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A Trail of Her Own: Late Outdoors Enthusiast Remembered  at Mt. Ascutney



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Brownsville — Ashley Gravelle spent a lot of time engaged in the outdoors. Now those who continue to do so in the community she cherished will have something tangible by which to remember her.

On Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to noon, the nonprofit Ascutney Outdoors will help lead construction of Gravelle’s Grinder, the latest addition to an expanding trail network on and around the base of Mount Ascutney in Brownsville. Its namesake, Ashley Gravelle, a West Windsor resident who died of breast cancer in 2014 at age 43, was an active supporter and lover of outdoor initiatives in town.

Approximately three-quarters of a mile in length, Gravelle’s Grinder will be a novice mountain biking and hiking trail and will cover diverse terrain, equal parts wooded single track, open fields and the requisite gravel-grinding portion through a rocky dirt parking lot.

Beginning in a field just north of the Climb Fitness Center — Gravelle once worked and trained there when it was known as Edge Fitness Center — the planned route cuts through a patch of mixed hardwood forest before reversing direction around a grassy hill, traversing the parking lot and crossing Ski Tow Road before zigzagging up fields leading to the foundation of the former ski base lodge.

This area is soon to become the Ascutney Outdoors Center to serve a multitude of community functions, according to Ascutney Outdoors board member Jim Lyall. Lyall will lead Saturday’s trail-building efforts along with Climb Fitness Center manager Erin Kershaw.

“When Erin called and told me they were thinking of naming a trail after Ashley, I thought it was appropriate that it wraps around the hill and has a lot of twists and turns,” Jason Gravelle, Ashley’s widower, said in a Wednesday phone interview. “I thought that was really appropriate because Ashley never would take the flattest, easiest path. She always liked a good challenge and a good adventure.”

Often those adventures included trails on Mount Ascutney, which Gravelle valued as much as anyone in Brownsville. When Kershaw

moved there from the Philadelphia area several years ago, Gravelle was enthusiastic about introducing her to the network.

“One of the first things she wanted to do when I met her was bring me out into the trails, because she knew they’re a huge part of what makes the community special,” Kershaw said. “The nature around here is what she truly loved.”

That was obvious for some of Gravelle’s closest friends, who could rely on Gravelle to spur them into the outdoors.

“She wasn’t necessarily the biggest mountain biker, which a lot of people use the trails for, but she was definitely an outdoors girl,” said Molly Keating, whose daughter, Emily, is peers and friends with Sadie Gravelle, Ashley’s and Jason’s daughter. “She was always the first one in town in shorts and flip-flops while everyone else was still wearing layers. She was always trying to get us friends outside.

“You might be inside doing laundry, but you knew you were going to be getting a call from Ashley and that she’d be saying, ‘C’mon, we’re going to the pond,’ or ‘We’re going to the forest.’ She wouldn’t let us stay inside, and we loved her for that.”

Gravelle also volunteered for countless programs for children, including a youth skiing program at Ascutney.

“She had these ideas and wanted to be the one to lead the effort,” Keating said. “Even when she was sick and you know she felt terrible, she never missed a day. She was the kind of person that, when she went by, you just wanted to grab onto her coattails and go wherever she was going. That’s basically what we did.”

Aside from his involvement with Ascutney Outdoors, Lyall is a trail builder for the nonprofit Sporting Trails at Mount Ascutney, which advocates for access to multi-use, non-motorized trails in West Windsor and surrounding communities.

Along with honoring Gravelle, Lyall and Kershaw are excited to introduce a new beginner trail to the network.

“Some of the trails around here are kind of gnarly. There are a lot of intermediate and expert trails,” Kershaw said. “Having a new beginner trail so close to the fitness center will just make it that much more accessible for people.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.