Young AmeriCorps volunteers building bog bridge in Middletown on path that joins New England National Scenic Trail
MIDDLETOWN — U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, got an up-close look Wednesday at the improvement project a local team of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps volunteers are beginning to build, a bog bridge at Tynan Memorial Park.
The area, near Higby Road, is among the more than 4,000 acres of open space owned by the city.
The 10-member Delta 6 team, based in Vicksburg, Miss., now camping on the Connecticut Forest and Park Association land on Route 66 in Middlefield, will be building the structure on the Tynan Park Connector, a trail that meets up with the New England National Scenic Trail. The NET is a 215-mile hiking trail from Long Island Sound in Connecticut to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border.
DeLauro spoke with the group before visiting the work area in the woods at 10 Pashley Lane.
“I get really excited about the program. I think it was Ghandi that said, ‘If you want to find yourself, lose yourself in service,’” said DeLauro, who worked with former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, who served in the Peace Corps in Monción, Dominican Republic.
His work helping to build a church in the Caribbean nation, “was probably the best experience of his life,” said DeLauro of Dodd, who also served in the House of Representatives. “It was about public service and engaging — that’s why I think it’s such a [critically] important program.”
Many of Delta 6 have just graduated college — one just earned her high school degree — and are taking a year off to volunteer for the community. Another had a three-year stint in Job Corps, followed by this, his second year in Americorps. One woman said she was inspired to join because she wants to travel the world.
The team is building a bog bridge over a low area that, during certain times of the year, floods entirely or lesser amounts of water turn the terrain into muck, said Ashley Roberts, media rep for the team.
The CFPA needed help making the trail more accessible for hikers so they brought in the NCCC.
“It flooded out a lot, and people wouldn’t necessarily want to go on the hike, so getting this bog bridge set up will make it so hikers are more readily able to use the trail, hike it, and take advantage of the beautiful resources Connecticut has to offer here,” said Clare Cain, CFPA trail stewardship director.
DeLauro donned work gloves and helped carry a wood plank to the site.
NCCC volunteers are given a small monthly stipend and food allowance for their time, and the organization they partner with provides housing. Once they’ve fulfilled their commitment, they earn a $6,100 college scholarship, which is equivalent to a Pell Grant, Cain said.
It can be used to pay for future college expenses or current student loan debt.
“Being here will help me figure it out, and give me that time and that space to get new experiences while making money for school,” Roberts said. “I might decide to continue my education after, so this is a stepping stone.”
The CFPA sponsors the NCCC volunteers as they work to connect people to the land through providing a range of outdoor programs and conservation education, it said.
“It’s a story untold about the kind of service of young people,” DeLauro said of the nearly 2,000 volunteers in Connecticut alone.
“We have volunteers all over the country. And you make a difference,” she told them. “Understand that deep in your gut. You serve as role models for others who follow you, and think it’s a good thing to do: a place to stop, think about where you want to be, what you want to do or just want this experience.
“Whatever reason brings you here, it really is an extraordinary experience,” she said.
Participants receive on-the-job training, learning how to dig, basic carpentry skills, basic trail maintenance and “maintaining a good corridor for hikers, which a lot of people don’t think about, but are really important for recreation,” said crew leader Al Sedor.
The workers are placing large, pressure-treated wooden boards for the walkway, because they are more resistant to rot. The end result will have a 15-year lifespan, Sedor said.
Those enjoying the Tynan hike to the base of Mount Higby off Route 66 in Middlefield will find it a moderate to challenging 4-mile walk. The trail proceeds from there in a more challenging, rocky and hilly fashion.
The fiscal year 2019 Labor HHS Bill includes $19 million for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps. In all, $13 million is earmarked for AmeriCorps and $6 million for SeniorCorps.
“Almost every year, people want to eliminate this. We need you to speak out, to talk about the value of the program,” DeLauro told the volunteers. And it’s all very personal. When you look around, we’ve got some of the most beautiful pastoral lands. I stand in awe of what you do,” she told Delta 6.
AmeriCorps NCCC is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service. Approximately 475 AmeriCorps and other CNCS members serve at more than 100 locations throughout the Greater New Haven area each year, which is made possible by a federal investment of $2.3 million from CNCS, according to the agency.
DeLauro invited the team to join her for lunch in New Haven to hear about their experiences in Connecticut once they are done.
Next, Delta 6 will move on to a two-week project at Gillette Castle State Park in East Haddam.
The Middletown Trail Guide lists all of the city’s open space parcels, with details on the flora and fauna, difficulty of hikes and more. Visit middletownplanning.com for information.