Some of them will one day become trailblazers.

But on Tuesday, they all became trail makers.

Around 200 Hellgate High School seniors spent the day working in the wind and sun on Waterworks Hill, carving more than two miles of new trail off the Duncan Drive trailhead, while 100 of their colleagues spent the same time preparing Splash Montana's pool for the season.

Don't call them volunteers. There was nothing voluntary about their efforts whacking away at the topsoil with Pulaskis, pick-mattocks and McLeods, toiling to complete the new trail loop.

The Hellgate day of service is a graduation requirement.

Slacking off wasn't in the job description. And no one seemed to be testing that on Tuesday.

"We did it last year and it worked really, really well," said Jason Pignanelli, outdoors recreation specialist for the Missoula Parks and Recreation Department. "They work really hard. They're a good group of people. They're seniors, and they're reliable."

Reliable, but teenagers at the same time.

"I feel like it's a nuisance," said Shannon Riley, as she tossed clods of dug-up dirt away from the new trail. Riley said her senior project - which most Missoula seniors are required to complete - already included numerous volunteer hours for Relay for Life, so why was she providing free labor for the city?

The answer is that Hellgate seniors have long been required to provide a day of community service to graduate.

Senior Kyle Gottlieb scraped away grass and weeds from the new trail with a pick-mattock - a trail-building tool similar to a Pulaski.

"I'd rather be doing this than cleaning a pool," he said, while his friends jokingly began singing chain-gang songs.

Montana Conservation Corps workers oversaw the efforts of around 12 groups of 15 or more students, each of them required to finish 500 feet of trail. The new trail joins a service road on Waterworks, which then connects with an existing trail to complete the loop.

Conservation Corps crew leader Noah Schuettge instructed a few of the seniors on the proper technique with a pick-mattock.

"Don't swing it so high," he told a student. "You don't want to dig down too much. You just want to scrape off the organic material."

At 2:30 p.m., Hellgate's senior class finished the project, and finished preparing Splash Montana for its seasonal opening on Memorial Day.

The last Memorial Day, it turns out, before they graduate and begin blazing their own trails.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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