By Julie Judkins, ATC Director of Education and Outreach, & Sasha DeCaro

Massachusetts Youth Receive Training at Trail Stewardship Summit

December 12, 2019

n mid-October, 23 partners, participants, and community members came together for the Massachusetts Youth (MY) Trail Summit. The hands-on opportunity for students, educators and service leaders provided skill instruction, discussion and motivation for individual stewardship, access and information about our nation’s public lands and, oh yes, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The Summit was held at April Hill, an Education and Conservation Center in South Egremont, Massachusetts, and managed by Greenagers. This beautiful location inspired participants ages 16 and older as they participated in a variety of stewardship activities, workshops and hikes.

In the usual A.T. collaborative spirit, multiple organizations provided leadership and instruction, and provided networking opportunities with conservation leaders, giving regional youth a chance to expand and think about future employment and stewardship possibilities. Community members joined in for a fireside talk with author Derick Lugo, and astronomy students from Williams College provided a “Night Sky” program giving participants the chance to look through the telescope for the first time at a full moon and the stars.

Participants discussed the deeper need and meaning behind shared stewardship and being an ambassador for public lands. The MY Trail Summit impact continued beyond the weekend by taking their sparks of inspiration home and sharing stewardship in their own ways. For example, several students are designing, building, mapping and interpreting a hiking and nature trail on their school campus.

But you don’t have to take it from me about the positive influence of the summit — participant Sasha DeCaro shared the following journal about her experience at April Hill.

Sasha DeCaro. Photo courtesy of Michael "Ishkabible" Nieves.

Sasha DeCaro. Photo courtesy of Michael “Ishkabible” Nieves.

On Friday night, we set up our tents and started to get to know everyone, played a few games of corn hole, and went through our plan for the weekend with a delicious dinner.

Saturday was a day full of a few workshops and hiking! After everyone was fully awake, we learned about Leave No Trace and the seven principles from Julie with ATC, and then we split into groups to act out scenarios of what or what not to do. It was a lot of fun and comedic to watch everyone’s skits.

Greenagers Blacksmithing Workshop. Photo courtesy of Michael "Ishkabible" Nieves.

Greenagers Blacksmithing Workshop. Photo courtesy of Michael “Ishkabible” Nieves.

Afterward, Jesse — a member of the Greenagers — set up a blacksmith forging demo explaining the different types of materials and how to work safely & efficiently. Elia, one of the head coordinators of the Greenagers and a few of the Greenagers that were there (including me), described the work we do and why we do it. We went through all the tools, gear and what mechanical advantage is and some activities to show it.

Hiking Mt. Everett. Photo courtesy of Michael "Ishkabible" Nieves.

Hiking Mt. Everett. Photo courtesy of Michael “Ishkabible” Nieves.

That afternoon we hiked Mt. Everett where I got to know everyone a little more with sharing stories and hiking experiences. A couple of experienced thru-hikers, Derick, AKA “Mr. Fabulous,” and his friend Michael “Ishkabible” Nieves joined us. After our hike, we reflected by each writing a poem using our five senses, and collectively wrote one as well.

That night, we set up a campfire and Mr. Fabulous told us his “unlikely” story of his thru-hike in 2012. I had so much fun listening to his story and hearing about some of his favorite experiences — several of us bought his book, “The Unlikely Thru-Hiker.” Marshmallows were passed around and a couple of astronomy club students from Williams College set up a telescope for us to gaze at the full moon.

Participants hiking the A.T. during the MY Trail Summit.

Sunday morning we packed everything up, hiked from Mt. Everett back to April Hill and reviewed how each of us could be environmental ambassadors and thought of projects we could work on for the future.

Altogether, I had an amazing time getting to know the perspectives of my co-workers, hikers and new friends. I learned that for a group of people to come together and discuss their interests for the environment and specifically how trail work makes a difference in my community and theirs. It also gets us excited and allows us to collaborate about the possibilities of what we can do for another Youth Trail Summit! I’m very excited to support next year’s Summit and to think through new ideas with people who really do have the same interests as me!

These projects (and many more) are only made possible through the dedication of our members and donors! By giving a gift to the Trail today, you are ensuring that the unique A.T. experience is preserved and protected forever and for all.