Building Connections

Cara Monteleone & Ryann Murray

Last weekend, with surprising enthusiasm and early morning innocence, half of the Arcadians confronted our first task as a trail crew. Project #1: Move the Four Points lean-to privy over a newly designated, freshly dug hole. Problem #1: Avoid the remnants of what happens at an outdoor toilet originally constructed without a hole in the ground. Facing this challenge, five students, one assistant director, and one Massawepie trail crew volunteer were assembled around the privy.

“Rotate counter-clockwise this time,” commanded Kai.

Through strategic teeter-tottering on the privy corners, we managed to maneuver the nine-foot-tall, wooden, awkwardly heavy shack to its new usable location. We left the privy with a sense of accomplishment and only mud on our boots. Project #1 was complete.

The Adirondack Semester trail work day had started earlier that Saturday morning with packing lunches and putting on our tattered work gloves and hiking boots. Then we Arcadians split into two groups. One group joined up with Peter Collinge, the head Massawepie trail crew volunteer, along the white trail leading towards the Four Points lean-to on the Massawepie property. The other group worked at the Massawepie Mire building boardwalks with Ben Geiger, Massawepie Scout Camps Ranger.

Trail work is nothing new to the Adirondack Semester program. Every year, the students spend a day learning the proper practice of crafting sustainable spaces for outdoor recreation. Whether teaching us to handle tools safely or to understand the ecological impacts of outdoor recreation, trail work is an important tradition and an opportunity for Arcadians to give back. Therefore, when the idea was proposed five years ago by Ben Geiger to have the Arcadians work at Massawepie instead of other Adirondack locations, the response was an obvious “yes.” From then on, Arcadians have made it a point to establish a positive impact on the place that benefits us immensely.

The impacts our trail work have at Massawepie goes beyond our small yurt village. The Massawepie Scout Camp property is a conservation easement, which allow the public to have access to these private lands from September 1 to June 15. Because of the terms of the easement, Massawepie remains a functioning haven for recreation in the Adirondack wilderness without the impending threat of urban development. Through widening trails, laying boards, and promoting sustainable action, we create broadened accessibility and safety to ensure the future enjoyment of Massawepie.

Arcadians’ relationship with the Adirondack community does not just function one way. The people and culture that characterize this region influence us as well. Some Fridays, we have performers from the Adirondacks visit our village to showcase their talents and share their stories. On the Friday before trail work day, we hosted Caitlin Kelly and Tyler Dezago. We listened to their folk style and acoustic melodies while spotlighted by the glow of a typical Arcadian campfire. In between songs, Caitlin, an Adirondack Semester alumna and former Adirondack Mountain Club trail crew member, spoke to us about her Adirondack adventures after graduating from St. Lawrence University.

While reflecting on her days at the Adirondack Semester and her decision to work for the Adirondack Mountain Club, she said, “I hated doing trail work that day, but I knew I wanted to give back to the trails and land I took for granted. So, I ended up dedicating three years of my life to trail work.”

Caitlin and other Friday night performers help us to realize that there are individuals outside of Massawepie who are also dedicated to preserving the unique character and wild opportunities that exist in the Adirondacks.

During our own trail work day, after moving the privy at the Four Points lean-to, our group sat down for lunch with dirty knees and numb finger-tips. Our breath left the remains of tired conversations to linger in the cold lake air. After a while, Peter rallied us back together and proposed Project #2: Build a completely new portion of the white trail. Before this point, we had only maintained the already existing trail. As we walked behind Peter, who was showing us his master vision, we remembered what Caitlin had said. Trail work is not an easy or glamorous job, but we excitedly traced the new route and eagerly grabbed our tools with fatigued arms. After a couple of hours of sawing roots, raking brush, and grading soil, Project #2 was complete. We walked on the new trail and envisioned the usage for years to come.

One day of trail work only scrapes the surface of the ways we can reciprocate the gifts that Massawepie and the Adirondack community give to us. Yet we are building a life-long appreciation for the people who cultivate the same passion for the Adirondacks as we do. Arcadia, our own little piece of the Adirondacks, reminds us to take care of the relationships we have with the natural world and the individuals who surround us.