Tim Ellis and the Legacy of Maine Reach

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Tim Ellis and the Legacy of Maine Reach

By Guest Author Rebecca Marvil

My Chewonki journey began in 1975. I was seventeen and at a crossroads, having just completed high school and uncertain about my future. I heard about Maine Reach, a year of experiential learning in a small community setting on the coast of Maine, and applied. Soon, I was on my way to Wiscasset to join Maine Reach’s third cohort.

Maine Reach was an inspired concept dreamed up by Tim Ellis. We studied and learned firsthand – advocated for the state’s returnable bottle and billboard bills, chopped wood, planted and harvested. I learned to cook and will never forget making eclairs for 30 people. That year, we built a community. We came to be better individuals and world citizens; we grew in confidence; we became lifelong stewards of the environment.


Above: Maine Reach images from the 1970s

Under Tim’s leadership, the culture, values, and cherished programs that define Chewonki today took shape and flourished. He provided a nurturing environment for personal growth, ensuring everyone had the necessary resources to become their best selves. And he expected each member of the community to pull their weight.

Tim’s approach worked for me! At Maine Reach, I discovered my voice, rekindled my intellectual curiosity, and remembered my deep love of the natural world.


Above: 1976 Mistassini River Canoe Trip Participants (Rebecca is in the back row on the right); Daniel, the Cree Guide who helped guide the Mistassini trip.

After Maine Reach, Tim gave me a job on the summer maintenance crew in return for a spot on the Mistassini River Canoe trip.  I mowed lawns, helped roof the barn, fed the pigs, and, in the second half of that summer, paddled for four weeks in Canada with incredible Chewonki trip leaders and a Cree Indian guide. It was one of the best summers of my life.

Maine Reach ended in 1984, but Tim revitalized its core program elements with the launch of Maine Coast Semester in 1988. He instilled the same values—intellectual curiosity and a commitment to volunteerism—across all Chewonki programs, preserving the essence of what I loved about Maine Reach.


Above: Maine Reach images from the 1970s.

My relationship with Chewonki has spanned five decades. After that first summer, I returned as a wilderness trip leader for summer camp and Elderhostel programs.  I served for many years as a trustee of the foundation and now participate as an advisor.  My initial respect (with a tinge of fear) for Tim and Margaret Ellis eventually became profound admiration and deep friendship. To this day, I draw upon what I learned at Chewonki under Tim’s leadership and look to him for guidance and inspiration.

About Rebecca Marvil

Rebecca Marvil (center), with Tim Ellis (right), and Joe Selle (left) at the Chewonki Centennial in 2015.

Rebecca Marvil (Houston, TX) is a retired documentary writer, director and producer. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she studied geology at Earlham College and marine geology at Brown University. She worked for PBS, The History Channel and Discovery Channel on series that included Discover the World of Science, NOVA, Frontline, Race to Save the Planet, Columbus and the Age of Discovery, Americas, Tougher in Alaska, and Postcards from Buster. Rebecca also produced documentaries for the Smithsonian Institute as well as Yellowstone and Lassen National Parks. Her independent work includes “Images of Faith,” a film exploring faith and folk art, documentaries for an environmental campaign in Bogota, Colombia, and a semester as a Fulbright lecturer in Peru.

Rebecca participated in Maine Reach in 1975. She returned to co-lead our Thoreau Wilderness Canoe trips in 1977 and 1978. She served as a Chewonki Trustee from 1988 to 2023 and is currently a Chewonki Advisor.

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