JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald
Just as Durango is completing the last link in its Animas River Trail, students in Silverton are creating the first links of their town’s river trail.
Thanks to a partnership with the nonprofit Mountain Studies Institute, the entire school – kindergartners to 12th-graders – spent the year tackling various river trail-related projects, such as constructing portions of the gravel trail, reseeding wetlands by the river and creating educational signs about local geology.
The final plan envisions a trail winding about 2 miles from the Silverton visitors center to the historic Lackawanna Mill site east of town.
Right now, a couple thousand feet of the trail are finished or close to finished. The goal is for Silverton’s students work on one leg of the trail each year until it is completed. The Bureau of Land Management is soon expected to transfer a chunk of land including the Animas River Trail to the town of Silverton, which will help the trail construction process.
In this first year of the project, students focused on the portion of the trail nearest to the visitors center.
They leveled the trail, lined the path with rocks and dumped crushed gravel on top of the dirt. They also installed signs, benches and public art along the trail.
On Friday, students held a town-wide event to show off their work, which they hope will serve as a model for future sections.
The town of Silverton has been trying to get a river trail off the ground for 10 years, said Whitney Gaskill, an Americorps Vista volunteer with Mountain Studies Institute who is leading the river trail work. The project was a way to “build new life into the project” while involving Silverton’s young people, she said.
The school of Silverton jumped on the project because it fit perfectly with the school’s emphasis on service learning, teacher Sallie Barney said.
“We’re always looking for authentic service projects,” said Barney, whose second- and third-grade class created a brochure about outdoors-related activities for Silverton residents and visitors.
High schoolers, kindergartners and first graders planted more than 100 willows to restore wetlands near the river, and the middle schoolers did most of trail construction.
“It’s a nice little place for tourists to stop and look at Silverton,” said sixth-grader Malachy Swonger.
Gaskill acquired a $2,500 grant from Outdoor Nation, an initiative of the Outdoor Foundation, for her work involving young people on the Animas River Trail project. Other local nonprofits, including the Southwest Colorado Community Foundation and the El Pomar Foundation, also have supported the work.
In June, Mountain Studies Institute will coordinate with Volunteer Outdoors Colorado to construct the next leg of the trail. They are seeking volunteers for that project.
Involving Silverton’s students year after year will help ensure the project’s continuity, Gaskill said.
“It’s a good way for that project to stay current and alive in Silverton,” she said.