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Opinion: TAM provides education, fun

This week’s writer is Mariah Neilsen, a Middlebury College junior majoring in Environmental Studies and Geography. She just wrapped up a summer internship at the Middlebury Area Land Trust.
I wake up, throw on a T-shirt and grab my backpack. Hammer, nails, trail markers, handsaw, brush clippers, grass whip, check. Bug spray, check. I have a quick breakfast and jump in the truck with John for another morning of trail work on the TAM. This summer I worked as an intern for the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT), helping maintain the Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), an 18 mile loop that circles the town and passes through several local preserves and parks.
Mornings most days consisted of trail work or field projects and afternoons were spent mapping in the Geography Department computer lab at Middlebury College. I worked closely with the MALT office and with John Derick, who has been involved in the stewardship of the TAM from its inception.
Over the course of the summer, I managed to walk every section of the trail and became familiar with its twists and turns, flora and fauna. You are never alone on the TAM. The trail is home to many birds and critters and is a great place to see some local wildlife without traveling far from home. You may even be as lucky as to meet a family of turkeys, come across a beaver’s handiwork, or to stumble across a fox’s den.
My duties took me all over town and afforded me the opportunity to get to know the town better than I had before. You may have even seen me riding around on my vivid green bike with bright orange clippers sticking out the back on days when I was working on my own.
Summer is the season of projects for MALT, and we accomplished quite a few. Besides doing routine brushwork, new gravel was laid, boardwalks were built, downed trees were removed and new maps were created. A new boardwalk was built on the lower Jackson section of the trail over a seasonal stream, and erosion repair and improvements were made along the hillside.
The boardwalk and benches in Otter View Park, the Boathouse Bridge, and the Don and Peggy Arnold Bridge each got a coating of linseed oil, a natural wood preservative, to keep them in shape. New gravel was laid in both Wright Park and the Battell Woods to ease access for bikers and runners in the mud season. Additionally, signage was updated along the length of the TAM and kiosk maps were updated in each park.
Back in the Geography Department, I had a special project of my own. This summer, I was tasked with creating an online interactive map of the TAM. The link to the finished product can be found on the MALT Facebook page and soon at www.maltvt.org. The interactive map features trail segment distances, photos of trailheads, and other important information about each section of the trail, as well as photos, links to educational materials and printable PDF maps. My hope is that with this project, access to the trail system right in our own backyards will be improved, encouraging students of the college and community members to explore locally.
Whether you are a trail runner who is training for long distances, a birdwatcher, a casual hiker, or a biker, the TAM has something to offer. As an intern I not only got to know the trail, but also gained from the wisdom of those who I was working with and of those I met along the TAM. This working knowledge is perhaps what I will value most from this experience.
Thank you to Carl, Joni, Bill and John. I would highly encourage anyone to take a look at the new map, get out there and see what you can find.

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