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Jeffrey B. Roth

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Posted: May 23, 2018

Will work for fun: One way to pay for a Maine vacation

Written by: Jeffrey B. Roth

Rafting guides for Northern Outdoors at the Forks Adventure Resort spend summer on the water and get paid. Photo courtesy of Northern Outdoors

Despite the warmth of the summer sun dominating a deep blue Maine sky, surge after surge of frigid whitewater froth and foam roared over the gunnels, drenching and chilling the occupants of the heavy rubber yellow raft.

Dressed in yellow helmets and life jackets, the paddlers trusted their guide to take them safely through the Kennebec River gorge. Few would suspect that during most of the year, that guide, Sandra “Sandy” Howard, is an associate professor of music and coordinator of music education and choirs at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Howard represents a growing percentage of visitors to the state who experience Maine not solely as tourists, but as getaway “worcationers” and “voluntourists.” There are thousands of paid and unpaid volunteer opportunities for visitors to discover Maine’s coast and lakes, mountains and forests, animals, islands, culture and cuisine.

“This will be my 22nd summer as a whitewater guide,” said Howard, a paid professional guide for Northern Outdoors at the Forks Adventure Resort. “As a child, my parents brought me up here whitewater canoeing and camping. I went to the University of Maine as an undergraduate. After that time, I wanted to have a summer work experience that allowed me to be in the outdoors and to share that knowledge … with the clients I take downriver.”

After researching various opportunities to use her whitewater skills, Howard chose Northern Outdoors for its reputation for safety and for providing exciting outdoor adventure experiences for its guests. Howard said Northern Outdoors is one of the outdoor recreation pioneers in the Forks area of western Maine.

“There are a lot of jobs available in the tourism industry, which run the gamut from working the front desk of a hotel or in a restaurant of a resort” to jobs working on a whale-watching cruise crew, said Chris Fogg, chief executive officer of the Maine Tourism Association. “Tourism represents about 15 percent of the total workforce in the state … 107,000 jobs – one out of every six jobs is tourism-related. There is definitely a bit of a labor shortage in the tourist industry.”

Volunteers with the Maine Island Trail Association Photo courtesy of Maine Island Trail Association

When Shawn McGlew isn’t piloting a 21-foot boat carrying Maine Island Trail Association volunteers to and from the 20-some small, wild islands located off the coast of the Blue Hill Peninsula – near Little Deer Isle, Deer Isle and Isle au Haut – he can be found wearing a white jacket at Maine General Urology, where he is a physician assistant. Born in New Jersey, McGlew grew up loving the water, boating and working as a lifeguard for the New Jersey State Parks Department.

The Maine Island Trail Association, based in Portland, was founded in 1988 to protect Maine’s wild islands and to administer “America’s first water trail,” said Maria Jenness, one of two regional stewardship managers, responsible for 162 islands. “We rely very heavily on volunteers, and we have a number of different volunteer programs.”

The organization offers volunteers different levels of commitment. The most dedicated are Monitor Skippers, like McGlew, and Island Adopters, “who go out and check the islands.”

“They are our eyes out on the islands,” Jenness said. “We also have various volunteer events. Our most popular large-scale clean-up events occur in the spring and the fall.”

In 1993, McGlew became a member of MITA, and in 2013, he became a Monitor Skipper, after a year training as an apprentice under the tutelage of Jon (who died a few years ago) and Charlotte Lawton. Wes, McGlew’s son, “has been doing it from day one, when he was only 8 years old, and now he is 14.”

“Most Mainers don’t have any idea how amazing and beautiful it is out on these islands,” McGlew said. Some of these islands have white sand beaches that look like the Caribbean.”

Increasingly, retired individuals and couples from out of state spend summers in Maine, living and working at one of more than 185 licensed campgrounds throughout the state. Jason Ahearn, owner of Hid’n Pines Family Campground near Old Orchard Beach, said campground employees represent a variety of ages and come from a variety of locations.

Hid’n Pines Family Campground owner Jason Ahearn with employee Robert Badone, a retired history teacher from Massachusetts. Photo courtesy of Hid’n Pines

Robert, 72, and Katherine Badone, 68, of Westfield, Massachusetts, enjoy the delights of coastal Maine working at Hid’n Pines in the summer. Robert Badone, a retired high school history teacher and football coach, and Katherine, a retired accountant who was born in Lewiston, bought a family summer vacation cottage in Old Orchard in 1978. Every summer, they brought their children to Old Orchard Beach to frolic on the sand beaches or roam the arcades and rides at Palace Playland. When their children left the nest, the Badones knew they would not be content whiling away their summer retirement years vegetating on the beach.

“I started at Hid’n Pines (working in the camp office) the summer after I retired, six years ago,” Katherine Badone said.

Robert added: “For 20 years, I was manager of shuffleboard at Ocean Park, and this will be my third summer (working at the gate) at Hid’n Pines.”

Born in the midcoast, Bryson Cowan King, a fundraiser at Harvard University, now lives in Boston, but she has not severed ties with her childhood home. When King entered seventh grade, she had the opportunity to become involved with Mission Trekkers, based in Thomaston. An outdoor-based mentoring program, it provides seventh- to 12th-grade students the opportunity to go on excursions near and far, from Acadia National Park to Colorado and Utah.

“Since I’ve grown up, it has become really important for me to stay involved,” said King, who recently became a Trekkers board member. “Looking back, Trekkers shaped me as a person and exposed me to different parts of the country. It gave me and my classmates the wonderful opportunity to learn about ourselves and to connect with the community. It encouraged us to be confident in ourselves and to know what we were capable of achieving.”

So get out there and work or volunteer in Maine. It’s the experience of a lifetime.


  • Maine Huts & Trails in Kingfield offers both career and volunteer opportunities. Mike Spurrier, hut operations manager, said volunteer hut caretakers are needed during the self-service seasons, which allow caretakers to live in the huts for periods of two to 12 weeks. Volunteers are needed for trail work weekends, special events and related duties.
  • Sunday River in Newry offers 1,400 winter and 400-500 summer job opportunities in all areas of the resort. Amanda Gallant, director of human resources, said there are openings for ranging from group coordination manager to nail technicians. Employees get discounts on lift tickets, food and other amenities, including a limited number of team member housing units.
  •  Maine Adaptive Sports, also in Newry, was founded in 1982 as the first adaptive ski organization in Maine. Now it has grown to offer winter and summer sports at its headquarters and at Acadia National Park in the Bangor area. Deb Maxwell, director of marketing, communication and external affairs, said the organization uses between 350-400 volunteers annually. It also sponsors a junior volunteer program for youths ages 16-18.
  • Appalachian Mountain Club in Boston, founded in 1876, offers various conservation, adventure and youth programs throughout the Appalachian Mountains. Amanda Peterson, volunteer program supervisor, said volunteers help with everything from trail conservation and restoration to maintaining huts, lodges and camps.
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