The Holyoke Office of Conservation and Sustainability has teamed up with Greenagers, Inc. a non-profit youth stewardship organization, to improve the trail system at the City’s new Gloutak Woods property this summer.
The City acquired Gloutak Woods from a private landowner in 2019 using $157,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) Funds—the first open space project since local voters approved the CPA in 2016. The 51.72 acre parcel is managed by the Holyoke Conservation Commission with a Conservation Restriction held by Kestrel Land Trust, ensuring that it will forever remain dedicated to passive recreation activities for the community and maintained in perpetuity in a natural, undeveloped condition.
The six-member crew, composed entirely of Holyoke teens and directed by Greenagers staff, has been working since early July to create new trails, construct a kiosk, conduct invasive species removal and build two new bridge crossings.
“We are thrilled to hire and work with Greenagers to improve the visitor experience at Gloutak,” said Yoni Glogower, Holyoke Director of Conservation and Sustainability. “Their efforts are an investment in our open spaces and community both, training the next generation of land stewards.”
Greenagers Inc. works with municipalities, land trusts, and other conservation agencies to design trail system improvements and lead paid crews of youth aged 14-24. Based for the most part in Berkshire County and upstate New York, the present collaboration in Holyoke marks the first Greenagers trail crew in the Connecticut River Valley.
“Greenagers is all about empowering young adults to build a sense of place and fundamental work skills through conservation, environmental stewardship, and community engagement,” said Elia Del Molino, Director of Conservation at Greenagers. “The Gloutak Woods project was a perfect match with that idea. We’ve been overjoyed with the product, process, and hope it’s the first of many.”
Stuart Watson, Stewardship Manager at Kestrel, said the current trail improvement efforts being undertaken by Greenagers this summer are “an important opportunity for Holyoke high school students to learn marketable skills, develop themselves as professionals, and form a deeper connection with their local environment. This approach to trail work is a fantastic way of maximizing the social and ecological potential of Gloutak Woods.”
According to Director Glogower, most of the current trail system at Gloutak Woods was already in place long before the city bought the property in 2019. “The goal for the most part is to improve what is already there: reroute sections to better match the grade of the landscape and construct stream crossings. These improvements will enhance the visitor experience and result in reduced environmental impacts over the long term.”
The Greenagers crew was recently joined for part of the morning by members of the Appalachian Mountain Club New England Trail Crew and Holyoke Mayor Joshua A. Garcia, who assisted with transporting recently felled and split hemlock logs to the new bridge crossing locations. (See featured photo above, with the Mayor at far left.) The two crossings serve to link the existing trail in key locations and allow the trail system to function as a 1.5 mile loop.
For all of this season’s crew members, the position with Greenagers is their first job doing trail work and other outdoor stewardship activities. Daniel Rodriguez, a rising sophomore at Holyoke High School, shared that through the experience he has “learned how to respect nature, as well as how to motivate others through difficult times.” Reflecting on the unusually hot working conditions this summer, his classmate and fellow Greenager Aiden pares agreed. He said that his time on the trail crew has taught him valuable lessons in “productivity, kindness, and that there is no such thing as too much sweat.”
Katelyn Leger, a recent Holyoke Community College graduate who led the Gloutak Greenagers crew this past summer, explained that she did her best to enrich the technical trail building activities by interweaving the program with ecology and natural history. “Being able to teach the kids what I know about nature is thrilling,” she said. “I have been able to reconnect with myself and learn new things. This is a great group that put in a lot of hard work and effort.”
The newly refurbished trails at Gloutak Woods are open daily to members of the public from dawn until dusk. Parking is available at the adjacent Gloutak Park located on Rock Valley Road.