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Living Messages: The Next 40 Years

Mary Connolly
May 26, 2023

If children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see, and our mission is to protect what is so special about Harpswell, then our young people are one of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s (HHLT) most precious resources.

According to the Child Mind Institute, “the average-American child spends about 4 to 7 minutes a day playing outside and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen.” It should come as no surprise that time spent outdoors by children continues to decline at an alarming rate. Today’s kids spend as much as 90 percent of their time inside, disconnected from the natural world. There are countless studies about the benefits to people, especially children, of spending time outdoors and in nature. If this trend continues, it will be hard to imagine what the world will look like in the next 40 years.

HHLT has engaged children in learning and discovery activities since the 1990s when long-time Trustee, Walter “Doc” Phillips began the Nature Day Camp. For the past 25 years, the camp has offered children a variety of outdoor activities including unstructured exploration, science, art, and storytelling. Trustee and former camp organizer Mary Ann Nahf can attest that the goals for the children’s programs have been consistent over the years — education, engagement, and care for nature. With support from the Holbrook Community Foundation, HHLT has been able to expand to 10 sessions of camp each summer as well as facilitate programs at Harpswell Community School. Executive Director Julia McLeod continues to bring fresh thinking and new strategic perspectives to the organization’s youth programming while keeping an eye towards the future.

Getting children interested in conservation education and nurturing their interest and curiosity in nature is no small task. Julia has developed a number of educational programs and she has built a strong collaboration with administrative leaders and teachers at the Harpswell Community School, Harpswell’s public K-5 school. Helping kids cultivate an interest in nature early is critical and the competition for their attention and time can be a challenge.

We can reimagine the living messages about Harpswell we want to send into the future with our children. Advances in technology may change us, but human connection will sustain us. What HHLT’s 40-year history shows us is a web of critical relationships between the organization’s board members, staff, local leaders, countless volunteers and visitors to Harpswell, and how hard work, dedication, and intelligence can unite and transform a community around conservation education and responsible stewardship. The success of HHLT over the next 40 years will be measured by the legacy we leave behind coupled with how well we send enduring living messages into the future.

The good news is that HHLT’s youth programming is built on a strong foundation. It has been curated and nurtured over the years by Julia and her team. These programs are designed to be equitable and accessible and serve children in four ways:

  1. Harpswell Community School — since 2014, HHLT and Harpswell Community School have offered students numerous opportunities to engage in outdoor learning programs based on a philosophy that outdoor learning and play sessions effectively teach science, lower stress, create memories, help students learn how to interact and work together, and encourage students to use their imaginations and see their observations as a source of knowledge.
  2. Nature Day Camp — started in 1998, the HHLT Nature Day Camp is a summer program held in beautiful locations across Harpswell where children ranging from 4-12 years old explore and connect with nature while having fun with friends.
  3. Public Programs — organized by the HHLT Programs Committee and staff, the programs are designed to educate the public on local ecosystems, as well as bring people together to explore and broaden their appreciation for the natural beauty of the area.
  4. Forest Playground — as a result of Covid, this pop-up play area provides activities for kids to help make nature a fun place to be, spark their imaginations, broaden their thinking of the natural world, and encourage a love for the outdoors that leads them to want to conserve land and water for generations to come.

As we think and rethink about the future of the organization, its legacy will be in the hands of those we may never meet. Will the pursuit of preserving and protecting Harpswell’s natural resources always look the same as it does today? We are laying the groundwork for the next generation to help the organization adapt and rise to meet new challenges. But only time will tell if our living messages will endure in a world we may never see.