VYCC building trails and character

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DORSET — Life is good in the Owls Head Town Forest in Dorset, but for a group of teens working there, that doesn't mean it's easy.

Four teens, ranging in age from 15 to 18, are finishing out what amounts to a month-long camping trip in the forest.

But instead of spending their days swimming in quarries or lounging in hammocks they're swinging sledgehammers to break rocks and clear trails to make the path to the top easier for those seeking only a view at the top.

What they may, or may not, know is that while they're building and improving the trail, they're also building character and improving themselves.

The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps crew has been working in Dorset since 2016.

In year's past, they have constructed a 1,500-pound stone bench, cleared brush and ground cover at the quarry and worked on trail stabilization, clearing and maintenance.

This year's effort is part of a six-week job. The current crew is completing its four-week stint and once they leave, another crew will come in and spend two more weeks on the trail before moving on to a job on Mount Equinox for the remaining two weeks.

The foursome — Michael McCann, 18, of Chester; Cody Willis, 17, of Brandon; Skyler Brady, 15, of Lemington; and Noah Forest, 15, of Shaftsbury — have gone from complete strangers to a cohesive team in their time together.

VYCC crews are hired for their work. They get paid minimum wage for their labor and the expectations of the job are just like most any other. They get up early, work hard and take breaks at set times, knocking off in the evening and head back to camp for dinner and relaxation.

But this job comes with different challenges than your standard summer hitch.

Things like bear-proofing your campsite, hunkering down to wait out a strong storm, sleeping with a root poking you in the back or commuting uphill three-quarter of the mile to work each morning.

Monday, the crew members had the chance to show off their living arrangements and share their crew life with a group who met them at their office a couple hundred yards up the trail from the parking lot.

The crew hosted family members, state VYCC leaders, board members, and people who provide funding to help make the program viable.

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As people sat on a log or stood in their kitchen area, they told stories of the hardships they have encountered, shared the lessons they've learned and what they've gotten out of the program.

Forest, the 15-year-old from Shaftsbury, shared a parable about a crab outgrowing his shell and how he had to leave the comfort and safety of his old, smaller shell in order to find a larger shell that would allow for more growth.

Forest brought about laughs as he told how he was like that crab and his time in the Dorset woods had forced him out of his comfort zone and to know himself better. He said he would go home a different person than the one that first hiked up the trail.

That's an important part of the VYCC trail crew program, said VYCC Executive Director Breck Knauft said.

While it's a four-week job, Knauft said the program is building men out of boys and women out of girls.

"It's deeper than that," Knauft said. "We're investing in the social capital of Vermont."

Knauft said that the program is about personal growth for the young people and the close ties with the towns in which they work adds value to those communities.

"These are young people who have made a decision to give back," Knauft said. "We work really closely with the communities."

He said the VYCC gets double or triple the number of applications for the positions it offers each summer.

The program, which is open to young people 15 to 26 years of age, recruits at high schools and colleges. It offers one month and eight-month opportunities.

The crews will work anywhere the landowner will have them, but he said the mission of the VYCC has morphed over the years from a trail-building crew to jobs that benefit the land in many ways.

Crews are normally made up of eight youth and their leaders. This particular crew started out with only seven members and lost three others along the way.

But when the week comes to a close, most will go home to comfy beds and flushing toilets, but many of them will forever be changed by their time in Dorset's Owls Head Town Forest

Contact Darren Marcy at dmarcy@manchesterjournal.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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