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Youth group hauls timber, builds privy

THE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH of Middlebury Youth Group assembled in the foundations of the privy which they helped construct. Around them are the wood pieces the group hauled up the Emily Proctor Trail, which leads to the Long Trail. Pictured from farthest left to right: Pete Nelson, Jack Wallace, Aidan Cole, Trevor Schnoor, Steve Abbot, Becca Orton, Nyna Cole, Brynn Kent and Lucas Nelson.

We were thrown into the deep end. We had to shovel away to clear out a flat area. We had to figure out this piece of wood goes here; this piece of wood goes here…
—Jack Wallace

LINCOLN — “They’re heavy,” Steve Abbot said. “They’re really awkward to carry. So you put (one) on your shoulders, and that works for 10 minutes. And then you start carrying it, and your arms get tired.”

“They” are eight-foot-long, four-by-four-inch pieces of lumber provided by the Green Mountain Club at the trailhead of the Emily Proctor Trail, which leads to the 217-mile Long Trail.

The log carriers: a group of teenage volunteers from the Congregational Church of Middlebury’s youth group who were led by Abbot and Peter Nelson, both Middlebury College professors. From the night of Wednesday, July 14, to Saturday, July 17, the teens made camp in the wilderness, where during the day they hauled wooden logs 3.5 miles up the Emily Proctor Trail to provide the foundations for a “moldering privy,” a type of outdoor restroom that accelerates the decomposition of human waste and reduces the risk of groundwater contamination.

In addition to hauling the wood, the students also constructed the privy’s foundations, providing a head start for the next set of volunteers, who will work on the outhouse.

The privy will be accessible for people with disabilities.

Cornwall resident and Middlebury Union High School student Jack Wallace, 15, described the volunteer project as exhausting but rewarding.

“We were thrown into the deep end,” Wallace said. “We had to shovel away to clear out a flat area. We had to figure out this piece of wood goes here; this piece of wood goes here…”

Eighteen-year-old Lucas Nelson — Peter’s son — expressed similar delight, but also exhaustion, with the project.

“I enjoyed my time hiking,” Lucas Nelson said. “It was a nice time to talk with the other people on the trip and it was something that was pretty difficult.”

PROJECT AT HOME

The Congregational Church of Middlebury usually participates in a summer volunteer trip outside of Vermont. Previous projects have taken them to New York City, Washington, D.C., and South Dakota. 

But the COVID pandemic made Abbot apprehensive about traveling far and wide to do good. At the behest of Keegan Tierney — a friend who works with the Green Mountain Club, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the Long Trail — the Emily Proctor privy project was realized.

But Abbot, with Peter Nelson, still needed to find volunteers for their volunteer project after they agreed with Tierney to take on the wood haul.

“So Pete and I decided we can do this and we put the word out to the kids,” Abbot said. “Usually we get a pretty good group, but we got seven kids this year. We picked a four day stretch.”

Youth group members Jack Wallace, Aidan Cole, Trevor Schnoor, Rebecca Orten, Nyna Cole, Lucas Nelson and Brynn Kent, a college student, all answered the call to serve their community.

For 2021 Middlebury Union High School graduate Lucas Nelson — who’s heading west to Minnesota for his freshman year at Macalester College this fall — helping his community is a part of who he is.

“I feel like community service has been something that I’ve always done in my life,” Nelson said.

He also observed that the Long Trail wood hauling project differed from his previous volunteer efforts with his church’s youth group, when Nelson has volunteered in “soup kitchen type things where I saw the (immediate) impact I had on the people.”

In contrast, he felt that the outhouse project was something that will last longer and will also deeply impact Long Trail hikers.

“There weren’t people there actually using the privy while we built it, but I (will) be able to see the work that I’ve done in the future,” he said.

THE LONG HAUL

In Greek mythology, the gods punish King Sisyphus to roll a large, bulky stone up a hill for eternity. Each time Sisyphus nears the hill’s summit, the rock falls. He descends and repeats. The local youth who carried the wood up into the Green Mountains sometimes felt equally tormented, but with a happier ending.

The teens would grab a bulky piece of wood and make the trek either balancing the wood on their shoulders or sometimes using a more creative method of handling it. They’d then walk 3.5 miles back (the last mile uphill), grab another piece of wood, and do it all again.

Wallace illustrated how the weather affected the group’s work.

“Day one, we split up into two groups,” he said. “Right as I started off it started to pour rain on us and it thunderstormed. It’s pouring rain and you’re going up rocks! It was just wet and exhausting and you just wanted (it) to be over.”

Abbot agreed with his charges’ laments on the brutality of the project’s workload and the diluvian conditions.

“When you’re coming up (the trail’s) hill … that’s the Promised Land,” Abbot said. “The first day we had a thunderstorm…. I’ve done (service projects for the church’s group) four or five times. Never had a trip this physically taxing.”

After hauling all of the wood up the trail, the privy’s foundations needed to be constructed. Since the group wasn’t allowed to use power tools in the woods for the project, the volunteers found out that, sometimes, the simplest tools are the most enjoyable.

“We got to use some tools I never got to use before,” Lucas Nelson said. “A hand cranking screwdriver, a pick-ax and a shovel. It felt pretty cool to do without using power tools.”

But it was a bittersweet Saturday morning of July 17 when the kids finally finished their work.

“The people on the trip aren’t my closest friends, but I got to know them all better just by talking with them,” Nelson said.

Abbot thought the teens developed during the trip in ways they’d appreciate long after this summer.

“I’m trying to communicate this wonderful intensity about it,” Abbot said. “It was physically demanding and mentally demanding, but this same kind of level of rewards…. The kids learned a lot about what they’re capable of and it’s going to be a wonderful thing to remember.”

He also said the project was fun for him and the kids — not “fun” fun, perhaps, but enjoyable, in a way.

“Type One Fun is at an amusement park,” Abbot said. “Type Two Fun is when it’s happening it’s not that fun, but afterward it’s really fun. When (the project) was occurring, it was pretty unhappy. But looking it over you feel that was pretty awesome. We were deep into the realm of Type Two Fun on this trip!”

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