I have been fortunate to have Mr. Villamil's Work Gang team helping me design and construct a new hiking, biking and snowshoeing trail on Beech Hill. Our campus in fairly remarkable in that it's highest point is almost eight hundred feet higher than its lowest. We live on a hill, Beech Hill! The students helped me build a trail up and over that hill through a magnificent stand of maple, birch, beech and pine trees. We did some fun nature forensics and they were able to determine from the stone walls that these lands were once used for sheep farming. They could tell where the old alpine ski trails used to go and even found the rope from the old rope tow.
I shared with them just about everything I learned about trail design while working with the Morton Trails crew on the Nordic Center. I explained how we wanted a trail that would provide an experience and a journey rather than just a practical path of conveyance from one spot to another. The students chose points of interest; moss covered boulders, branches acting like arches, cool trees, to work into the journey. They walked up and down the hill to choose the most interesting path. I was pleasantly surprised with how enthusiastic they were for the work.
After a day of designing we spent our second day raking out the path we had flagged a couple of weeks earlier. My dog Tele and I met the team of Fab, Timothy, Armaan, Mr. Villamil, Theresa, Casey and Viivi on Beech Hill to begin our work.We were working at around 1800 feet above sea level this day. I have learned that if you involve the students in the design and decision making process they become much more invested in the project. This group was particularly strong and worked for three straight hours and were surprised when I told them it was time for brunch. I love that they are developing an appreciation for being in the out-of-doors. They do not need a scientific study to tell them that spending time outside and completing service for others makes us happier and more fulfilled. We are less anxious when we unplug for a few hours and just spend time with one another. While it may sound strange, I find that Work Gang is a gift from Dublin's past to the students and faculty of today.