Missoula, Mont., is blessed not only with an envious network of gorgeous trails, but with an "energetic community that just loves to volunteer," says Morgan Valliant, the city's conservation lands manager. That winning combination was especially evident this past May when a group of seniors from Hellgate High School worked together to build a half-mile trail for their year-end community service project.
"The students got a huge sense of accomplishment and the feeling that they're working in the community to make things better," says Valliant.
On the day of the project, several school buses rolled into Hemayagan Park at about 10 in the morning and offloaded 175 eager students, as well as a handful of teachers and parents. To lead them on the project, the city partnered with Montana Conservation Corps; 23 of its staff members were on hand and quickly divided the students into manageable working crews.
With this much adolescence en masse, a challenge was simply "containing the average teenage energy," says Mario Colucci, a program coordinator for the Montana Conservation Corps. Indeed, the only injury that occurred that day was when one of the girls tried to somersault down the hill--one of the hazards of working with youth.
After safety instruction and an orientation on proper trail construction, the students were armed with an assortment of hand tools and lined up along the trail corridor. They started digging a dirt pathway through open grassland along the hillside and, by 1:30 that afternoon, the work was done. During the course of several hours, an entire trail had evolved.
Although short, the new trail offers expansive views of Rattlesnake Valley and the Bitterroot Mountains. It's the first in a planned series of trails in the Farviews Pattee Canyon neighborhood. These trails will link to the South Hills network, which leads to the Bitterroot Branch rail-trail and subsequently the Milwaukee Trail, an important commuting route across town.
"The project was actually a hair too small," says Valliant. "There was some down time at the end, but it gave the students a chance to run up and down the trail and see what they built."
"We enjoy our work and it's fun to see large groups participate in this sort of thing and have fun," says Colucci. "It's a valuable experience for both sides."