Maine Forest Collaborative connects students and professionals to solve rural community challenges

Updated: Mar 25

By Megan Leach, MFC Coordinator


Maine Forest Collaborative students from Buckfield, Forest Hills, Greenville, Mt. Abram, and Piscataquis High Schools gathered at the University of Maine for their second student cohort day on March 6th. This year’s project asks students to consider the question "How can we use natural resources to positively impact local communities?". Students from each school have identified one or more challenges within their community and using Rapid Prototyping, are coming up with unique solutions. The goals of the day were to introduce new schools to the cohort and provide a platform for students to share, and get feedback on, their selected challenges with natural resource professionals.


Session 1: Poster Gallery

It was a busy day that kicked off with a poster gallery of each school’s community. Students moved around the room to present their posters and give a quick update on project progress. Posters are displayed below, click on the image to enlarge.



Session 2: Presentations from Natural Resource Professionals

Natural resource professionals joined students to give an overview of their work guided by examples of challenges they encounter through their jobs. Presenters included Danielle D'Auria, Wildlife Biologist of the Bird Group for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Donald Burr, Program Director of the Mechanized Logging Program, Matt Wagner, Project Manager and Operations Assistant for INSource Renewables, and Chantelle Hay, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Maine Conservation Corps. Students in each presentation asked thoughtful questions and gained insight into potential natural resource careers.


Session 3: Project Work with Community Partners

After lunch students tested their ideas on MFC community partners to get feedback and insight to guide their action steps moving forward. Carolann Ouelette, from the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation, said she was impressed by student ability to “see the challenges and opportunities in their communities, and design projects that help address the issues they have identified. Their insights and discussions align with the work many businesses and organizations are doing in these communities across the Maine Woods”.


Buckfield High School worked with their teacher, Caleb McNaughton, and Beth Kohler from the Maine Department of Driver/Rider Education.

Buckfield Environmental Science Class

One group of Buckfield students has been looking into the current setup for driver education in the state. The challenge they've identified is that driver education is very expensive and if students don't have a ride to the facility offering the course they can't take the class. Students that don't take a driver education course can't get their license until they are 18, which can exclude them from natural resource-related jobs and recreational opportunities. The students

have decided to create an action plan for their school to offer the course for free as an elective. They worked with Beth Kohler to learn more about the licensing process for a school and the costs involved. By the end of the session, students were optimistic about presenting a proposal to their school board, asking them to consider offering the class to all students. They hope to have this option up and running in two years if approved.




Buckfield High School worked with Megan Leach from Rural Aspirations, Matt Wagner from INSource Renewables, and Chuck Kraske from Verso Corporation.

Buckfield Environmental Science Class

Another group of Buckfield students identified the cumulative cost of various hunting licenses as a problem in their community. The group has followed recent legislation aimed to combine hunting permits for different species into one single permit, similar to a recreational fishing license. During their session, the students identified questions that needed to be answered before creating a solution and made a list of individuals throughout the state that they could contact to learn more. They plan to learn more about the Pittman Robertson Act, the different Maine hunting permits, permit fees and where those fees go, why the legislation has failed in the past, and why the legislation was introduced in the first place.


Forest Hills High School worked with Val Peacock from Rural Aspirations, Carolann Ouellette, from the Maine Office of Outdoor Recreation, Donald Burr, Director of the Mechanized Logging Program, Charlie Lumbert, former owner of Moose River Lumber, and the Mt. Abram Environmental Science Class.

Forest Hills Jr. English Class

The students at Forest Hills originally started working on the challenge of rural isolation. Jackman is an isolated community with few ways in or out of town if you lack a reliable mode of transportation. They planned to raise awareness of the lack of transportation by trying to convince a public transportation company that this area of Maine has a lot to offer. Through their research, they realized there really is A LOT that this area of Maine has to offer. On the cohort day, they received a lot of advice from community partners and the Mt. Abram Environmental Science class and decided to change directions. They plan to create a promotional video of Jackman in order to convince others to come and visit the area.


Mt. Abram High School worked with Val Peacock, Carolann Ouellette, Donald Burr, Charlie Lumbert, and the Forest Hills Jr. English Class

Mt. Abram Environmental Science Class

Students at Mt. Abram want to solve the challenge that many rural communities face, which is a lack of people moving to the area for full-time residence. The students recognize that their community vitality depends on people moving to the area full time. They plan to create a website and marketing campaign directed towards Millenials. After the cohort day, they plan to look into trends among Millenials, the opportunities in their community for families and young entrepreneurs, and create their promotional website.





Greenville Hgh School worked with Chantelle Hay of the Maine Conservation Corps.

Greenville Environmental Science Group 1

The Greenville Environmental Science class identified their school trail as an area in need of improvement. The trail needs some heavy maintenance and updates before the school, and residents of the town can use it for educational or recreational purposes. The students created a map, timeline, budget, and natural resource inventory before the cohort day and were able to show this to Chantelle. The students learned of different funding sources, methods of trail maintenance, and talked about the possibility of involving the Maine Conservation Corp in the trail restoration process.

Greenville Environmental Science Group 2

Piscataquis High School worked with Korah Soll Founding Director of Rural Aspirations, Eric Topper of the Maine Audubon Society, David Wilson the Guilford Town Manager, and Bill Thompson the Guilford Town Board Chair

Piscataquis Maine Forest Collaborative Class

The Piscataquis high school students feel that their town lacks a quality outdoor gathering space for social and educational purposes. They are surrounded by beautiful woods and plants with a river running right through the center of town, yet the town parks are in need of an improvement plan. To solve this challenge they plan to work with the town of Guilford and the Maine Audubon Society to improve King Cummings Park. Some of their early ideas include updating the gazebo, creating walking paths with educational signs, and designing improvements to the Veteran’s Memorial. They also plan to learn about and use native plants in the park’s restoration. They will be working with a landscape architect to develop an improvement plan, creating a community space in town they are proud of.


Session 4: University of Maine Tours The day ended with tours of different University of Maine departments. Students visited the College of Natural Sciences Forestry and Agriculture, the College of Engineering and Advanced Composites Center, planned their own businesses at the Foster Center for Student Innovation, and learned about the Explorations program.


Moving forward with projects

With the current pandemic, and school out of session, progress is on pause for the moment. We are working with each school to develop a plan for moving forward virtually, which will probably vary by school. Our main goal right now is to keep our staff and everyone we work with healthy. For this reason, the Final Presentations, originally set for May 11th are on hold. As project work moves online, we will be asking students to reach out to their communities and to State-wide professionals to help move these amazing solutions forward. Please reach out if you have ideas about any particular project, and we will keep you posted on progress throughout the Spring. You can follow project progress on the Schools page of the Maine Forest Collaborative Website.

© 2016 by Rural Aspirations Project

Photos taken in Central Maine,  courtesy of Isaiah Soll