Land trust seeks $125K to endow maintenance fund for TAM
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) officials fondly refer to the Trail Around Middlebury as the town’s “emerald necklace.”
And like any piece of priceless jewelry, the town’s emerald necklace — in this case a 16-mile network of welcoming, rustic trails known as the TAM — needs a good polishing every now and then. With that in mind, MALT is seeking to raise $125,000 for an endowment fund to help pay for perpetual maintenance of the trail, now marking its 25th birthday.
“We have something that’s very special,” MALT board member Jono Chapin said of the TAM. “We want to ensure that this trail will be here for the Middlebury community for generations to come.”
To that end, Chapin and other MALT board members and supporters have launched the John Derick Endowment Fund for the TAM. Derick, 68, of Cornwall is the legendary volunteer who has spent thousands of hours with others blazing, pruning and graveling the TAM since it was first established in 1989 under the leadership of then-MALT Executive Director Amy Sheldon.
The TAM is a footpath that encircles the village of Middlebury and links several hundred acres of town land, conserved properties, schools, Middlebury College acreage and other local landmarks. The TAM loop includes two bridges that span the Otter Creek as well as numerous boardwalks and informational kiosks. It is an important community asset that cannot take care of itself. That’s why MALT relies on contributions to supplement the volunteer labor needed to keep the trail cleared for the thousands of hikers who walk it each year. But of all the TAM volunteer laborers, Derick has proved to be the most indispensible, according to Chapin and current MALT Executive Director Carl Robinson.
“He has been the driving force since the beginning,” said Chapin.
In addition to doing a lot of the heavy lifting, Derick was key in marshaling construction equipment assistance through the Shoreham Telephone Co. while he was an administrator there. He retired around four years ago, but still spends upwards of 10 hours per week tending to the trail in concert with local students, hikers and citizens.
“People who use that trail really need to find the time (to help maintain it),” Derick said on Tuesday. He added the TAM is his top volunteer activity and is “never far from my mind.”
He likes seeing new generations become involved in the TAM tradition.
“I’ve always been a hiker,” Derick said. “The TAM is a great place for young kids to get started rather than getting lugged up to the mountains.”
THE TRAIL AROUND Middlebury is a 16-mile footpath that circles the village and is maintained by the Middlebury Area Land Trust. MALT has started a campaign to raise money to fund the TAM’s maintenance.
And Derick hopes those children become more invested in the TAM to ensure its staying power. He acknowledged that at age 68, he might soon get to a point where he is unable to invest as much time in the trail. With that in mind, MALT officials are banking on the new endowment fund to annually generate the estimated $4,000 to $5,000 they believe it would cost to mirror the in-kind services Derick provides for the TAM. That interest revenue is to be supplemented by other funds — such as proceeds from the annual TAM Trek — to bankroll the estimated $15,000 it costs each year to keep the trail in tip-top condition. The TAM Trek, scheduled this year for Sept. 28, allows individuals, groups and families to collect pledges for running or hiking all or a portion of the 16-mile trail. The goal is for the Trek to raise at least $10,000 for the TAM.
“Unless someone else like John steps in and volunteers all of what he can do, we have to pick up the slack financially to fill in for that,” Chapin said.
Annual maintenance of the TAM includes such tasks as mowing; graveling; bridge, boardwalk and kiosk repairs; clearing brush and other debris; and dealing with soil erosion along river/creek banks in the vicinity of the trail.
Chapin and Robinson met this past winter to develop plans for the endowment fund. That plan, with additional input, was unveiled to MALT officials and supporters earlier this year.
“We wanted to show how we can take care of what we have and what we might envision for the future,” Robinson said.
MALT officials liked what they heard, and they formed the endowment fund committee. That panel has been reaching out to potential donors, including local civic groups who might want to issue fundraising challenges to the public. The committee began with a silent campaign that has thus far reaped $56,000 in pledges. The campaign will last two years.
The Independent has throughout the year published a series of articles, mostly penned by current and past MALT officials, to mark MALT’s 25th birthday and set the stage for the TAM fundraising campaign. People who wish to donate can do so by visiting the MALT headquarters in the Marble Works complex, or by logging on to maltvt.org.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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