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A $100k gift will fund TAM upkeep forever

MALT PROGRAMS COORDINATOR Caleb Basa (in truck) and MALT board member Chris Anderson deliver gravel to a wet section of the Trail Around Middlebury. A recent $100,000 donation will ensure perpetual stewardship of the popular trail. Photo courtesy of MALT

The (trail) wish list is long. But I feel strongly … that we need to take care of what we have first. It’s not a sustainable model to build and build and build, and not have the foundation underneath it.
— Jamie Brookside

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Area Land Trust Executive Director Jamie Brookside is more likely to be found on cloud nine these days than on any of her organization’s 4,700 acres of conserved lands.

That’s because she and her MALT colleagues have a lot to celebrate.

One, she’s marking her four-year anniversary as administrative leader of the nonprofit conservation organization that will soon release a new strategic plan mapping out its priorities through 2025.

And the cherry on top of the sundae: A $100,000 donation from a local couple that will ensure long-term maintenance of MALT’s crown jewel: the 19-mile Trail Around Middlebury (TAM).

The donation came in April, just as MALT officials were putting the final touches on the strategic plan.

The gift was pure serendipity, according to Brookside.

“The donors came to us with the offer; we didn’t solicit it — which is the Mecca of all holidays for nonprofits,” Brookside said with a hearty laugh.

“I cried, I laughed and I yelled,” she added, candidly.

Rather than trumpet the news impersonally through a group email, Brookside proceeded to share the good tidings personally with as many MALT colleagues as possible.

It was like chewing a stick of gum that never loses its flavor.

“At least 50% of the people I told were brought to tears,” she said. “This kind of gift is unprecedented (for the Trail Around Middlebury).”

The donors want to remain anonymous. But Brookside is able to say they are a couple residing in Addison County, practically on the TAM. They’re making the gift in memory of their respective moms — both of whom were avid outdoorspeople, according to Brookside.

“The couple wanted to give to an organization that could make a significant impact, and looked for a smaller one that had an environmentally focused mission,” she said.

Since the donors and their dog regularly walk the TAM, it seemed fitting to them that they write their check to MALT.

Brookside said the $100,000 will be added to MALT’s $275,000 endowment fund, and will yield enough interest to permanently bankroll a full-time, seasonal, trails-maintenance position that will focus on the TAM. Whoever holds the job will be given such tasks as clearing the trail of debris, cutting back growth and erecting better wayfinding signs.

The new position will finally allow John Derick, an all-star MALT volunteer who’s spent more than three decades tending tirelessly to the TAM, to pull back from his duties.

“It’s another pivotal step in MALT internalizing the functions of its trails and the TAM, and being able to honor all that John has given to the TAM, and to be able to continue that legacy,” Brookside said.

When she joined MALT in 2017, Brookside’s TAM supporting cast was pretty much Derick and a summer intern.

This summer, she has four staff and myriad volunteers to help out. And next year, thanks to the $100,000 contribution, will bring the newly hired TAM-tender.

“We’re really making progress,” Brookside said. “This (donation) is pivotal.”

TAM WISH LIST

As one might imagine, the TAM is a big part of the Land Trust’s new strategic plan. The plan recommends that MALT strengthen its current assets into 2025 in order to build a more solid foundation for future growth, according to Brookside.

 “We want to focus on making sure the trails we have are well taken care of, that we have all the resources and people we need to do that,” she said.

At the same time, MALT officials continue to network with landowners about potential future trail extensions.

For example, one of the organization’s long-term aspirations is to see the TAM connect with East Middlebury. Around one mile of that trail is currently in place — from East Middlebury village to the Oak Ridge Trail (leading into the Green Mountain National Forest). It’s part of MALT’s ongoing relationship with the North Country Trail Association.

“The (trail) wish list is long,” Brookside said with a smile. “But I feel strongly as leader of MALT that we need to take care of what we have first. It’s not a sustainable model to build and build and build, and not have the foundation underneath it.”

MALT’s strategic plan relates to what Brookside described as the group’s “four core areas of work” — land conservation, stewardship of that conserved land, planning for and maintaining its trail and recreation network, and offering educational programming.

It was Brookside who put MALT’s educational programming on the map when she signed on four years ago. And it’s proven to be a very successful decision. The organization now offers a variety of youth programming, including afterschool, vacation camps, homeschool programs and summer camps.

“It’s grown exponentially and been so well received,” Brookside said. “It’s been a new way to engage with the community and bring people to our lands and trails. In these next four years, we want to start thinking strategically about who we’re engaging, how we’re engaging them, and what are the most valuable uses of our resources and time that we have as a staff here at MALT.”

Another MALT priority for the coming years: establishing a community science program for land stewardship, through which volunteers would “adopt” various MALT conserved properties, monitor them, and recommend stewardship techniques.

“It’s hard for one person to cover 4,700 acres of conserved land,” Brookside said of the current challenge.

Monica Pryzperhart is a relatively new member of the MALT board. She’s pleased to join the organization at such an exciting time.

She’s thrilled with the $100,000 donation.

“We’re so excited this makes our investments in the TAM so much more secure,” she said. “I think we’re both excited about the possibilities, but I also see this as a testament to how important the TAM is to so many people in our community — particularly during the past year, with COVID. So many of us have realized what an important resource this is in our community.”

The strategic plan, according to Pryzperhart, will help MALT understand how its capacity and the community’s needs can match up.

It’s shaping up as an interesting four years.

“I’m excited to see where this takes us,” Brookside said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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