While the self-proclaimed “tool girls” from Hellgate High School toiled under the May sun, singing the songs of a chain gang while swinging Pulaskis, their male counterparts ran screaming like grade-schoolers from a swarm of docile honeybees.
Call it the follies of spring.
Bees and rocky soil aside, nearly 50 volunteers from Hellgate High joined members of the Montana Conservation Corps on Tuesday, carving a new connector trail in the North Hills.
“You can pretty much walk from downtown on a trail all the way to the Rattlesnake,” said Morgan Valliant, the conservation lands manager with Missoula Parks and Recreation. “This connector will be the final piece in the Sunlight property trail system.”
Valliant said the city purchased the Sunlight property from NorthWestern Energy in the late 1990s. Senior volunteers from Hellgate completed the last trail planned for the gently rolling ridge rimming the city’s northern flank.
The new connection will be added to Missoula’s next trail map.
“We’ve done a lot over the last few years,” Valliant said. “We’ve built most of the trails we really want. We’re getting into the redesign and rehab mode now. We’ve moving toward dealing with the trails we inherited that aren’t up to spec.”
Hellgate High seniors Heather Philp and Quinn Morrow, joined by Khadija Davis and Ellen Ruby, said they had a choice of 10 volunteer projects. The young women, along with Riley Williams and McKinley Williams (who aren’t sisters), chose trail building to complete their senior service project.
It’s better than burning slash with the U.S. Forest Service or working at the Food Bank, they agreed. At least here, on a hill above the city, they got to work outside and take in the view of the greening valley below.
“We wanted to be outside on a beautiful day,” said Morrow.
Recent rains made for easy digging in the rich, dark soil. They carved a few switchbacks before directing the work up the hill, past a dozen bee boxes, to connect with a two-mile loop above.
Joining in the work were Montana Conservation Corps crew leaders Aislinn McCabe and Anne Higgins. They said the Hellgate students aren’t unlike those they hope to recruit into the Corps’ summer ranks.
“We take 15- to 17-year-olds out for five to 10 days at a time,” said Higgins. “We have a whole bunch of different projects working with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service doing fencing projects, tread-work projects – all kinds of things. It’s a strong intro to conservation work.”
Projects lined up for the Service Youth Expedition this year include trail work on the Seeley Lake Ranger District and habitat improvement in the Blackfoot River Corridor.
Those who complete the summer outings receive a service award and $200 from the Montana Conservation Corps. Most of the students carving trail Tuesday weren’t thinking that far ahead, but their service was appreciated by crew members and the city.
“As of today, Hellgate High will have built more trails for the city of Missoula than any other entity,” said Valliant. “They’ve got their senior projects they have to do, or they don’t graduate, so there’s a bit of extra motivation.”
Those interested in the Montana Conservation Corps’ summer youth projects can call (406) 728-2720. Applications are available at mtcorps.org. Applications are considered on a first-come, first-served basis.