Get Ready, Get Set, Get Outside

L.L.Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Programs propel a wide range of experiences and adventures

L.L.Bean’s “Be An Outsider” campaign is just three years old, but its origins go all the way back to the man who launched the iconic brand with the Maine Hunting Shoe in 1912. “Leon Leonwood Bean believed that the great outdoors has much to teach us, both about ourselves and about the world around us,” his great-grandson, L.L.Bean chairman Shawn Gorman, wrote in a recent essay for NBC News. “L.L. insisted that time outside—whether in the presence of a snowcapped mountain, a rushing river or a starry sky—allowed us to ‘forget the mean and petty things in life.’ (Those words ring perhaps even truer today.)”

For nearly half of its history, L.L.Bean has provided not only the clothing and equipment to “Be An Outsider” but also the means to learn and experience outdoor sports and activities through its Outdoor Discovery Programs (ODP). Programs manager Ryan Jaret has been with ODP since 2013, when the Camden native moved back from Colorado with his wife and their 6-month-old son. “I missed the ocean and we wanted to raise our child in Maine,” says Jaret, who became a Licensed Maine Guide at age 19 and is committed to L.L.Bean’s mission to facilitate outdoor recreation.

Q. What is the history of the Outdoor Discovery Programs?

A. The ODP started in 1979 as free clinics and demonstrations in our flagship Freeport store and now includes 13 different paid activities in Freeport and at nine other sites around the country—although the majority of the programming is in Maine. These range from short courses offering an opportunity for people to try different pieces of gear, such as stand-up paddleboards or snowshoes, to adventure trips that include hiking and camping in Baxter State Park, canoeing on the Penobscot River, and kayaking to camp on offshore islands. Since 2013, we have offered summer day camps in Freeport for kids aged 7 to 12 and a teen program for 13- to 16-year-olds. We also do custom programming in team-building and professional development for organizations, and women’s-only instruction in several of the activities and trips. The foundation of everything is our original idea, to take our expertise and share it to encourage and enable people to get outside more.

Q. What outdoor activities are offered?

A. We offer expert instruction and guidance in kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, archery, clay shooting, fly-casting, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, which are our core activities. For each of these there is a progression of courses, with more intense coaching along the way to help people develop higher-level skills. We also have programming for hiking and camping, mountain biking, birdwatching, map and compass skills, wilderness first aid, and hunter safety.

Q. Is there one activity that is particularly popular?

A. In terms of sheer volume, it’s the Discovery Course Series. These are courses primarily for beginners, which are very popular with families and visitors to Maine. For $29.95, participants get an hour and a half of instruction and experience in one of our core activities. It gives them a taste, and if they like it, they can dive in and take another course that gives them more skills.

Q. What is your newest offering?

A. What we call “Wicked Easy Camping” started in the summer of 2018. We go into Wolfe’s Neck’s campground in Freeport and people set up a campsite: sleeping tent, screen tent, camp kitchen, water, sleeping bags and pads, headlamps, pillows, camp chairs, hammock, and even a first-aid kit. All you have to bring is your clothing and food. If you’re a first-time camper, an ODP staff member will be on hand to answer questions, and you’ll get a contact number in case something comes up. After you leave we pick all of the gear up. When we first piloted it, we weren’t sure how it was going to go, but it really took off. It filled the niche we were hoping it would, and the demand has grown every year.

Q. How does the Summer Kids’ Camp operate?

A. They’re unplugged and outside for seven hours a day engaged in the outdoors, getting to experience kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, archery, fly-casting, geocaching, and our ropes course, among other activities at the Flying Point Paddling Center in Freeport. At the beginning of their camp week, they get an L.L.Bean carabiner, and for each activity they participate in, they get a special tag to add to the carabiner that symbolizes their accomplishment in a new skill.

Q. What aspect of the ODP are you most proud of?

A. It has to be observing our phenomenal instructors in action. They are highly skilled with lots of certifications, but really it’s the passion that they have for sharing the outdoors that I love to see. We get people who have been paddling or fly-casting for a number of years, and we get people who are brand new. Our instructors do such a great job of meeting everyone where they are and coaching them to feel confident in the outdoors. They are the key to our mission to breaking down barriers and introducing people to the outdoors.

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