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MALT’s Middlebury trail marks 30 years

JAMIE MONTAGUE AND Caleb Basa, executive director and programs coordinator, respectively, of the Middlebury Area Land Trust, display an example of the 17 new informational signs that will adorn the Trail Around Middlebury. The community will celebrate the popular 18-mile footpath’s 30th birthday at WhistlePig Farm in Shoreham on Oct. 10.

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) has added new staff, new education programming and new signs to celebrated its Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), which this year is marking its 30th birthday.
Established in 1987 as the “Middlebury Land Trust,” the small nonprofit has had great success conserving environmentally significant farmland and forestland in and around Addison County’s shire town. But the organization’s crowing achievement has been the TAM, a more than 18-mile footpath that encircles Middlebury village and links several hundred acres of municipal land, conserved properties, schools and other local landmarks. Designed and constructed for recreational use, it is open year-round for area residents and visitors alike. The trail’s continued success is possible because of the generous permission of private landowners whose property it crosses.
A 30th birthday bash for the TAM will take place Thursday, Oct. 10, at 6 p.m. at WhistlePig Farm at 2139 Quiet Valley Road in Shoreham. The event is free, but space is limited and those interested in attending must RSVP to [email protected].
MALT will make a special pitch for TAM donations on “First Tuesday” — the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving that has become an international day of charitable giving. First Tuesday this year falls on Dec. 3. Jamie Montague, MALT’s executive director, noted it costs roughly $18,000 annually to maintain the TAM. Land Trust leaders want to build an endowment fund that will yield that $18,000 in interest each year.
The TAM recently received a nice birthday present. Those who walk/jog the trail will notice 17 new kiosk signs that provide key information at various trail access points. It’s the first time the kiosks will have hosted trail signs, and they all bear the MALT name.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the TAM is a project of MALT,” Montague said.
It’s a project that relies on volunteers — particularly John Derrick, who donates hundreds of hours each year to sprucing up the trail. Montague estimated there are 60-70 people on whom she can call to help with TAM chores. But not all of those folks are available at any given moment. So Katherine McCool, an AmeriCorps volunteer assigned to MALT for the next 11 months, will create a “volunteer recruitment and management system” that will allow the organization to tap helpers in a more organized and reliable way.
McCool has been a big help, as has Caleb Basa, who earlier this month started work as MALT’s new programs coordinator.
Prior to Montague’s arrival during the summer of 2017, MALT had a part-time executive director and a part-time steward for its lands. Now there are three full-timers: Montague, Basa and McCool. McCool is currently partnering with the Aurora Preschool on a nature-based, experiential education program.
“This if the first time in more than 10 years that we’ve had more than one full-time employee,” Montague said.
Basa’s duties include operating MALT’s outdoor education program for youth, ages 4 to 12. It’s largely conducted on MALT lands and is designed for young children keen on learning about the outdoors and wildlife. The program, now in its second year, runs through the academic year and offers after-school opportunities and a 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. option for homeschooled children.
“We’ll begin with a morning welcome circle, some nature-based games, and a focus on relevant/interesting seasonal themes,” reads a program description at maltvt.org. “Monthly topics include exploring what animals are doing to get ready for winter, fire building, orienteering with maps and compass, exploring food webs, and shelter building. Sprinkled in between, there will certainly be mud painting, fairy homes, and story telling around our camp fire.”
Basa noted area homeschoolers are part of a close-knit community, so word of MALT programming spreads quickly.
“Suddenly, we’re having to turn people away,” he said of the popularity of the outdoor education sessions.
Approximately 18 children are enrolled in the afterschool sessions, and there are another 20 kids taking part in the homeschooler sessions, according to Montague.
“We are full, but there’s room for growth,” Montague said of the kids’ outdoor environmental offerings.
Basa’s other responsibilities include helping maintain the TAM and serving as caretaker for all 3,600 acres of MALT’s conserved lands.
“I’m constantly trying to plan and organize new programs,” Basa said, citing a recent “trail day” with members of the Middlebury College women’s cross-country team as an example. “I do focus a lot on outdoor education, but there are a lot of programs that deal with the TAM and conserved lands.”
Revenue from MALT’s outdoor education programs helps the nonprofit become more financially independent.
“It’s a very important new, earned revenue stream, and it’s consistent and reliable,” Montague said. “It really reinforces our work on trails and lands. It’s really hard to fund trail maintenance and land stewardship. This programming is basically creating a third pillar of our funding.”
The other two funding pillars are membership contributions and grants.
“It’s allowed us to grow,” Montague said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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