‘He Loved This Mountain’: Volunteers Build Trail to Remember Teen

Published: 8/10/2016 11:21:46 AM
Modified: 8/4/2014 12:00:00 AM
Bradford, Vt. — Of all of Sean Tillotson’s varied hobbies and interests, he perhaps took most pride in his love of the outdoors. This past weekend, friends and family made sure a piece of woods in his hometown will forever carry his name.

Bradford Conservation Commission members and volunteers on Sunday completed Sean’s Scenic Loop, a half-mile trail on the southern end of the Wright’s Mountain/Devil’s Den conservation network. It’s named for Tillotson, an Oxbow Union High student-athlete who died suddenly June 30 in a Denver airport. On layover on the way to a leadership conference in Wyoming, Tillotson — who would have been a senior this upcoming school year — suffered a pulmonary thromboembolism, a blockage of lung arteries.

Sean’s Scenic Loop features rollicking terrain, several vista points and exposure to unique plant life such as Christmas ferns. Appropriately, it branches off of Tillotson’s Trek, a route named for Sean’s father, Gary Tillotson, a former Bradford Conservation Commission member who helped construct much of the nine miles of maintained trails on Wright’s Mountain. Sean Tillotson helped his dad on many of those trail projects, wielding many of the same tools — rakes, hazel hoes and loppers — that volunteers utilized this weekend.

Asked if his son would appreciate the effort to name a new trail for him, Gary Tillotson took the opportunity to reflect on Sean’s humble character.

“To be honest, I don’t know if he would,” he said. “Getting the recognition, that kind of stuff, didn’t matter to him. I don’t think he’d have an ego about it either way.”

One thing for certain is that he would have enjoyed having a new trail to rummage through.

Sean Tillotson’s affinity for the outdoors began around third grade, when he joined his father in a program that explored local hiking areas while identifying plant life and discussing ways to conserve natural habitats. He regularly visited Wright’s as a teenager, just last year mountain biking the trails for the first time with his cousin, Isaiah Shumway. He also recently began hunting whitetail deer with his uncle, Ted Shumway, and other family members in the woods of nearby Corinth.

“He loved the outdoors, and he loved this mountain,” said Ted Shumway, one of 10 people helping to construct the trail on Thursday. “This is definitely fitting.”

An Eagle Scout, Tillotson was no stranger to camping excursions. Oxbow para-educator Cindy Clemence, one of those helping to build the trail, thinks Sean would have enjoyed the area as an overnight destination.

“It’s the kind of area that makes you just want to go and set up a tent,” said Clemence. “The Eagle Scout in Sean would have loved it here.”

A terrific blocking tight end, Tillotson played on an Oxbow High football team that a donation from Clemence helped jump-start in the mid-2000s. Tillotson was a member of the Bradford Bulldogs youth program at the time, and he remained dedicated to the game through his junior year last season. Despite tearing his meniscus partway through the year, Tillotson vigorously rehabbed and returned to play in the Olympians’ playoff game at Woodstock last fall.

“He loved football and wasn’t going to miss that game,” Clemence recalled.

Tillotson was also a talented marksman who was a member of two shooting clubs based in Caledonia County. As a freshman, he helped the Vermont national muzzleloader youth team capture a pair of bronze medals and place fourth overall at the National 4-H Shooting Sports Invitational in San Antonio. Tillotson went on to become a certified ambassador and pistol instructor for National 4-H Shooting Sports.

Another of Thursday’s volunteer trail builders was Matthew Madan, who taught Tillotson last year in advanced placement language and composition. Madan was teary-eyed as he helped cultivate an elevated portion of the trail. “He was a special kid,” the East Topsham resident said.

The trail was flagged two years ago after the Bradford Conservation Commission secured a 44-acre parcel to add to its now-800-acre network of conserved lands on the western side of town. Having initially built what became Tillotson’s Trek — a 0.3-mile path giving hikers an alternative entryway to the network — BCC chairwoman Nancy Jones and Gary Tillotson flagged the scenic loop for a future trail.

“Whenever we needed Sean’s help, he helped any way he could,” said Jones, who was working alongside Sean’s mother, Bethanne. “This was one of the things he loved doing, hiking and biking through trails just like this.”

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

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