2013-08-02 / Front Page

Trail will create ‘new connections’

Kennebunkport Conservation Trust unveils ‘Learning Trail’ project
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Students and teachers pose in front of a map at the trailhead of The Learning Trail at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday. From left are Leia Lowery, David Jackson, Dylan Trayes, Ed Sharood, Hunter Bowen, Nikki Bowen, Melissa Luetje, Harry Fay, Payson Martin, Dakota Fitzgerald, Joe Cerrone, Joe, Dan Spillane and Jesse Shields. The Kennebunk High School students worked all school year to complete the one-mile trail. (Alex Acquisto photo) Students and teachers pose in front of a map at the trailhead of The Learning Trail at the ribbon cutting ceremony on Monday. From left are Leia Lowery, David Jackson, Dylan Trayes, Ed Sharood, Hunter Bowen, Nikki Bowen, Melissa Luetje, Harry Fay, Payson Martin, Dakota Fitzgerald, Joe Cerrone, Joe, Dan Spillane and Jesse Shields. The Kennebunk High School students worked all school year to complete the one-mile trail. (Alex Acquisto photo) KENNEBUNKPORT — The Kennebunkport Conservation Trust unveiled its newest project under momentarily sunny skies on Monday with a ribbon cutting.

A product of Trust Our Children, The Learning Trail, located on a parcel of preserve land just behind the visitor center, is a near one-mile loop that explores land beyond the Batson River.

Visitors are exposed to 13 learning stations, wetlands, a white pine forest, and an evergreen forest. The purpose, said Kennebunkport Conservation Trust Education Coordinator Leia Lowery, is to “connect our community to their environment and history of the area, as well as get them outside.”


One of 13 learning stations at the newly-constructed Learning Trail, this station provides information on Riparian Wetlands. The trail, located on a parcel of land near Kennebunkport Conversation Trust’s visitor center, circles a one-mile loop. It meanders through a White Pine forest, an Evergreen forest and wetlands. The learning stations provide information about local wildlife, vernal pools, transitional forests and scars on trees from the fire of 1947. 
(Alex Acquisto photo) One of 13 learning stations at the newly-constructed Learning Trail, this station provides information on Riparian Wetlands. The trail, located on a parcel of land near Kennebunkport Conversation Trust’s visitor center, circles a one-mile loop. It meanders through a White Pine forest, an Evergreen forest and wetlands. The learning stations provide information about local wildlife, vernal pools, transitional forests and scars on trees from the fire of 1947. (Alex Acquisto photo) The project was funded by a grant awarded to Regional School Unit 21 about two years ago by the Elmina Sewall Foundation in Freeport.

With a grant of approximately $10,000 the trail took an entire school year with some spillover into the summer to be completed.

“We supported the effort really because we thought it might provide a model for this kind of facility that would connect children with the outdoors and curriculum with the outdoors,” said Jay Espy, executive director of the Elmina Sewall Foundation.

The construction of The Learning Trail was as unique as the trail itself.

Approximately 15 students in the Alternate Education program at Kennebunk High School spent two class periods a day, two to three days a week, clearing and building the trail, which included the construction of three bridges.

Kennebunk High School’s Melissa Luetje, a science and alternative education teacher, and Ed Sharood, an alternative education teacher, oversaw their students’ work on the trail.

“This has been the quintessential science experience for my students,” Luetje said at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“These guys weren’t necessarily invested in school or connected to the community,” said Sharood. “Some didn’t even know the trust was here. This trail really allows them to offer something back to the community,” he said.

Said Lowery, “the point of The Learning Trail is not only to create something for the community, but for the school system.”

Trust Our Children, a collaboration between kindergarten through fifth graders in Regional School Unit 21 and the trust, was initiated with the idea of facilitating hands-on learning.

For some time, Lowery said, she has wanted to find projects for middle and high schoolers, as well. “The Learning Trail is a way of closing that gap between the younger kids and those in middle and high school,” Lowery said.

The Learning Trail is also part of the trusts’ more expansive plans to implement a green belt, of which the Trail would be a section.

Said Associate Director Lisa Lassey, “we’re hoping to create a green belt that begins at the Biddeford- Saco town line and extends all the way down to the ocean in Cape Porpoise.”

All of the land that would be used for the green belt has been purchased by the Trust, said Lowery, it’s just a matter of constructing it.

After the ribbon cutting, the public was encouraged to walk the trail and ask questions.

The students who constructed the trail were in attendance and acted as tour guides, answering questions and pointing things out like marks on trees from the fire of 1947, and vernal pools.

Seven of the students who constructed the trail were graduating seniors.

Peyson Martin, 18, said that he loved working on the trail from the very beginning.

“I’ve always loved nature, and I’ve always been in tune with nature around the community,” Martin said as he walked on the trail ahead of the crowd. “I’m not very much of a textbook kind of person, so when I saw that this was being offered I jumped on it.”

“I have honestly enjoyed every second of it,” Martin said. “So have I,” said Daniel Spillane, a soon-to-be senior at Kennebunk High School. “It was all worth it,” Spillane said.

“Yeah, it’s a beautiful trail. I really feel like our hard work was put to good use,” Martin said.

After the crowd had dispersed, Lowery, with teary eyes, said: “You know, these kids, they often don’t get to participate in projects like this one. I am so sad to see them go. It’s very gratifying for them to create something and have it recognized and praised by the community.

“They can come back in 20, 30 years with their families and say, ‘I built this.’ They are giving back to the community in such a big way — that’s really the biggest success of the whole thing.”

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