On the Trails: Clearing work therapeutic in a world on lockdown

The last few months have felt more like years. Lockdown with family, working from home, Zoom calls and a steady barrage of troubling news have all contributed to the warping of my emotions and sense of time.

Despite the worries, I occasionally woke up with a kind of New Year’s Eve hope for new beginnings. On other days, I rose with feelings of dread, wondering how the country, the world and I would make it through another day.

Thankfully, I was able to ground myself with daily hikes, runs and work on our local trails. With the enthusiastic and insistent encouragement of my dogs, Kaya and Atlas, I headed outside at least twice a day, usually for an hour or more, on the wonderful network of trails in and near my hometown of Woodstock. These daily excursions were my physical and emotional salvation; I was screen-free, in motion, breathing deeply and absorbing natural beauty around every corner.

My favorite outings deliberately included local trail projects. Here I felt I could make a positive difference in a concrete way.

Spring is an important maintenance time, because winter storms cause branches and trees to fall and block our trails. This year was particularly challenging, because many trail professionals and volunteers were not able to work.

I was also keenly aware that we all desperately needed to get outside, as evidenced by a 150% increase in visitors to our Trail Finder website. I thus cleared more than 20 blowdowns over several weeks in an effort to both open local trails and maintain my own sanity. In the face of a global pandemic that had me feeling helpless, I was taking back a little control.

I am now excited that things are starting to open up in the Upper Valley, and we will soon be able to provide similar feelings and experiences to the members of our Upper Valley High School Trail Corps. My son is a teacher, and I have watched as he has done everything he can to support and encourage his students through the lockdown and unexpected and unwanted transition to remote schooling. This has been a tough time for all of us, but my heart goes out to young people who have had to confront significant isolation and loss at such a pivotal time in their lives.

Starting in July, we will have five groups of trail crews working on projects throughout the Upper Valley. They will be led by Josie Bourne, who is an alumna of the program and is diligently working with the rest of our UVTA staff to create an experience that is not only safe, exciting and fun for the Corps members, but will also improve our trails and enhance our communities. Look out for them on the trails in their facemasks and their blue shirts.

They will be taking back a little control for themselves and for all of us by getting outside and building and repairing our pathways to well-being.

Written by Randy Richardson and published in the Valley News on June 13th, 2020.