Volunteers maintain and improve the Trail Around Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — The return of spring has many runners, bikers and hikers eager to return to the miles of trails around Middlebury. But after a long winter with heavy snowfall, many of the trail networks are in need of some spring-cleaning.
The task falls to volunteers with the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT), a local organization that conserves land and manages the 18-mile long Trail Around Middlebury, which is better known as the TAM. This month organizers are ramping up for laying gravel on trails, clearing downed trees and branches from early winter storms and constructing boardwalks.
“At this time of year, we’re just getting started,” said John Derick, trail maintenance director for MALT.
Derick has been out on the trail at least twice a week this spring, surveying the winter’s wear and tear. Heavy ice and snowfall in the early winter brought down trees and limbs. Electrical crews cleared deadfall on the roads in November and December, but any downed trees on the TAM have had to wait until the spring. Derick said damage to the trail was no worse than in past years, but the crews will have to work hard to clear and repair the trails as soon as the last of the snow melts and the usual period of mud passes.
“The trails and boardwalks do take a beating because of the ice,” said MALT Executive Director Carl Robinson. “There’ll be some additional mowing and trimming as we get further into the spring and keeping back the poison parsnip.”
On this Saturday, April 18, MALT will hold its first volunteer workday on the Blue Trail, a 3.8-mile spur off of the TAM that extends west from the Jackson Trail (about a half mile south of Hamilton Road) and then north toward Snake Mountain in Addison. Volunteers will meet at Monument Farms on James Road in Weybridge and build a boardwalk over a neighboring wetland.
About once a week, informal outings as large as five people will take to various sections in need of work. The raking, trimming and light carpentry draws local residents including students from Middlebury College, Middlebury Union High School and the Diversified Occupations Program, Derick said.
“A lot of them love doing something for the community and for a lot of them it’s just plain exercise,” he added.
During the spring and summer, MALT has planned seven workdays: May 16, June 6 (National Trails Day) and 20, July 18 and 19, and Aug. 6 and 15. Locations and meeting times have not yet been set.
Other work planned for this spring includes the closure of the Boathouse Bridge over Otter Creek (between the MUHS playing fields and the college baseball diamonds); work was due to start April 13. MALT has hired Matt Wels, a project manager, to lead the re-leveling of the bridge. Wels has previously worked on a suspension bridge across the Winooski River for the Green Mountain Club.
“Many people and organizations use that bridge and I just felt it was time for a professional to do it,” Derick said. “He’s one of only a handful of people that work with those kinds of bridges.”
Still, volunteers are essential to MALT’s success. Without volunteers, Derick said, the organization would have to spend more money to hire someone interested in maintaining the trails. Robinson estimates volunteers contribute at least 200 work hours in a season — an estimate he says is likely low.
This year, MALT is planning on revamping a network of volunteer “trail keepers” who will routinely sweep the trail for any minor work and then report to MALT for any bigger projects that need to be done, such as fallen trees or boardwalks in disrepair. MALT will also work with the town Parks and Recreation Department to help coordinate and organize the volunteers.
“The trail would not be what it is today without all of the volunteers and people involved,” Robinson said. “It’s become one of the landmarks of Middlebury, and without volunteers it wouldn’t be in the condition or the shape that it’s in today.” 
Read about work on the Long Trail in the Green Mountains here.
MATT WELLS, LEFT, and Patrick O’Brien of Big Branch Builders take measurements of the suspension footbridge over Otter Creek near Middlebury Union High School athletic fields this week. They are working to lessen the sag in the bridge; it will be closed on and off for the next couple of weeks.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

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