety

Earth Day Urban Gardening in Portland

On Friday April 22nd, thirty volunteers came together to celebrate Earth Day at the Boyd Street Urban Farm in Portland. This event was a collaboration between the Maine Conservation Corps and Cultivating Community. The mission of Cultivating Community is to create and sustain greater access to healthy local foods. Their hope is to empower people to play a role in restoring the local sustainable food system.

Throughout the day, volunteers completed a variety of projects: creating pathways in the garden, mulching, trimming raspberry bushes, cleaning out the tool shed, painting signs, etc. There was plenty to do and luckily the rain held off! See a before and after picture of the garden below.


Kelley Reardon, an AmeriCorps Environmental Steward with the Maine Conservation Corps, coordinated this event with Cultivating Community. “I wanted to do an event with Cultivating Community because I think nutrition and sustainable food sources is crucial for any community. These gardens are a great way to bring peEarthDay_Portland5ople together. We all have something in common- we all need food. “

Starbucks and IDEXX employees were among the volunteer who attended. Kathi Shibles of Starbucks said  “Our CEO, Howard Schulte, is amazing and believes giving back is more important than business. April is community service month, and Starbucks employees are attending thousands of community service events across the country. We enjoy taking care of people who take care of us.” June Hamlin of IDEXX said “IDEXX gives employees two give days. It is a great getting the chance to help, and have the support from your company to give back.” Thank you for choosing to spend your day with us!

Lily Chaleff is a Food Corps member serving with Cultivating Community. She focuses on school gardens and connecting youth with healthy food. She explained that the Boyd St Urban Farms supports the Youth Growers program during the summer. Youth Growers are high school students who help run the garden. They harvest the food and deliver it to the surrounding elderly community. She was excited to see so many volunteers come out to help get the garden ready for the season. “So many people have come ready to work. Everyone was invested mentally and ready to make the garden the best version of itself”

The CorporatEarthDay_Portland3ion for National and Community Service’s monthly theme for April is Environmental Stewardship. To Kelley Reardon, “environmental stewardship means helping to cultivate an appreciation of nature and conservation in your community and within yourself. It is working towards creating a more sustainable environment for the future.” After today’s event, we hope people will be inspired to become environmental stewards in their own community.


5 Tips for Staying Healthy When Active This Winter

Cold weather has its charms. Kids love seeing their own steamy breaths floating on the air. Snow is source of more outdoor activities that I can count, and can make any landscape into a gorgeous vista. Mainers retain their childlike love of the winter months through most of their lives. Maine’s winters are a popular attraction for skiers, snowshoers, and other winter sports lovers. Maine’s State Park system offers unique occasions to celebrate the cold months of the year with the Maine State Park Ski and Snowshoe Trailer, First Day Hikes, and Winter Family Fun Days.

But cold weather can be stressful on the body, dangerous, and even life threatening. For those of you who love to go out on winter days, here are some tips for keeping safe and healthy while hitting the trails this winter.

Stay Hydrated

You don’t sweat as much during the winter, but you still loose moisture through breathing and physical activity. It is just as important to drink water during the winter as it is during the summer.

Carrying water outside during freezing temperatures can be a bit of a challenge. Insulated thermoses can keep your drink from freezing. Thirst is a sign that you are already dehydrated, so drink before you get thirsty. Also try getting water from food, like fresh fruit. has more tips on winter hydration.

Alfons005 (1)Wear Wool

Trapped air is one of the best insulators there is. Wool fabrics naturally trap air inside of them and are well known for retaining their insulating power when wet. Wool also wicks sweat away from the body.

Cotton is much more common in clothes and is less suited to keeping people warm during the winter. It doesn’t wick moisture and it losses heat more rapidly than wool. has a more extensive article about the advantages of wool clothing.

Use Caution and Judgement around Ice

Hendrick_Avercamp_-_A_Scene_on_the_Ice_-_WGA01076Winter provides opportunities you wouldn’t normally have during the summer. How often do you get to ice-skate outdoors or walk on a lake? Walking on ice can be dangerous and there are a few precautionary measures you should take before venturing out.

If you intend to go out on ice, try to go to places where the ice is regularly monitored. Parks, resorts, and sporting clubs sometimes commit to regularly monitoring ice. If you can’t find information about the quality of the ice, consider asking some locals who live nearby and observe the ice closely before venturing out. Ice may not be safe to walk on if there are cracks, holes, flowing water, signs of thawing and re-freezing, and pressure ridges from water currents. The safest ice is blue to white in color and at least 4 inches thick.

Before going out, pack some spare dry clothes in a water proof container and consider bringing an ice pick was well. Don’t go alone and make sure someone else knows where you are.

WikiHow has an excellent guide on outdoor ice safety. Read it for more advice on staying safe on ice.

Avoid Alcohol

At some point you may have heard that drinking alcohol warms you up. This is not true.

During cold weather the body naturally conserves heat by restricting blood flow to your extremities, that’s part of the reason why extended exposure to cold can cause you to feel numb. Alcohol opens that blood flow back up.

Opening up blood flow to your extremities can make you feel warm, but it also causes you to lose heat more rapidly. Alcohol also decreases your body’s tendency to shiver, which generates extra heat through muscle activity.

The University of Rochester Medical Center has more tips about dressing for the winter.

Wear Sunglasses

SunglassesWinter days have a reputation for being short and dark, but UV light can still damage your eyes. The winter sun might actually be more dangerous to your eyes than summer sun in some ways. When the sun is lower in the sky, UV light comes into your eyes more directly, and snow and ice reflect UV light in all directions.

Some experts say that you should wear sunglasses all year long. See this article at for more details.

Back Packing: What to Carry

Most Maine Conservation Corps members have to go backpacking during some part of their term of service. Field crews often hike out to both campsites and work sites with packs filled with equipment. Today, I am going to go over what you should bring with you when backpacking in the Maine Wilderness.

If you are just hiking for the day, you won’t need to carry out nearly as much stuff as an MCC member with camping gear and trail working tools. However, there are a few essentials that MCC members and the average hiker have in common.

#1 – The Backpack

Definitely not the same kind of backpack you would use to carry your books to school. These packs have padded waist straps, padded shoulder straps, plenty of pouches and are designed to carry a lot more than just homework. A good back-country backpack should have enough space for clothes, water, food, and all of the rest of the gear I will be describing today.

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#2 – Wet Weather Gear

If you are outdoors and it starts to rain unexpectedly you are going to want to have some wet weather clothes to put over your hiking clothes. MCC members often choose to get wet weather gear that is fairly heavy. Rubber coated canvas materials are less prone to tearing during outdoor construction work.

However, most choose to get lighter and cheaper rain gear. This would be most appropriate for the average hiker.

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#3 – Dry bag and clothes

Dry bags keep clothes dry in wet conditions. Can be packed right into backpack.

If you get wet, wouldn’t it be really nice to have some dry clothes to change into? Even just an extra couple of pairs of dry socks would be a wonderful relief at the end of a long day of hiking. Dry bags provide a water tight space to stick your clothes into when you’re traveling. If you get rained on, or happen to fall into a river your clothes will be sheltered and dry.
Although you can buy dry bags in sporting goods stores, a tightly closed trash bag will also do.

You should also pack other clothes for sudden changes in the weather, it may seem strange to carry warm wool clothes during the summer, but it is better to have something and not need it than to need something and not have it.

#4 –  Sunglasses, sunscreen, bug repellent

Just like a day on the beach or when you are mowing your lawn or spending a day at the beach a bad sunburn or a swarm of biting insects can ruin a good time. Here in Maine, DEET based products are recommended for guarding against Lyme Disease.

#5 – Litter Bag

Trash on the trail ruins nature’s aesthetic and can be a health hazard to people and wildlife. Be prepared to carry out anything you might carry in.

# 6 – Flashlight, matches, whistle, pocket knife.

These little items could come in handy during an emergency. A good backpacker should always be prepared for the unexpected.

20150831_130723#7 – Water and Food

You should pack enough high energy food to get you through the day, and then some. Granola bars, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate, and pb&j sandwiches, are all trail essentials. Pack 3 quarts of water per person.

#8 – Map and compass

Getting lost is always a possibility. It is a good idea to pack a map and compass to try and navigate your way home if you really need to.

#9 – First Aid Kit

Once again, the threat of an unexpected emergency should always inspire preparedness. A first aid kit can mean relief from minor discomforts like cuts and bruises, but it could also save your life!


Water Water Everywhere but Treat Before You Drink!

Hiking soaring mountains, camping near crystal blue lakes, and enjoying a meal under a green canopy of trees are staples of the Maine outdoor experience. One thing that is easy to take for granted when surrounded by the soaring majesty of natural beauty is your own health and safety.

Backpacking can be physically demanding; when engaged in strenuous physical activity it is important to stay hydrated. Like any other kind of intense exercise, you need water to keep your muscles limber, balance your body fluids, and replace what you lose through perspiration. A good rule of thumb, according to L.L. Bean Outdoors Online, is to carry three quarts of water for each hiker, per day.

If you happen to be camping, and expect to be gone for more than a couple of days, it can be difficult and impractical to transport all of the water you need for the duration. Maine has abundant natural sources of water nearly everywhere you might go. You may be tempted to replace your water from a babbling brook or from a lake. However, doing so may put you in contact with harmful pathogens.

Surface waters can be contaminated with parasites, viruses, and bacteria. In Maine, people have been known to contract Backcountry diarrhea; a common name for illnesses such as Giardia and Cryptosporidiosis. Giardia is known to cause severe diarrhea, gas, severe abdominal cramps, dehydration, and nausea. Cryptosporidiosis is also known for similar symptoms but can also cause fever and weight loss. The parasite that causes it, Cryptosporidium, is also known for being highly resistant to chlorine treatments, like bleach. Other pathogens are attributed to backcountry diarrhea including E. Coli. If left untreated these illnesses can be life threatening and are also a source of great discomfort while traveling in the back country.

Before drinking water from the trail there are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself:


The oldest and most time tested method for treating water from the outdoors is to boil it before you drink it. Extreme heat will kill most any pathogen and boiling water is easy with a camp fire and some common cook ware. Heat the water until you have a brisk rolling boil and cool before drinking.

Chemical Treatments

Chemicals can be used to sanitize water as well. Bleach and Iodine are the most common chemicals to use. When treating water with bleach, which is a chlorine compound, add two drops of bleach per quart of water and stir for 15 minutes before drinking. Iodine can be purchased in dissolving tablets like Polar Pure: one of these tablets can treat 1 quart of water after being allowed to dissolve for 15 minutes.

CAUTION: Only use chemical treatments in recommended ammounts. Bleach and Iodine can be toxic in large quantities.

CAUTION: Chemical treatments aren’t perfect. As stated above Cryptosporidium is highly resistant to chlorine based treatments.


Currently, there are a wide variety of sanitizing water filters available for outdoor recreation. Some of the more common designs include bag filters and small hand pump filters. These filters allow you to refill water bottles and canteens from natural sources while excluding harmful microorganisms. This is one of the most convenient ways to refill water on the run or just before leaving camp in the morning.

Taking a few simple precautions is all that is needed to keep yourself and your friends safe when enjoying the beauty of the Maine Wilderness.

This Post Written and Prepared by Dylan Cookson: AmeriCorps Member and MCC Volunteer and Outreach Corrdinator

Contributions to the article made by:

  • Krista Rogers: MCC Community Leader and Environmental Steward Program Coordinator

Ticked in Maine

An issue of increasing importance to Maine’s outdoorsy residents is ticks. Maine is home to several species of ticks; two of these, dog and deer ticks, will feed on humans fairly commonly and are often picked up during outdoor activities. The following information is summarized from the Maine CDC and University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s website (links below).

Dog ticks are more commonly found in open fields and lawns than other tick species due to being more resistant to dehydration. Dog ticks are known to carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever but there has never been a case confirmed to have been contracted in Maine.

Deer ticks also feed on humans, and are known to carry several diseases, the most common of which is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a very serious infection and can cause partial paralysis, fatigue, joint pain and neurological impairments if left untreated. Early infections can potentially be diagnosed by a bull’s-eye shaped rash, fever, migraines, and fatigue. Deer ticks are most common near the coast and in southern Maine, however their range has been extending northward and they have been found in northern Aroostook County.

There are several steps you can use to prevent ticks from attaching themselves to your person. First off avoid areas with thick tall grass and stick to the centers of trails in areas where ticks are common. The Maine CDC makes other recommendations for avoiding tick-borne infections on their Prevention of Tick-Borne Disease page.

  • Wear light colored clothes
  • Tuck pant legs into socks so that sticks cannot crawl into your pants
  • Use DEET based repellents on clothes (Avoid ingestion or direct contact with skin).
  • Permethrin based repellents can be applied to clothes and will last several days

Most importantly you should check yourself for ticks on a daily basis. Ticks must be attached for at least 24 hours before transmitting Lyme disease. Checking every day and removing any ticks you find will more than likely prevent you from contracting the illness. Ticks can be removed by tweezers but at the Maine Conservation Corps we prefer to use brand tick removal spoons. These little plastic spoons can be easily attached to key chains and we often pass them out at career fairs.

Here are some instructions on how to remove a tick with these little spoons:

20150519_143931Once the tick has been isolated, is clearly visible and free from obstruction:

  • Place the wide part of the notch on the skin near the tick (hold skin taut if necessary).
  • Applying slight pressure downward on the skin.
  • Slide the remover forward so the small part of the notch is framing the tick.

Continuous forward sliding motion detaches the tick.

For more information on ticks check out Maine’s ticks check out the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s website. For more on Lyme disease please visit the Maine CDC’s website.

This Post Written and Prepared by Dylan Cookson: AmeriCorps Member and MCC Volunteer and Outreach Corrdinator

Contributions to the article made by:

  • Krista Rogers: MCC Community Leader and Environmental Steward Program Coordinator
  • Sara Maloney: MCC Field Crew Member who provided the tick featured in this articles photographs.