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Upper Valley Trails Alliance Offers Summer Outdoor Odyssey Program for Older Students

Jun 20, 2016 03:47PM ● By Victoria Pipas
You may be familiar with the hard work of the Upper Valley Trails Alliance if you’ve ever hiked up Gile Mountain in Norwich, Cardigan Mountain in Canaan, or another of the many trails in the Upper Valley. Through paid labor and volunteer service, this nonprofit organization works to maintain and expand existing trail systems, as well as to build new trails when opportunities and resources arise.

But maintaining and expanding trails is only half of this organization’s impressive mission statement. The other half—connecting communities—is fulfilled through its many seasonal events and programs. These include the Passport to Winter Fun program, which promotes outdoor winter exercise and fun for the Upper Valley’s elementary school students, and the summer Outdoor Odyssey program for older students.

Outdoor Odyssey is the Upper Valley’s High School Trail Corps. The program runs for four weeks each summer, including one week for girls only and three weeks of co-ed groups. Russell Hirschler, director of the UVTA, describes the program as a combination of “your first job and summer camp.” It’s a great segue between middle school camps and summer internships in college and beyond. Interested students fill out an application, in addition to a personal statement and job references, and submit these to the UVTA. The UVTA aims to accept a maximum of 11 students per week; this year, 41 students will participate in the program over the course of the four weeks. Upon acceptance, the students attend a mandatory orientation session to learn the basics of their week of work. They are expected to present themselves well and to be good representatives of the UVTA, their families, and their schools wherever Outdoor Odyssey takes them. Each student is compensated with a weekly stipend for their 40 hours of work.

Work begins at 8:30 every morning, when students arrive at the UVTA office in Norwich to collect their tools for the day and head out to the mountains. Under the guidance of UVTA staff, participants learn basic as well as more-advanced trail-building skills, such as clearing the trail corridor of brush and plants, constructing simple bog bridges to ford waterways, and building stone walkways and steps on steeper sections of trail.

Each day of trail work provides variety for the crew members. Locations for the 2015 Trail Corps included Gile Mountain, the Cross Rivendell Trail running from Vershire, Vermont, to Orford, New Hampshire, sections of the Appalachian Trail in Hanover and Lyme, and others. Students in 2016 will be offered an equally diverse abundance of trail locations, including the King Arthur Trail in Norwich, the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park in Woodstock, and Cardigan Mountain. One 2013 crewmember said, “I love being able to do so many different kinds of work in really different locations.” In addition, each workday ends with a fun activity. These range from dirt-biking to visiting local swimming holes to enjoying ice cream from Dan & Whit’s Country Store.

The week of teamwork often proves invaluable to high school students, who work alongside participants from a wide range of high schools in the Upper Valley. This year, 14 schools will be represented. Participants learn the importance of diligence, cooperation, leadership, and friendship. It’s clear that more than trails are built in these four weeks of summer spent at Outdoor Odyssey.

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