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TreeMendous New Trail at Skyfields Arboretum

Athol High School students joined Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust's AmeriCorps team this June to install signs on the Trust’s new trail connecting Skyfields Arboretum to a trailhead on Route 32.

Students in Jeff Sautter’s Ecology class worked to identify trees and measure their impact on our environment using the online National Tree Benefit Calculator earlier this spring.  The class then created eye-catching, durable wooden signs describing tree benefits to post directly onto trees at the High School campus and Mount Grace’s Arboretum.  The “Tree-Mendous” project was coordinated by Mount Grace’s MassLIFT AmeriCorps team and began this year as a collaboration between Sautter and MassLIFT Community Engagement Coordinator Maya Apfelbaum.

“We can often take our trees and woodlands for granted since they are so abundant in these parts,” says Apfelbaum.  “The signs encourage us to stop and note all the services and the good that living trees provide us, from carbon sequestration to a sense of wellness.” The brightly-colored signs along the Skyfields trail explain the various benefits of black cherry, red maple, catalpa, paper birch, and many of the other trees representative of a typical northeastern forest.

The class joined Apfelbaum, MassLIFT AmeriCorps Service Learning Coordinator Nick Atherton, and Bobby Curley of the North Quabbin Trails Association at the Arboretum in June to put the finishing touches on the new trail.  “I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in the global concepts with which environmental science is often concerned. Tree-Mendous was designed to give students a chance to explore the complex relationships that connect them to the local ecology.   In the process, they helped to educate and beautify the public spaces that help us all explore these same relationships. This effort helps to exemplify the idea of “think globally, act locally.”

The new trail runs from existing meadow trails at Skyfields Arboretum (1461 Old Keene Road in Athol) down a wooded slope to Route 32, where a new trailhead has been opened to the public as part of Mount Grace’s 30th Anniversary celebrations. 

Skyfields Arboretum was bequeathed to Mount Grace by Margaret Power Biggs in 1999 with the understanding that Mount Grace would create a native species arboretum in the fields.  Plants were selected with a focus on native species that produce edible fruits and nuts and provide nesting sites for birds and shelter for animals.  The Arboretum is open to the public in perpetuity for recreation and nature study.