The sun shone with a fervor and resilience that a pair of sunglasses couldn’t dim. But along the wooded trail which heads the Lamoille River Walk, off Checkerberry Square, all was quiet and cool. Mosquitoes assailed visitors who forgot their bug spray while the river babbled down falls and trickled over stones.
This was the setting of the town’s Lamoille River Walk bridge replacement and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps’ fourth week of work around Chittenden County.
“It’s just been rotting out,” said Victor Sinadinoski the town’s director of planning and economic development.
The original bridge, built by the VYCC in 2006, was a 20-foot structure spanning the convergence of two streams along the river walk, according to literature from the Milton Conservation Commission. Sinadinoski said the town built the structure with wood that was not rot-resistant, leading to numerous board replacements over the past decade.
“The wood has just been taking a beating. It wasn’t good quality wood,” he said.
Rising water levels in recent times have also threatened the vitality of the bridge. As a result, the town decided to replace it using new, rot-resistant wood and an expanded length of 24 feet to help counter the increased water levels below it.
Milton funded the project with a recreational trails program grant of $7,378 which it had to match with $1,844. The town’s conservation commission volunteers completed $252 worth of prep work on the site, removing the former bridge to prepare for the VYCC crew.
The conservation commissioners leading the project don’t have authoritative power but can make recommendations on the town’s planning and development projects, Sinadinoski explained. Its members have focused on the town’s trails in the past few years and also educated the public on conservation issues through public presentations, he said.
“The Milton Conservation Commission only has a very small budget, and in order to hire the VYCC to do this bridge in only five days, they needed help move the project along,” commissioner Bonnie Pease said. That included removing the rotted out bridge before crews arrived.
With the volunteer’s efforts, Milton’s true expenditure for the project was $1,592, according to Sinadinoski.
While he doesn’t believe working with the VYCC necessarily saves money, Sinadinoski said there are benefits of working with a young crew.
“It’s a small project,” he said. “Otherwise we’d have to expend money on staff from our public works to build a bridge, and that’s not what they do really.”
Having youths work on Milton’s trails helps expose them to the town and the importance of conservation, he added.
“We’re here to build a bridge, but we’re really here trying to help the next leaders of tomorrow,” said Joshua Carter, 27, the crew chief of the VYCC’s Williston team.
Carter explained how the group of eight 15 to 18-year-olds’ efforts were part of a 30-year legacy of youth conservation work in Vermont. He said this group had worked for three weeks before arriving in Milton to complete the river walk project.
“This is kind of the pinnacle,” he said. “You see a lot of growth from everybody … we try to foster leadership.”
The VYCC emphasizes teaching youths both “hard” and “soft” skills such as carpentry and leadership, according to Jenn Seredejko, the corps’ operations coordinator.
“For many of these 16 to 18-year-olds, it’s their first job, their first experience outside of the classroom following directions and working for a wage,” she said. “Which can be exciting for them but can also be a new, challenging experience.”
For Nick Parker, 15, working with the VYCC provided him with new experiences and an improved skillset.
“The most technical thing we’ve done has to be getting this bridge squared up and leveled out,” he said. “I think I’ve leveled the large pile four or five times now.”
In addition, Parker and his crewmates learned to make accurate measurements, use power tools and more, all while respecting and conserving nature.
In light of this, the corps worked to build the bridge longer and higher than its predecessor to keep the water at its natural level and leave a nearby waterfall undisturbed.
For recent Essex High School graduate Kaitlinn Little, working on the bridge with the VYCC was the capstone of a four week personal metamorphosis.
“The more I am responsible for the more I speak up and step up,” Little said. “I’m a lot more vocal with my ideas than I used to be.”
Each day, VYCC members spend 30 minutes on a reading and discussion period. According to Carter, this allows the crew to learn and share information about “world events and hot topics.” He added that VYCC members complete research and present topics in front of the corps.
The bridge was completed on Friday. It unites a part of the 1.3-mile trail along the river. The river walk can be accessed by one of two entrances: one where Checkerberry Square meets Donald Drive and another by Ritchie Avenue close to the Green Mountain Power hydroelectric dam.
The VYCC is still hiring youths for the summer 2018 session. If your organization wishes to hire a VYCC team, click on its website, www.vycc.org.