The best moment of my Island Fellowship to date happened in a trip-equipped turquoise minibus on a dirt road in Township 25 in Washington County.

We had just cranked up the radio as we were driving across the blueberry barrens. We were headed to Tunk Mountain, leaving the campsite for the first time since we had arrived. This was the Machias River Wigwams Program, and it was actually happening.

My co-leader glanced back at me through the don’t-be-misbehaving mirror to share a smile and a laugh. Sometimes we spoke whole sentences though laughter and this sentence said, “Wow, this is real, this is awesome, and we are making it work.”

The Downeast Salmon Federation did not set out the year looking for an AmeriCorps member who would start a summer camp for them, but it seemed to be to be the best way to accomplish all the things I was supposed to do. My fellowship was “to build educational partnerships,” which means bringing youth and community into the wild Atlantic salmon recovery effort.

Some of the tasks on my list were to get into more schools, do a bunch of habitat restoration, get money to fix up the old fishing camp on the Machias River, offer summer programming and help out with an archaeological dig. It just seemed the easiest to do it all at once!

With limited resources we decided to host a two-week overnight program where a teen crew would camp at the Wigwams Rapids, fix up the camp, help with the archaeological dig there and do a bunch of habitat restoration. Because the Downeast Salmon Federation is not in the business of being a summer camp or guide service, we approached the folks who operate Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott to be our partner. They added their experiences running an expedition-based alternative high school, as well as the trip-equipped minibus named “Turq,” liability insurance and Michael, my partner in crime on the leadership team. This seemed to be just the recipe to make it work.

A third like work, a third like school and a third like camp—that is what we set out to create and what we kept telling them when things got hard. We wanted to give the next generation of outdoor professionals a great experience like camp but I knew we wouldn’t be able to find participants if it cost money, so we got funding to “pay” them (an honorarium, just like real adult trip leaders earn).

I also made sure that we would be finished well in time for blueberry season, so they could rake, too. If these teenagers want to stay in Washington County—as wilderness professionals or otherwise—they will need to find their own recipe to make it work. Forgotten in many other places, Downeast Maine remembers how to jigsaw seasonal jobs into position to approximate a year’s employment. Necessity is the mother of invention.

As we were inventing this program and making it work, we had two unofficial mottoes. The first was “Because we can.” This trip was full of guest presenters, natural water slides and hard labor because that was the way I could craft a program we could actually run. Why have a chocolate lab on our trip? Why let the teenagers choose the music? Because we can.

Ultimately, if we want to get the right answers in life, we have to be the ones asking the questions. “Cheese or pepperoni?”, “Learn to paddle or learn to juggle?” “Go to camp for the summer or get a job?”

This is learning to make it work, this is the Machias River Wigwams Program, and this is our other motto: “Why choose, when you can have both?”

Maria McMorrow is an Island Fellow through AmeriCorps and the Island Institute working with the Downeast Salmon Federation.