Members of the Homer community banded together last week to repair and restore the trail system behind Homer Middle School, which had long been neglected and subject to the elements.
Deb Lowney led the endeavor on Wednesday, Sept. 12, accompanied by the entire Homer Middle School eighth grade class as well as many other community volunteers. Some volunteers were parents of the students working on the trails, some were teachers at or had previous affiliations with the middle school, and others were citizens who simply cared about the trail system and the impact it could have on the students and others.
“It just shows you the power of volunteerism, how this community can pull together,” Lowney said. “The other thing that is so cool about this project … we have volunteers coming in … not only parents, but from all over the community not connected to the school, just coming in and working with young people. To me, that is huge. Building these bonds between generations within our community is huge.”
The trail system is situated behind the Homer Middle School track and runs in a large loop. The system was divided into 12 areas or stations, with the volunteers divided into nine groups to service the various stations. The community volunteers were tasked with getting materials delivered to the stations on the trail, as well as coordinating the construction of bridges, boardwalks and French drains. The eighth grade students and teachers worked to level the trail, spread wood chips, sand, and gravel where appropriate, help deliver materials, dig and build French drains, build or repair bridges and boardwalks, and remove unwanted trees and branches from the trail.
Brian Carper, paraprofessional at Homer Middle School, oversaw the construction of the eastern loop boardwalk at the station designated “Area 12.”
“Deb is the driving force behind all of this,” Carper said. “These were existing trails that suffered neglect. We’re making it new again.”
Homer Middle School teacher Darcy Mueller and community volunteer Lynn Maslow coordinated the students working to repair the pre-existing eastern loop bridge, which crosses over a small creek, at Areas 10 and 11. They leveled the ground around the bridge entrance, covering the area with wood chips, and built a boardwalk on the far side of the bridge.
Mueller credited the trail restoration event as a “great opportunity for the kids to get out in the community.”
“It’s a trail (the students) get to use,” Maslow said. “They will definitely reap the benefits of their work.”
Community volunteer Wayne Watson worked with students at Area 9, a particularly wet section of the trail, to build two French drains. They dug two ditches spanning the width of the trail, which they then filled in with sand and gravel. More gravel and wood chips were also hauled in to cover the dirt trail in that section.
All of the labor and a large percentage of the materials were donated to the project. Tools, all-terrain vehicles and heavy equipment used to deliver materials and complete construction were brought in by the volunteers.
“It’s all through volunteer work right now,” Lowney said. “Some of the materials came through (the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District), and … their Schoolyard Habitat Program. That pretty much got our gravel, and got a couple of bridges built, and some wood.”
The Schoolyard Habitat program was developed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, according to the Homer Soil and Water website, found at homerswcd.org/education.htm. The goal of the program is to “work closely with area wide schools to convert their school grounds into an outdoor classroom by improving wildlife habitat features and integrating these features into their everyday lessons.”
Other materials like the wood chips used to line the paths were delivered by Beau Burgess of Southern Exposure LLC.
Lowney first approached Homer Middle School last spring about restoring the trail system, and she worked with Principal Kari Dendurent and the eighth grade teaching staff to coordinate the project.
“When I went in last spring … I talked to (the school) and said ‘We can do this, but we’re going to need some money,’” Lowney said. “Kari was able to find some money for us. So we hired Beau to come in, we showed him the trail … we gave him our price range, he said he could (provide material) for that price range, and he did.”
The trail system is widely used by the Homer community, but it also serves an important purpose for the students as their running trail and a location for various schools’ cross-country running programs, such as the one at West Homer Elementary.
Lowney has a long history with trail systems all over Homer, but the Homer Middle School trail has long been an important project to her in particular. She and Bob Norberg, both former teachers at the middle school, first built the trail in 1987 with 24 student volunteers.
“We taught a class called ‘The Athlete Within You,’ and the whole focus of (the trail) was to be a fitness trail,” Lowney said. “It was designed to have several fitness stations around it, and the kids designed the stations.”
However, due to lack of maintenance, exposure to the elements and the spruce bark beetle infestation that occurred in the early 1990s, many of the components of the trail were lost.
Work on the trail will be continued by individual volunteers, including Lowney and her husband, Ralph Broshes, who is also an avid trail worker.
Beyond the physical impact the restored trail will have on the Homer community, the work that was accomplished on Sept. 12 will hopefully have a lasting impact on the young students who were present at the event, Lowney said.
“I’m hoping it’s a legacy, that they can say ‘we did that,’” she said. “I think in this community, the more we can embrace cross-generational opportunities, it’s huge. It’s all about touching other people’s lives and doing things for others and things that improve the community.”