FLORIDA -- Some city kids got to test their grips on weed whackers and loppers Tuesday morning while taking part in a program to enhance the Mahican-Mohawk Trail.
The group of 10, plus instructors, were among the first to hike a newly-connected segment of the trail that, thanks in part to their efforts, will open to the public later this summer.
"When you make a trail, you want to make it sustainable," Emily Wells, one of the group leaders, called out during early instructions.
The day would see the young New York City natives cover five miles of ground and clear roughly half a mile of trail, lunching midway atop Spruce Hill.
Matthew Scholl, director of the Manice Education Center (MEC) on Savoy Road and charged with running the local program, said the trail represents a more accessible route for hikers, allowing one to take off from North Adams and travel straight through to the Mohawk Trail State Forest and Savoy Mountain State Forest.
"The dream was to connect the trail," Scholl said. "... It's a process of going through and making sure sections are groomed, making them highly accessible and usable to the public. We've gotten to do that while putting kids out in the community in a green way."
The project progressed over a decade of collaboration between MEC through their Leadership Training Corps program and the Student Conservation Association in Hawley.
"It's a great opportunity to take time figuring
MEC's presence in the Berkshires dates back to 1981 as the flagship program for Christodora Inc., a training and environmental education company fo cused on inner-city youths. Christodora has operated in this capacity since the 1800s.
Tuesday's participants were part of a "special select team" of students. Many have been to the Berkshires several times over the past few summers.
Matthew Gonzalez, a Bronx native and alumni of the program who visited throughout middle school, had returned Tuesday for his second year teaching.
"I learn a lot about myself every time I come here," Gonzalez said. "When I first graduated, I thought that bus ride back home would be my last. But I had to come back. I like this kind of work."
The trail project itself is part of a larger initiative to connect a 100-mile walking trail between the Hudson and Connecticut rivers following the Mohawk Trail. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation sponsors the project, and the Hoosic River Watershed Association has played an integral part, among other Western Massachusetts environmental organizations.
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