BRISTOL, Connecticut, USA — When most people go hiking, they take in all the sights and sounds of nature. But some kids hit the trail to go to work.
The Southern Tunxis Trail Maintenance Crew, a volunteer group since 1961, is devoted to the upkeep and marking of 60 miles of Connecticut trails.
The 20-person crew, the only one in the state, consists of students from age seven through high school.
Using their free time, crew leader Dan Casey and the kids try to clear a mile of trail a week during a 15-week season.
“The kids themselves do most of the work. The few adults we have are for supervision, and the kids will learn from experience how to clear the trails better,” said Casey.
“The adults are also the only ones allowed to use the loppers, sharp tools used for cutting overhanging branches,” he said.
On a spring weekend, newcomer Halley Allaire said she enjoyed the work and made a lot of friends.
When clearing a trail, the group works in a line.
Those in the front pick up and move small branches and rocks on the path. Next someone comes with a “swizzle” stick, a tool which is swung back and forth to clear any plants growing up out of the path.
The adults come next using the loppers to cut down branches overhanging into the path.
One person’s job is to move what others cut. The next in line rakes leaves and other small debris off the path.
The last person in line “blazes” or paints bright triangles using paint donated by the Connecticut Forestry Association.
“Blazes help people from not getting lost, and we place them every so often and especially at junctions,” Casey said.
“A dot is placed within the triangle to indicate a subtrail or loop trail coming off a main trail,” he said.
Keeping the trails clear and keeping a good pace in 80-degree weather is hard work.
Casey said half the new kids who join each year “we never see again. The kids weed themselves out. We don’t force them to stay or leave.”
“Though we have a grading system to keep the kids a little competitive, the only real reward is pride in their work,” said Casey.
All the kids get treated to ice cream at the end of the season.
Kids like 16-year-old Brian Carnein love the work.
“I joined three years ago and have come every week except for a couple this year. This helps me get out of the house once and awhile,” said Carnein.
“It takes us about five years to cover the entire 60 miles of trails that we do,” said Casey. Then they start all over again.
In fact, Casey keeps a computer database containing dates of when each trail has been cleared and when it should be maintained again.
“We also send out people after major storms to make sure that some trails won’t need clearing again,” said Casey. “Someone is out looking all the time making sure a trail is clear.”