There is nothing that makes me feel more socially awkward than standing around in a group of high school students. Though it wasn’t all that long ago that my mid-20’s self was in their shoes, I now find myself feeling like I’m unable to relate, and my usual fun-loving and personable self seems to shut down and I become the boring, serious lady, like that teacher that nobody likes.
Alright, so maybe it’s not that bad, but that’s certainly how I feel. And so, today, as a caravan of 30-ish teenagers from Huntingdon Area High School’s National Honor Society and Student Council pulled up the gravel road to help out with trail work on the Allegrippis Trails for the annual United Way Day of Caring, I was more than a little apprehensive about the idea of being one of their leaders.
Do I know about trail work? Sure. I’m no expert, but I’ve been to a trail work day or two and I’m fairly decent with a pair of loppers and a leaf blower. Do I know anything about teaching kids how to do trail work, or getting them motivated? No way.
Luckily, many of them had enough enthusiasm that the motivation was a non-issue, and at least trimming back briars, shrubs, and tree limbs is simple enough. I led the cutting, snipping, and lopping group, which turned out to be dominated by girls, with the exception of two energetic and talkative guys who became my buddies for the day, along with the one girl who broke away from the rest of the ladies to hang out with us.
The guys were overzealous about cutting down trees, and they exclaimed with delight every time I told them that they could saw down something relatively large. Most of the girls hung back, meticulously trimming smaller plants, and a raking contingent followed behind them, clearing the trail of the debris we left behind.
Despite my initial hesitancy, I found myself having fun. The enthusiasm of many of the teens was a pleasant surprise, and it was great to see them enjoying being outside. One of the guys said that he had come out to the Allegrippis to do trail work for the past several years for the Day of Caring, and that it was his favorite of the several locations where Huntingdon High School students help out. He asked me a lot about the trails, about mountain biking, and I was able to impart at least a little bit of knowledge and encouragement to try it out sometime.
A vine hanging in the middle of the trail provided a few minutes of entertainment before it was cut down, and it was interesting to watch the dynamic of the group as they played on the natural swing. The boys taunted the girls, trying to get them to take a turn, and the girls were mostly hesitant, not trusting the boys that the vine would hold. But they’d finally give in, and shriek as they swung a few feet, hardly going off the ground, but a lot of having a lot of fun nonetheless.
We finished our section of trail and moved on to another area, near where the second group had been leaf blowing and doing some dirt work to build berms. I led a couple of the girls in clearing a section of tangled briars to open up visibility around a turn, while other small groups cleared a few more trees and branches.
Soon, 12:30 was upon us and it was time for the kids to leave. Most of them thanked us for the opportunity to spend a day in the woods and not inside a classroom, and a few even expressed interest in helping out at regular trail work days. The next step? Getting them out on the trails on bicycles.