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Good day.

Recently I introduced an initiative designed to motivate parents to take their children outside and spend time together enjoying the Maine outdoors.

The reason was simple: Kids are happier and healthier when they are exposed to the wonders of nature.

I launched the initiative in July, just two weeks after my son, Jack, and I climbed Mount Katahdin.

Two months later, we are still talking about that trip – the memories that were made, the feelings of achievement when we hit the summit, and the aches and pains after it was all done, and the laughs we had along the way.

Both Jack and I remember vividly the scene from Chimney Pond, looking up at Maine’s highest peak, Mt. Katahdin. Breathtaking.

Earlier this month, we had another opportunity to experience one of Maine’s natural wonders.

Jack and I canoed 33 miles of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway in Northern Maine.

We brought 10 others with us, including 2 other parents with their children – Department of Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan was joined by his daughter, Chelsea; and Karin Tilberg from my office was joined by her daughter, Linea.

Much like Katahdin – the views were spectacular.

The peaceful feeling as we paddled along the serene waterway is something that I will always remember.

I paddled with my friend Phyllis Jalbert (jal-BEAR), who is a registered Maine Guide with more than 5 decades of paddling experience.

My son paddled with another longtime, well-known Maine Guide, Gil Gilpatrick of Skowhegan. The two of them traveled the Allagash in a canoe that Gil had made during the Ice Storm of 1998.

Getting outside with a group of friends and families is almost always a wonderful experience.

It’s not just that we spent a weekend participating in healthy outdoor activities in one of the most pristine rivers in the country – but we also shared laughs, memories and stories with friends who were there with us.

The aches and pains of the 33-mile canoe trip have already gone away – for the most part - but the memories of the adventures and playing cribbage by campfire with my son will last forever.

The other parents who took their children on the trip feel the same way – they not only enjoyed the exercise, but they loved being with their family and friends.

And that’s what “Take It Outside” is all about.

The initiative isn’t about just going to the top of Katahdin or a trip through the Allagash – but it can be a walk through the woods, playing catch in the park, biking or snowshoeing one of Maine’s breathtaking trails, or even playing ball in the backyard.

The point is to spend quality time with your children while providing them with a healthy, outdoor experience. And you know what? It will be good for you too.

We are proud of our state parks, as well as our efforts to preserve Maine’s special connection to the environment. We value clean air and water and open spaces, and we have made the investments to protect them.

People come from all over the world to see our natural beauty and experience the beauty that we have right outside our backdoor.

There’s an old saying, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” We have worked hard to ensure that what we have in Maine will never be “gone” – but we’ll collectively work together to make sure our children still know that what they have is really precious.

Once again this weekend, we are encouraging our children to engage in outdoor activities.

With the Boys & Girls Club of America, Nickelodeon television, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, I have proclaimed Saturday as Worldwide Day of Play in the State of Maine.

The Waterville Boys and Girls Club is conducting a walk and jog along the Kennebec Trails for youth 6 – 12. Nickelodeon is turning off programming on all of its television stations and Web site Saturday from noon until 3 to encourage kids to get outside and play.

While it takes more than three hours out of one day to instill a healthy lifestyle, it certainly is a start.

As parents, teachers and neighbors we need to ask ourselves if we could be doing more.

“Take It Outside” will allow us to work with organizations that are already doing a great job of getting kids outside and connected with our natural resources – and to see where there is room for improvement within our own state agencies.

Next spring, for example, we will hold a Blaine House Conference on Youth and the Natural World.

In the meantime, we are in the first full weekend of autumn. There’s no better place to see it than hiking and biking along Maine trails, enjoying some of our parks throughout the state.

But despite the aches and pains – which I still relish - I have many great memories from those trips to Mount Katahdin and the Allagash. Those memories will last forever – and I encourage everyone listening to create your own memories today and “Take It Outside.”

Thank you. And have a great weekend.

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