All the ingredients were present for a potential nightmare: Several toddlers. The woods. A 12-degree day. Inches of fresh snow.
What could possibly go wrong?
Come to find out, nothing.
As I trekked behind the line of young parents, the majority of whom pulled their down-puffed babes in small sleds, my anxiety dwindled. I expected whimpers and whines—instead, the crinkles and crunches of our footfalls, paired with an occasional bird call through the trees, made for a perfect winter soundtrack.
Nature’s magic had lulled the group into a happy trance on this weekly outing of the Rain or Shine Club. (I, for one, was quite grateful for that day’s “shine.”) Every Thursday at 10 a.m., families with preschool-age children gather to explore a piece of the 3,600 acres connected to the work and mission of the Royal River Conservation Trust, which includes land and trails in Yarmouth, North Yarmouth, New Gloucester, Pownal, Durham and Gray.
Lead by Kyle Warren, outreach director for the RRCT, caregivers and their little ones are gently guided through a free hour-long hike, with plenty of breaks for everyone to catch their breath and enjoy the surroundings. Today, which also happens to be the club’s 100th outing, we are walking the Bradbury-Pineland Corridor in Pownal.
“A lot of families can feel intimidated to just set off into the woods with their kids,” says Warren. “Rain or Shine gets them comfortable in nature. We show them where to park, where the trailheads are and where to circle back when they are done.”
Parents can be intimated by winter, too. The layers. The boogers. The frozen fingers. But the Rain or Shiners are in it together. During a rest stop, in true “it takes a village” mentality, one dad pours hot chocolate for a few kiddos while another mom passes out Cheerios. The adults chat about books and community events as the kids take in their tech-free surroundings.
Victoria Rubino, mom to 2-year-old Leo, doesn’t flinch when a quick wind brushes across our faces. She smiles, “I am from Lithuania. I am used to cold winters.” She now lives in Cumberland and says the Rain or Shine Club is amazing for those new to the area. “I have met good people and learned the local trails that are most kid-friendly.”
This group has a loyal following and several have made this part of their weekly routine. It benefits the Royal River Conservation Trust as well, even though the club is a free and open-to-the public service.
Executive Director Alan Stearns says, “We want families to engage with us for a lifetime. This is our way to showcase trail construction and show people what we are working on without them having to read about it. But most importantly, it gets them outside.”
I get it. The steps to get a kid dressed to go outside in February are many. But we live in Maine and winter isn’t going anywhere—we might as well celebrate it. (And trust me, the serenity of the woods on a crystal-clear, frosted morning is worth the runny noses.)
Maggie Knowles used to cover the dining and theater scene in Boston. Then she had her son, so now she writes about all things kid. She and her family live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.
RAIN OR SHINE CLUB
With Royal River Conservation Trust
Every Thursday at 10 a.m., rain or shine, year-round. Hike locations change from week to week. For weekly hike information (with very accurate GPS addresses) visit:
HIKE IT BABY
Hike it Baby is a national effort to encourage parents to get outside with their kids and babies—and there’s a local chapter in Cumberland County. The group encourages parents to get out of the house and onto the trails (and to meet other parents, too). For more information on the group and upcoming hikes: hikeitbaby.com and the Hike it Baby Cumberland County ME group on Facebook.