Friends of Haystack and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps. improve Haystack Mountain Trail

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PAWLET — Pawlet's Haystack Mountain Trail is receiving some much-needed maintenance, thanks to the efforts of the nonprofit Friends of Haystack and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.

The trail winds up almost 1,200 ft in elevation to Haystack's summit, which was acquired by The Friends of Haystack in 2012 to insure its availability to the public in perpetuity.

"We own the 66 acres on top of the mountain. We're just a small, private nonprofit group made up of Pawlet community members," said Project Coordinator Alan Calfee. "We acquired the top of the mountain to protect the summit which has, in addition to the scenic trail, some uncommon natural communities and rare plants. It's kind of an ecological hotspot."

The improvements to the trail were made possible by a grant from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation's "Recreational Trails" program. These renovations are being pursued in partnership with the Nature Conservancy's Vermont Chapter and the Vermont Land Trust, who have conserved over a thousand acres of the unique North Pawlet Hills Natural Area.

"There were a lot of problem spots that we wanted to address, both for hiker safety and resource protection," said Calfee.

The project will involve installing a footbridge over a small stream along the trail, and several areas of re-routes and improvements to move the trail out of wet and highly erodible areas. The effect will be a much more user friendly trail, and sustainable design, to reduce erosion and sedimentation, according to Calfee.

"When we got the grant from the Recreational Trails program, we had three different things on the trail that we wanted to address," said Calfee. "First and foremost, we wanted to put in a footbridge where the trail crosses a stream, which can get dicey in ice and other conditions."

Alongside the construction of the footbridge, renovations will include the creation of new switchbacks on a section of the trail usually denigrated by water flow, and improvements at the summit.

"This project is going to make the trail much more user friendly," said Calfee. "One of the re-routes, where the trail just used to go up the hill, now meanders with switchbacks which is much more pleasant."

To complete these improvements, the Friends of Haystack enlisted members of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC), an organization that connects young people with an interest in conservation and the outdoors with folks who need work done including trail construction, improvement, and invasive plant control.

"I'm a super-fan of the VYCC," said Calfee. "It's a phenomenal, Vermont based, organization."

Having set-out on July 24th, these six high school age workers are spending a total of two weeks on Haystack completing demanding manual labor in variable weather conditions.

"They're camping out there for two weeks no cell phones or anything," said Calfee. "It's been really cool to work with them, and see the group build this cohesion and team spirit."

The VYCC, in operation for over 30 years, encourages service work as a powerful platform to teach meaningful skills. Oftentimes this is achieved through tangible projects taken on by small teams working together, embodying VYCC's mission to teach personal responsibility through meaningful group work that connects participants to the land, community, and one another.

"They learn how to work together and deal with the Vermont environment," said Calfee. "I think in today's world, where we worry about kids not getting outside enough, it's pretty impressive to see these kids taking on a project like this."

Beyond the labor provided by the VYCC, the Friends of Haystack have found multitudes of community support for the project. Lumber for the footbridge was donated by Manchester's R.K. Miles, for example, and moved to the remote location by draft-horses under the leadership of Nick Hammond, of Shoreham's Double Tree LLC. A group of energetic volunteers then moved the lumber down the final portion of the trail to the location of the footbridge.

"Haystack is clearly an icon driving into the valley," said Calfee. "What we found when we were fundraising, and once we started these improvements, is that a lot of people really love this mountain."

For more information, visit http://www.friendsofhaystack.org/.

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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