I’m renewing my Maine Guide license this fall, and the rules have changed. Included in the process now is a digital fingerprinting and background check. I heard a rumor from a game warden that the process is a response to people with criminal sex-offender backgrounds taking young people in the woods. While I don’t like the hassle of having to schedule the appointment or the $53 charge, I am in favor of transparency and people learning about the potentially shady backgrounds of guides and outdoor instructors before participating in their trips or programs.
As a guide, I want people to know about my background. It’s the first step of building trust that’s mandatory on a wilderness trip. As a parent, I demand to know about who will be working with my kids. At the Jack Mountain Bushcraft School, a guide’s license has been a prerequisite for all of the employees we’ve had over the years. As a result of the new law, potential clients should now understand that not only do we vet our instructors, so does the FBI.
As good as this sounds, it isn’t enough. You should still do research on potential schools and instructors before attending. Ask around, google the instructor’s names, and try to learn as much as you can. This is definitely an industry where the buyer should beware, as there are people in it who have some things in their background which, if they came to light, would be a deal-breaker for many potential students and clients. As a hypothetical example, if a guide went to trial for a crime, admitted to doing illegal things, but was not convicted due to a technicality, it would not show up on a background check because they weren’t convicted. Again, as a parent I want to know these things before I sign my kid up.
Background checks are a good first step, but they shouldn’t take the place of doing your own research and thoroughly vetting potential guides and instructors.