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High School Students Clean Up the Trails

Norwich —This summer, Upper Valley high school students needn’t travel far to get valuable trail stewardship experience.

Starting Monday, 38 teenagers from nine area schools will join Upper Valley Trails Alliance staff for its High School Trail Corps, a series of workdays clearing, building and blazing area trails.

The program, split into three groups engaging in projects for one week each, has seen its breadth triple since last year’s pilot edition, when 12 students spent one week performing work on Mount Sunapee, Norwich’s Gile Mountain and small trail networks in Hanover and Quechee. This year, the groups will visit 11 locations, from Vershire’s Patterson Mountain to Mascoma High School, where construction is planned of a new trail network adjacent to the Royals’ athletic fields.

Made possible by a series of donations and a National Parks Service grant, the program aims to foster trail stewardship among young people in the Upper Valley without a commitment to overnight camping excursions. High School Trail Corps groups will meet at UVTA’s Norwich headquarters for workdays spanning from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., with midday lunch breaks and fun activities planned to conclude each day.

Upper Valley Trails Alliance executive director Russell Hirschler said there’s a need to target areas specific to the Upper Valley — and to help lower the age of those who maintain them.

“The stewardship and maintenance pipeline is graying, for lack of a better way to put it,” said Hirschler, whose organization advocates for trail use and development in 43 Vermont and New Hampshire towns. “This program is a way to get a local pipeline for the next generation of trail stewards, expose them to the excellent trail systems we have in this region and, at the same time, expose them to trail building and maintenance skills. They’ll also be helping to expand the capacity of trails because they’re all important projects.”

Trail Corps students will be led by Hirschler and UVTA’s John Taylor and Becky Lewandoski, as well as “junior crew leaders” Erica Hinck and Claire Snyder. Hinck, a recent Hanover High graduate and Snyder, a senior-to-be at Hanover, showed strong leadership qualities while participating in the pilot program a year ago and were recruited by UVTA staff to help lead the efforts this summer.

The program will also receive special assistance from Lelia Mellen, a Thetford resident who helped found UVTA in 1999. Mellen is a regional director for the National Parks Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Technical Assistance Program.

“It’s like we’re getting a part-time staff member from the National Parks Service for free,” Hirschler said. “We’re going to be able to borrow (Mellen’s) best practice methods and expertise so that the kids learn a lot of great skills.”

Aside from beginning the new trail network at Mascoma High, initiatives include the removal and recycling of railroad ties and steel plates along the Mascoma River Greenway in Lebanon, bridge building at Lyme’s Chaffee Wildlife Sanctuary and clearing and blazing at Baum Conservation Area in Hanover. The groups will also lay out gravel paths and stone steps along the trail at Gile Mountain, perform maintenance on the Appalachian Trail at Mount Cube and Holt’s Ledge, and improve trails at Patterson Mountain and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Park.

UVTA’s program is modeled after similar work performed by the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and the National Parks Service’s Student Conservation Association. The convenience of returning home in the evening is the biggest difference with the UVTA Trail Corps, Hirschler noted.

“Our (participants) will be doing a lot of the same type of work and learning a lot of the same kind of skills, but without having to commit to a week of camping away from home,” Hirschler said. “The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps could send you anywhere in the state of Vermont, and the Student Conservation Association has projects all over New England and beyond.”

Students will also receive a $25 stipend per day — $125 for the week — for their services. Some will flee to evening jobs after the UVTA work, while for some of the younger participants, the Trail Corps may constitute their first job for some. Eighth-graders were eligible during the application process last spring, and about one-third of those enrolled are rising freshmen.

“It seems to be providing a nice niche for some kids who are too old for the summer camp scene, but maybe too young for full-time summer jobs,” said Mellen.

Hirschler is excited to introduce a wide range of high school students to one another, as well as to more seasoned trail stewards. On Thursday, five interns from Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Park will join the UVTA group for work on the Mascoma Greenway, and Dartmouth College students from the Dartmouth Outing Club may join the High School Trail Corps for its Appalachian Trail work dates.

“Socially, it’s going to be great to get some many different people together,” Hirschler said. “That’s a big part of why we think it’s going to be great.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.