Active Life: Aaron Frederick’s Passion for Paddling

  • Frederick spent his younger years enjoying the forest behind Calvary Cemetery in South Portland, which he describes as “A lawless playground for riding dirt bikes and exploring.

  • Frederick with wife Emilia Dahlin and son Attean.

  • Frederick finds balance in his busy life by taking time to reflect on his priorities.

Aaron Frederick is a cofounder and former director of Rippleffect. He spent ten years establishing a 26-acre campus and island school, which promotes leadership and community development through learning adventures. More recently, Frederick has helped to develop Heroes of Humanity—competitive events set in a variety of urban, suburban, and wilderness areas that raise money for charity. He is currently the executive director of Friends of the Presumpscot River.


The Early Years

I grew up in South Portland and graduated from Windham High School. In South Portland, we explored the forest behind the Calvary Cemetery. We moved to Windham when I was 12 or 13 years old, and this was a pivot point for me: from a suburban life to a much more kind of woodsy-oriented upbringing. We did a lot of hiking and spent a lot of time outside. We lived in an amazing place: right on the Pleasant River, which flows into a main tributary of the Presumpscot River. There was a lot of space and time to connect with the land. That’s carried on for me. I feel a very strong connection to the geography and waters of Maine.

The Job

I’m so happy to be working with a nonprofit again, especially one with such an incredibly deep-rooted mission. The Presumpscot River flows from the Sebago Lake Basin in Windham all the way down through Standish, Gorham, Westbrook, Falmouth, and into Portland Harbor. It’s been hard-used for industrial use for over 200 years and was one of the first dammed rivers in the United States. A lot of the ground fishery challenges we’re seeing out in the Gulf of Maine can be traced not only to overfishing, but also how centuries of damming impacts migratory feeder fish—the fish that swim up Maine rivers every year to spawn and provide the food source for cod and haddock. The founding board members who have been carrying the organization for almost 23 years are an incredible team. We’re hoping to draw a bigger circle and start educating these surrounding river communities about this resource that they have in their backyard.

The Family 

My wife, Emilia Dahlin, is a singer-songwriter. She has been a touring professional musician for 15 years now. Today, she was teaching 450 students at  Ocean Avenue Elementary School how to write songs. She does that through the Maine Academy of Modern Music. She is also a regional representative for Columbia College Chicago. She spends about four months a year as a road warrior driving throughout the Northeast representing the college, which is the largest private arts school in the country. We have a 15-month-old son named Attean: It’s a Penobscot name and the name of one of Thoreau’s wilderness guides when he came to Maine to write The Maine Woods. 

The Great Outdoors

Attean is my current connection to the outdoors, walking with him three times a day to get him to take a nap. And we heat our home with wood, so there’s some wood splitting that gets done regularly. During the summers, my wife and I work hard to create free time to be on the water and to be with friends at the beach. My relationship with physical activity is also a direct connection to work. I live in Gorham, and I commute 11 miles by bicycle to Portland. On top of that, I have a standard weight-training regimen and a yoga practice at Lila East End Yoga.

The “Snack Workout”

I still run, and I am a Maine sea kayak guide. I paddled the full length of the Presumpscot with Friends of the Presumpscot River. It really is about what I call the “snack workout,” or what I can squeeze in these days. When I have 20 minutes to a half an hour to work out, that’s enough. It’s about bringing my metabolism to a place where I feel invigorated and alive.


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