Pilot Year of Teen Trail Crews on the Bay Circuit Trail!

The volunteers trail program grows every year, and one of those new branches on the volunteer trails tree was the pilot program for Bay Circuit Trail (BCT) teen crews. During my AmeriCorps service as the Community Engagement Coordinator for the BCT, I tackled the planning, execution, and reflection for these two weeks of crews (with much help and support, of course!) There were months of meetings, talking about the big and small details, scouting projects, ordering materials, logistical planning, coordination with our partners, and more.

The crew enjoying their lunch
After much anticipation, the non-residential program ran from July 13th – July 17th. We partnered with Old Colony YMCA of Brockton and worked with a group from a local middle school. For four hot, gypsy-moth-filled days we worked on the BCT-connector trail at Mass Audubon’s Moose Hill Wildlife Sanctuary in Sharon, MA. The crew installed timber check steps to combat the heavily eroded trail, and installed two timber water bars to direct water off the trail. We were lucky to have organic strawberries and carrots hiked in to us by farm staff from Moose Hill, as well as have one of their staff do an afternoon nature walk with our group. On Friday, the crew did a half day of basic maintenance of the BCT in Easton, MA, and then took the afternoon off to explore DCR’s Borderland State Park.

Preparing to set the timber waterbar
One of four new check steps
The crew learning how to build our boardwalk
With one short day of rest, I prepared to lead the overnight basecamp teen crew. We had a full crew of nine participants camped at Lorraine Campground at DCR's Harold Parker State Forest. Our project was to re-route the BCT off its current path of an unstable, poison-ivy covered stone wall. We installed ~100 feet of boardwalk to traverse the stream and surrounding wet area the stone wall crossed, providing a safer, much more enjoyable and sustainable crossing. The group did an outstanding job despite the hot, humid weather and ever-present poison ivy. On our last day we switched gears and did general maintenance on three miles of trail at The Trustees or Reservation's Ward Reservation in Andover, MA, then enjoyed the afternoon at the solstice stones on Holt Hill.
Digging holes for our base logs - many rocks to be moved!
Two new sections of boardwalk
Working through the ups and downs of a pilot program can be a challenge, but our experiences and reflections will be immensely helpful for the continuation of the program in years to come. Not to mention, much-needed improvements were made to the trail and will help improve users experience and protect the trail and surrounding environment. Trail work isn’t always the most important part, though, and, as always, my favorite part of each week was watching teens spend time outdoors, work as a team, learn something new, and gain an appreciation for the natural world.

On another note, this will be my last post about BCT, but there will be more posts from others to come! My AmeriCorps term with the Bay Circuit Trail came to an end in early August, but I am happy to be joining the Professional Trail Crew in Maine for the fall. Happy trails!
**P.S. AMC/BCT worked with Friends of North Andover Trails to get a team of local volunteers together on Monday, 8/24. Thanks to their hard work, the remaining 30 feet of boardwalk across the stream is complete. The new & improved section is open for your enjoyment!


It’s week 10 of our Teen Trail Crew season – that means summer is done and school is upon us!  As we close out the busiest part of the full trail season, it’s time to start looking back at what we accomplished.

We’ve done more of the same of course, heading back to Imp trail for our usual staff rock work training.  It was a muddy mess and the Crew Leaders may not have realized it at the time, but if they didn’t learn a mountain of rock work skills while mired in the mud, they learned a far more valuable lesson of the importance of tenacity and fortitude.

Once we unleashed the Crew Leaders and crews on the trails, we went back to old standby projects, like our local neighborhood trail, 19-Mile Brook.  There, we helped our fellow trail workers on the AMC Pro Crew tidy up a new section of trail.  And this week, as is the tradition with the last week of each season, we headed across the street and up into the Great Gulf wilderness with a smaller crew to chip away at the more remote projects in the Whites.


Not all was old hat this year; we did go to new places as well.  Like the alpine zone trails all around Madison Spring Hut, where we had the chance to perform some much needed alpine trail maintenance thanks to a generous $2,500 grant from the Waterman Fund.  The two weeks of Teen Trail Crews we had up there with Waterman Fund support went a long way to helping to keep people off the fragile alpine flora and on the rocky, ever-worn trails. 

Even though so many of our trails up here are beaten paths of exposed earth in desperate need of some TLC, we don’t worry because we’re always educating and preparing the next generation of trail workers and conservation leaders.  We develop teens throughout their high school career from simple base camp crews to the 4-Week Leadership and Conservation crew.  On the 4-Week crew, the teens complete loads of trail work, but learn about all the efforts the AMC and our partners like the Waterman Fund put into protection and promotion of the wonderful White Mountains!


Boomerang Gang: A Berkshires story of Trail work and Resilience

Resilience means looking at the bigger picture and not dwelling upon what’s right in front of you. Continuing even though what’s in front of you might be taking up most of the picture.” – Hannah

The Final Week of Teen Trail Crew has jumped out from its dark corner in surprise, and makes its presence unavoidably clear.  A band of staff now battered, bruised and rough around the edges, we round the corner and enter into the last remaining stretch of the 2015 Berkshires Trails season.

Resilience has to do with patience, endurance, ability to learn from the past and to use it to make the present and future better.” – Hugh

Once we moved past the excitement of new in the beginning, past the celebration of ascent to the peak in the middle, but before we encounter the bittersweet of the end, we have found ourselves capable and willing to take on anything thrown at us, day after day; resilient.  
“Resilience is one of the most important things you can have. You [can be] so sick and tired…but you have to come back the next week ready to lead with a smile on your face. It sets the crew off in the right direction.” – Jesse

Workings as a Crew Leader for the Teen Trail Program during past seasons were not without their challenges:

“[As a crew leader], there was a participant on my crew that was really rude to me and made my week a living nightmare. I was so tired, frustrated and upset at the end of each day, but then it would start all over again each morning. That was the longest week I’ve ever been through; it just took all I had to get to Friday” Molly

“[As a volunteer participant on a Leadership crew], we had built a series of stone steps up Jug End [on the Appalachian Trail]. The next year when I returned as a crew leader, [our project was to] rip out those steps in order to build a better rock staircase. It was really hard to get on board with that: to have a project that you had put so much work into get ripped out. But you just have to push through that and help build a better staircase.”  -Jesse

The 2015 Trail season was not spared of difficulties either:
“A few weeks, ago we were in resilience mode. Having been [leading crews] for a while, you tend to just get tired, your body and everything. We had to just keep going. It’s the point where you’re faced with the option of either doing your best even if that’s difficult - or taking the easy way out.”  - Hugh

“I got sick this summer. It was really frustrating to come back to work and realize I couldn’t do everything as well as I could before.”- Molly

“…it down poured during lunch and participants started ringing out their pita sandwiches like they were soaked towels…” – Maggie

We began developing a few interesting ways of dealing with these challenges:
“…I speak in a lot of different accents…” – Hugh

Though accents, games and donuts aided the staff through difficult times, the true source of overcoming these challenges was their own strength of character:
“Resilience might have a lot to do with optimism, maybe sometimes blind optimism. There [is] nothing saying that the next week [isn’t] going to be the same way, but I just needed to stay optimistic about the summer.”     - Molly

“I started [with the Berkshires Trails Program], oh man, how many years ago? I started at 15 and I broke my wrist during the second week of my 2 week crew. They asked me if I wanted to go home and I looked at them like, ‘are you crazy? There’s only 3 days left!’ You’ve always got something to give, and there’s always more to do. I think that’s what keeps bringing me back year after year. It’s a never-ending battle.” – Jesse

“[Last week] we had no time for breaks or games. We had to just put our heads down and work two hours extra every day. At this point in the season we knew it had to be done and we were ok with putting in the extra work to do what was expected of us.” – Hannah

After all this, why keep doing this type of work? Why does our staff willingly show up to work each morning, rain or shine, knowing bugs will be plenty and backbones will be sore?

“Being a crew leader is what keeps me coming back. Being a role model [for the volunteer participants] like the ones that I had as a kid is really awesome, and I really like that.” - Jesse

“I found it was the rewarding, energetic and fun weeks that drove me, as a crew leader, to have resilience. Even if this rock wouldn't set on the first or 15th try, I knew that it was possible and we had options to make it work…” – Maggie

“There are two main things and I think they’re equally as important. First, is that the work is satisfying and creative and it’s stimulating. It’s satisfying for both my brain and body; I have to think things through while it’s physically challenging. Second, are the people. There’s this amazing community, and a different group of people each year. This job just draws really amazing people to it. “ - Molly

“The people are incredible, and who else gets to put down everything in their daily lives and go to the woods and throw some rock bars around.” – Hannah

The 2015 season has witnessed the transformation of our staff from fresh faced to bold and dirty.  They have dug in their heels when challenges pushed them, and they’ve charged forward in spite of it all. The 2015 Berkshires Trails staff are about embark on their final week, and they are as ready and capable as ever to lead with their unbreakable strength and smiles. 

“…I found resilience is the key to starting fresh every week and every day with new energy.” – Maggie
Trails = Rock


AMC NH-JAG Returns to Mt. Jasper and WMCC

Last week we commenced work with students from the Berlin JAG (Jobs for America's Graduates) program. The crew from Berlin consists almost entirely of returning crew members. These students are not only returning to the JAG trails program but also to projects they’ve worked on in the past- every worksite this month has been worked on by JAG students in the recent years.

A portion of the staircase we built on Mt. Jasper
Our first week was spent building a staircase on Mt. Jasper. This trail was cut and has since been maintained only by Berlin high school JAG students. If you’re a frequent reader of the trails blog, you probably know that most moderately steep grades can benefit from rock stairs. There are a lot of moderately steep sections of the Mt. Jasper trail, so there is no shortage of work for the JAG crews past, present, and future. By the end of the week, the staircase was 21 steps long and nearly finished. We’ll return to Mt. Jasper for the last week of the program to finish up the staircase and… probably start yet another small staircase just up the trail.  

Bridge built at WMCC last week
After Mt. Jasper, it was time for a break from rock work. Last week we moved down the road to the nature trail behind the daycare center at White Mountain Community College- another ongoing Berlin JAG trails project. This year, our job was to replace a very rotten bridge with a brand new bridge and to replace some ‘corduroy’ in a muddy area with a bog bridge. Corduroy refers to logs laid parallel in the trail to provide a drier but very uncomfortable walking surface. As we pulled those mostly rotten logs out of the trail, the tread became increasingly muddy and soon we were standing in smelly slop rising over our ankles. A single bog bridge was going to be totally insufficient for the length of the mess we had made! Fortunately, there were lots of rocks lying around so stepping stones were an easy solution. By the end of the week, the bog bridge and stepping stones fully spanned the mud pit and a sturdy new bridge stood in the place of the old rotten one.

On the hike in to work each day, it’s rewarding for the students to walk over their own projects from past seasons. Up next, we will return to a project on the Rattle River Trail as we join forces with the Forest Service trail crew.


And here it is, your moment of Zen.

In considering what to share with you all in the wide world today, we at the Campsite program thought about writing about some of the work our staff is doing, or about the work to come, or about some really great artwork from our caretakers....but instead, we wanted to share this photo of Speck! Pond, taken last week during a field visit.

Simply put, we wish you all that moment of silence and beauty, felt when standing at the edge of the new. Breathe deep. And enjoy. 


AMC Teen Volunteer Four Week Leadership and Conservation Crew

The crew hanging out after work on the trail
Being a part of the Four Week Leadership and Conservation Crew has been an amazing experience for everyone involved.  We have spent weeks hiking, working with the tools of the forestry trade, learning about the opportunities the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) offers, and doing copious amounts of trail work.  Not only have we become a tight knit group of very dedicated individuals, but we have become important parts of the well-oiled machine that is the Camp Dodge Volunteer Center.  Three of the four weeks here were spent camping out and doing trail work, while an alternate week was spent exploring the many career options of the AMC.  Our first and second weeks were spent respectively on the Ethan Pond Trail in Crawford Notch State Park and the Airline Trail in the Presidential Range.

Prepping logs on Ethan Pond

Ethan Pond is one of many trails that are a part of the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains. During work and while lunching on the trail each day, our crew met numerous Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.  One memorable character was a very tall man with the trail name and writer’s pseudonym of August Cervont. He was dressed in army fatigues with a go-pro mounted on his sizable pack, and was determined to tell the story of his journey to Katahdin from a minority perspective. August was only one of many brave souls we met tackling the hundreds of miles of trail to Maine. Each one with their own trail name and stories, eager to answer our questions and talk with us. The diverse group of people we saw making their way up the trail expressed their gratitude and excitement at our trail improvements, which motivated us to continue to do good and efficient work. Everyone, from young families to seasoned thru-hikers, make their way up the White Mountain’s trails. It was both inspiring and rewarding to see how our work had a positive effect on the outdoors community.

Fridays bring good spirits in this neck of the woods! The Friday night barbeque greets the returning volunteer and professional trail crews with a delicious smorgasbord after a grueling week of work in the backcountry.  At the center of this gathering is the cook, Brent.  Brent is a phenomenal individual who handles the stress of the Dodge kitchen with aplomb. He and many others in the Dodge community show how this camp is run like a village, with love, dedication, and friendliness. Each of these characters here shows the positive effect that a single person can offer to the Dodge community. They have allowed us to become more involved in the inner workings of the place we have come to call our home.

Touring the Observatory
The third week provided us with an opportunity to step back from our focus on trail work and explore a variety of the job options that the AMC and surrounding White Mountains community has to offer. We trekked up to Mitzpah hut one afternoon to talk with the hut crew, or “hutties”, and share a meal. Later we met with the Nauman campsite caretaker Marge, and learned about her various duties, which include tree planting and poop stirring for the privy compost process. Diversely, we learned about the many science oriented jobs associated with AMC, like the Mount Washington observatory. We hunted down “Research Tim” at Pinkham Notch and also learned about possible research internships and jobs. Another memorable group we met was some of the members of Trail Fixing Crew (TFC), a professional AMC crew. Leaders “6-4” and “Romney,” spoke about the unique work that they do and the equipment that they use, such as a grip hoist, to move boulders through the sky, and rock saws (or “whackers”) to carve staircases into solid rock.  The sheer skill and strength of the men and women on TFC was a jaw-dropping peek at how far we can go in the future with the AMC experience we’ve garnered.
Over these past four weeks these mountains have become our home. We have witnessed furious storms and sweltering hot days. Being scared of dirt, sweat and mud is a thing of the past. We throw ourselves into the elements with gusto and bug spray has generally been deemed ineffective (though that doesn’t mean we are immune). We have felled trees, carried them on our shoulders, moved rocks bigger than our heads, and hiked up and down miles of rocky trails. But more than anything else, we have been inspired together, meeting strange and beautiful people who are exhilarated by the life around them and the place they are in. Each person in our crew has a unique but vital perspective to bring to the group and we all walk a bit more closely to the earth now, careful not to disturb the land around us unless we can improve or nourish it. Whether we choose to return here and build a life for ourselves in these peaks or to never come back again (unlikely!), we have all gained a strong respect and appreciation for the natural world. Whatever the future holds, we will continue to carry it with us as we go onward and upward in our lives.

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