Community Engagement Fuels Sustainable Future for Peaks Island, Maine
Saren Peetz is a fourth-year College of the Atlantic student from Hudson, Ohio. “Through this project, I feel my interests have finally found a home, together, on islands. I am excited to continue this kind of work in both the Samso and Mount Desert Island communities this fall.”
[Editor's note: This is the third article in a 4-part series (read Part I, Part II and Part IV) from College of the Atlantic students studying ways to develop and implement renewable energy solutions for the Maine coast in a unique multidisciplinary, multigenerational field-based course developed by College of the Atlantic faculty and the Island Institute under the auspices of the Fund for Maine Islands. College of the Atlantic is an University partner on EcoWatch.]
It is hard to believe that, a month ago today, I boarded the ferry to leave Samso island. I feel my class and its participants have accomplished so much in just four weeks—in great part thanks to the inspiration of this little island in the middle of the Kattegat Sea.
Peaks Island, Maine—formerly a section of Portland—has 1,000 year-round residents and approximately one square mile of land. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
Samso gave us the ability to experience the possibilities for the future of Maine islands firsthand, and gain momentum for our own potential back home. This momentum allowed us to hit the ground running—literally—once back in the states.
I drove up to Bar Harbor on Saturday after flying in from Europe, and by Sunday evening I was back down in Portland boarding a ferry to Peaks Island—part of a three-person team focusing on Peaks through the Collaborative for Island Energy Research and Action (CIERA) program.
Located 20 minutes off Portland, Peaks Island has around 1,000 year-round residents and approximately one square mile of land. Fellow College of the Atlantic student Lauren Pepperman, islander Sam Saltonstall and I are working to decrease the dependence on heating oil and propane on the island.
While some teams in CIERA are struggling with the costly production of on-island electricity, Peaks receives its electricity from the mainland. Although we benefit from mainland prices for that particular utility, Peaks islanders are still paying as much as $1 more per gallon for heating oil than the mainland.
Like many islands in Maine, vacationers flock to Peaks during the summer. This swell in population during the warmest time of the year, while beneficial to the economy of the island, facilitates the construction of poorly insulated housing stock. Over the years, summer cottages became year-round housing, resulting in high heating bills for islanders. Our team recognizes that better home efficiency and converting to electrically driven heating systems could move Peaks away from the issue of high-cost heat.
While sitting in the Samso Energy Academy as we initiated this project’s journey, my team came up against the very first—and perhaps the most important—question in this process.
How do you get a community on board with such a project?
Soren Hermansen and his wife, Malene Lundén, leaders of the Samso project, have stressed time and time again to the CIERA group the need for a community to not only be in support of your work, but also to be involved within it.
The project needs to be “our” work—not “my” work or “their” work. It is inclusive.
We learned that, for Samso, this meant networking within different groups on the island, holding community meetings and engaging various community leaders.
Following this model, Lauren, Sam and I developed and sent out a survey to Peaks islanders while we were in Denmark.
As part of the survey, we asked them if they would be interested in helping their neighbors save money on energy bills. We recognized this as a loaded question.
The obligation is obviously to say yes, but this was somewhat intentional. We want islanders to start seeing energy costs as a community issue—and one they need to tackle together.
The results of this survey were presented at the first energy-related community meeting on Peaks Island on Oct. 13.
Lauren, Sam and I were expecting 20 to 30 people to attend. Nearly 50 did.
Slowly, as more people take initiative and rise to the occasion, it is possible for the community as a whole to become the leader of its own progress. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
During the meeting, we presented to the community information we obtained during the Samso experience and held breakout sessions to identify the challenges and potential for progress in energy work on the island.
I would not say that the atmosphere of the meeting was either pessimistic or optimistic, but rather realistic and hopeful for the future.
It was the community meeting that brought Lauren and I down to Peaks for the weekend.
In just the three days we spent there, I was amazed at resourcefulness of the community members of this tiny island. We met with the resident architect, the contractor, the school principal, contacted a former energy auditor and walked past the house of an islander who is a consultant for wind power. (He wasn’t home at the time, otherwise we would have stopped to say hello). All this knowledge and potential packed into 1.1 square miles. Amazing.
It has been essential to bring nearly all these talented local specialists into the project. They have conducted energy inventories of the local school, formulated future plans and offered contracting knowledge. Through this process I have learned that using the community as a resource not only benefits the project directly, but also fosters ownership of it amongst those involved. Slowly, as more people take initiative and rise to the occasion, it is possible for the community as a whole to become the leader of its own progress.
Soren and Malene were honest with us about Samso. These projects are not always triumph and glory; there are struggles and challenges along the way. As leaders of such projects, it can be difficult to remain motivated, to keep the end goal in mind. Project leaders can burn out, and their projects with them. Yet even after seventeen years, Malene and Soren have remained passionate about their work and their island. How they possibly managed this has been my question throughout this course. What keeps leaders going throughout marathon projects?
My experience these past few weeks with the members of the Peaks Island community may hold the answer to this question.
When the community is given the opportunity to take ownership of its own projects, the leadership burn-out of individuals may be mitigated. The weight of the project does not rest on any one person. This allows the initial project leader to take on a more facilitative role, as Soren has done on Samso. In this way, the role of community ownership is important throughout the life of a project, and not only at the beginning. It is what allows a project to be sustainable.
For this reason, we chose the school on Peaks Island to become the community model in energy efficiency and sustainable heating.
Participants in a Fund for Maine Islands course pioneered by College of the Atlantic and the Island Institute chose the school on Peaks Island to become a community model in energy efficiency and sustainable heating. Photo credit: Saren Peetz
Everyone pays taxes to the school, and many people on the island have school-age children. This entails an automatic sense of ownership over what happens there on behalf of the community. As we go about plans to supplant the current boiler with heat pumps—a strategy that could easily save the school tens of thousands of dollars a year on heating alone—and insulate the basement, we are already gaining support from Peaks islanders.
With a little time and proof of success, this support could flourish into leadership on projects in the future.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
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Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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