L.L.Bean Employee Spotlight: Blazing New Paths is Literal for this L.L.Bean Guide
Spending time on a nature trail can be a balm for modern life. Escaping into the serene sights and sounds offers benefits for the body and the mind. For some, though, walking and hiking can present challenges. A trail may be marked “easy,” but easy for whom?
For lifelong outdoor lover and L.L.Bean employee Lorien Wood, this question became top-of-mind after taking an “Ableism in the Outdoors” class offered by L.L.Bean. Shortly after, a coworker mentioned to Wood that she “wouldn’t even try” a three-mile path – a distance that is widely considered entry-level in parks across America.
“That really opened my eyes,” Wood said. “For some, a mile is an achievement.”
Wood transformed this epiphany into something meaningful for her community. She is developing a series of “pocket paths” as a resource to help more people – with any background or ability level – enjoy the outdoors. “It's a path you can have in your back pocket for when you need it,” Wood explained.
Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park is just one serene destination featured in Lorien’s Pocket Paths.
Helping everyone be an outsider
The development of these paths is years in the making.
During Wood’s 14 years at L.L.Bean, she participated in programs like the L.L.Bean Employee Outdoor Club and the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Programs. Soon, she was leading guides and walks for company groups. To aid her in this elevated role, Wood underwent an arduous testing process to become a Registered Maine Guide.
“I had these skills and now I could put them to use and in a way that helps other people and gives back to the community,” Wood said. “It just made me feel very good.”
Wood turned this passion and expertise toward a new goal: Making outdoor activities more accessible. Though “accessibility” can take on many meanings, her pocket paths address the nuances of all. “It’s not just for people who are physically prohibited from certain outdoor activities,” Wood said, “but for people who don't have the time or who are unfamiliar with hiking, and they’re not sure they want to commit.”
Wood’s paths typically only require 15 to 45 minutes and broaden the path for more hikers. “Out of the 50 paths I've put together, so far, I've tried to make sure that 25 of them are universally accessible, meaning that a wheelchair or walker user can make the trail.” Notably, she also hopes to highlight trails that can accommodate strollers and are child friendly.
“I explored the outdoors with my mother, and those experiences can create bonds and a love for nature throughout life,” Wood said. “It’s important to me that moms feel welcome and good about hiking with their children.”
“I’m also collecting a spreadsheet with information about the paths,” said Wood. “I’m including questions like, ‘What is the terrain like? Is it flat, rolling, hilly, steep? What is the trail like? Is it paved and smooth or with rocks and roots?’”
Wood has even started to take note of trail amenities which might be helpful, like bathrooms or varied seating options. “I do think there might be people who would be encouraged to know there are places they could stop and rest a little,” Wood said.
A passion becomes a mission
Wood’s enthusiasm for nature began early. She describes growing up in what she terms a “hippie” community in the woods. “We basically lived outside,” Wood said. “We had no electricity, no running water, no telephone. It was outdoors or books, and I did both.”
Though she is an experienced hiker and outdoorsperson, she understands that falling in love with nature doesn’t have to mean rugged, physically taxing adventures. “I want to remove the stigma that you’re not a hiker if you aren’t wearing an oxygen tank to get to the highest peaks,” Wood said. In fact, some of her most rewarding experiences in nature involve finding wildflowers she hasn’t seen in person before or enjoying the magical “blue hour” that occurs before sunrise.
“I’ve heard some people express the feeling that, ‘I'm not a real outsider because I don't climb mountains,’” Wood said. “My response is, ‘You are a real outsider if you simply step onto your back porch at lunch and look at your bird feeders.’”
Wood’s love for the outdoors and a passion for discovery has helped guide her path. Now, she is guiding others’ paths, with the hope that any and all can enjoy the outdoors.
Ready to follow Wood into the outside? See some of her paths below:
White Pines Trail (Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park)
Mileage: 0.5 miles, loop
Time: 15-20 minutes
Terrain: Lightly rolling/flat
Trail: Smooth, wide, gravel
Trailhead: State Park parking lot
Universally accessible? Yes
Restrooms: Yes, wheelchair accessible
Pets? Yes, on-leash
Fee? ME residents: $4/person ($6/person for non-residents)
Trail Description: The trail follows the shoreline of Casco Bay, with benches and interpretative panels along the way. The park's signature residents are ospreys who nest on nearby Googins Island. The osprey nest observation site is on the universally accessible trail. The State Park offers free guided programs for groups of all ages (call to reserve). Parking for multiple vehicles is available.
Maps and details:Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park
Mackworth Island Trail
Mileage: 1.25 miles, loop
Time: 30-45 minutes
Trail: Smooth, wide, packed soil
Universally accessible? Yes
Restrooms: Yes, at gatehouse
Pets? Yes, on-leash
Trailhead: Mackworth Island State Park parking lot
Fee? ME residents: $3/person ($4/person for non-residents)
Trail Description: The trail circles the island, generally flat (with inclines less than 10%), and returns to the parking lot. Amazing views of Casco Bay and its islands and a "Fairy Village" section where you can build fairy houses from the natural materials in the woods. Great for kids! Just off the main trail is a pet cemetery for Governor Baxter's 14 Irish Setters and his beloved horse. Parking is available for about 20 vehicles.