Norwich Springs Into Volunteer Season

John Taylor & Sam Brakeley,Gile Mountain Trail

With spring just around the corner, Norwich residents are looking forward to the return of greenery and spending time outdoors. As the weather warms, the volunteers who keep Norwich green are rolling up their sleeves and ready to get to work maintaining the town’s trails, forests, parks, and conservation easements. These eager volunteers are supported by a large network of organizations both in Norwich and across the Upper Valley.

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The new pump track at Huntley Meadow is maintained by a wide range of volunteers, including Emily Biolsi’s class at the Marion Cross School. This fall, the students worked together with community volunteers and Ryan Johnson, a member of the Norwich Recreation Council. Johnson showed the students what work needed to be done and gave them instructions on how to use the tools, which were supplied by the Upper Valley Trails Alliance. Jill Kearney, Director of the Norwich Recreation Department, says of the student volunteer day: “Days like that just are a highlight. It’s fabulous to see that the kids have a teacher who is so excited about environmental stewardship. When the kids go back there they don’t want to leave trash on the side of the track because they worked on it. It’s great to see these values being passed on and see the kids caring for the community and being a steward.”

Nick Krembs and Jim Faughnan, Norwich Trails Committee members, with UVTA staff on Gile Mountain

John Girard is a former teacher at the Marion Cross school and another member of the Norwich Recreation Council. When he isn’t coaching basketball and baseball, Girard leads an annual cleanup of the baseball diamonds. He organizes a Saturday morning Green Up Day at the baseball diamond and invites all the parents of the season’s players. The Recreation Department supplies shovels, edgers, and wheelbarrows; the volunteers also care for the base pads and rake the infield. This all-volunteer annual event gets everyone (including the fields) ready for spring baseball.

The Upper Valley Trails Alliance (UVTA) works throughout the Upper Valley, but has a strong focus in Norwich due to its office location in town. UVTA works with the Norwich Trails Committee and the Norwich Fire District to assess trail maintenance needs, such as trail re-routes, bridge planning, and treadway clearing. Volunteers from UVTA recently completed a five-year-long project in Norwich on the beloved Gile Mountain trail, installing stone steps to make the trail more sustainable for the thousands of hikers who come annually. Over 100 volunteers worked with UVTA and the Norwich trails committee at Gile Mountain, averaging one to two volunteer groups working on the project per week during the trail season. UVTA has also worked with volunteers from King Arthur Flour to complete bog-bridge improvements on the “Spirit in Nature” path, as well as clearing portions of the King Arthur Trail. This spring, UVTA will be working on a trail project near the Dresden Athletic Field, connecting to the King Arthur field. They are also planning out a new mountain bike area for kids around the Dresden Athletic Field during the 2017 trail season.

The Upper Valley Land Trust (UVLT) manages several conservation easements in Norwich. They acquired the Norwich Gateway property in 2009, which had been previously abandoned and was overrun with invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle. With the help of over a thousand volunteer hours from Hypertherm and Norwich community members, there’s virtually no buckthorn or honeysuckle left on the property, giving native plants a chance to compete and thrive. Volunteers continue to maintain the habitat and remove the invasives each year, while educating the community about habitat restoration. UVLT also manages the Milton Frye Nature Area, which is connected to the Marion Cross School. The students use it as an outdoor classroom with the help of environmental education coordinator Lindsay Putnam. The students learn about invasive species as part of the curriculum and work alongside UVLT volunteers to keep the invasives at bay.

Students from Ms. Biolsi’s 6th-grade class working on the Pump Track with UVTA and Norwich Rec

At the Brook Mead Conservation Area, UVLT owns the land at Norwich Farms, which is used by Vermont Technical College as a teaching farm, as well as having forest areas and trails on the land. Every Earth Day, UVLT trains community volunteers to help with easement monitoring. There are 15 vernal pools on the property, and UVLT volunteers help collect natural resource data from the pools and submit the data to the state. UVLT is also partnering with a researcher at Dartmouth College who is conducting research on wood frogs and a reptile survey on the property. “The land is here to serve lots of values. The citizen science part is very important to us,” says Jason Berard, the Stewardship Director at UVLT. In coordination with Norwich Trails Committee, UVLT is also working to link the Brook Mead trails to neighboring trails on Parcel 5 and the Blue Ribbon Trail on Gile Mountain.

Berard encourages community members to reach out to UVLT with ideas and suggestions for ways to better serve Norwich residents. “We’re always interested in hearing how we can be of use to the community.” he says. “Our portfolio is here to serve the whole community. We want to hear needs the community has for land we own.”


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