Cheap Dates: Hey college kids, take a magical mystery tour through Erickson’s Fields Story Walk

Sat, 11/21/2020 - 9:00am

    It feels like decades since I last wrote a Cheap Dates story. Thanks to the onset of the pandemic back in March, during those dreary spring months, there was not only nowhere to go, but nothing to do. There’s only so much sourdough bread you can bake and so many family Zoom meetings you can take with a bottle of wine tucked out of view.

    And now with Thanksgiving around the corner and college students coming home to record-high coronavirus infections spiking across the country, we’re facing the same kind of high-alert social distancing in November that was necessary to keep the virus from super-spreading in March. It’s necessary, but understandably, there’s a lot of fatigue around that.

    For the college kids, who come home after their first semester, this time of year has always been a joyous and raucous excuse to whoop it up with old high school friends, to go to each other’s houses, hang out in bars, and have parties. Well, thanks to the COVID-19 virus, you can now chalk that up to the one more thing that college students are going to miss out on.

    Throw that in with the casualties of having no in-person graduations, no proms, and no senior field trips.

    But enough with the sad trombone. College kids, here’s something you can do with your buddies outside when you come home. The weirder friends you invite, the better.

    Erickson Fields in Rockport off Route 90 is a family-friendly trail featuring a 1.4 mile loop. Just recently, Maine Coast Heritage Trust set up a collaboration with local author Liza Gardner Walsh to display pages of her new book posted along the trail titled, “The Fall Fairy Gathering” illustrated by Hazel Mitchell.

    Here’s the Cheap Date: meet up with your friends (you can even take your leashed dogs) at a time when it won’t be busy. Opt for a real small group—four people is ideal. Have the one person who is good at cooking and organizing put together a posh picnic. Leave the job of clean up and pack everything out to the one person in the group who never remembers to pitch in for food. Fair is fair.

    Pair off in twos and begin the loop with a Trust Walk. One partner is blindfolded while the other leads through the trail, verbally guiding the blindfolded person when not to trip and smack into a tree. I did this so much as a college-aged camp counselor with other camp counselors on our days off; it’s ridiculously fun.

    As you meander through the trail, you’ll start to come across Gardner Walsh’s book pages, laminated and set up as signposts. Her book is a sweet children’s story, and part of the fun of this walk is to read her story in chapters along the way. It’s also a great way to forest bathe

    Once you hit the first signpost, switch blindfolds on partners.  Speaking of stories, here’s another game we used to play as camp counselors (that we modified after working with young kids all day). As you find each signpost and part of Gardner Walsh’s story, riff on the theme with The Story Game. The first person begins the story by saying “Once upon a time…” and completes the sentence. The next person in line must continue the story and it can only be one sentence. This is where your weird friends will really add to the game.

    So college kids, what I’m saying is, don’t let the pandemic ruin your homecoming; use your creativity and imagination to still have fun.

    Stay socially distant to folks on the trail, wear masks when you come upon anyone on the trail, be mindful of the impact of your group, and follow Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s COVID-19 guidelines before setting out.

    Gardner Walsh’s story pages will be up on the trail loop until late December.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at