- Associated Press - Saturday, November 1, 2014

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) - If you’ve ever gone for a nature hike in the city, you can thank somebody like Gordon Larrivee for the fact that the trail wasn’t overgrown, eroded away or blocked by fallen trees.

A couple of times a month, Mr. Larrivee grabs a saw or loppers to walk a trail as part of a cadre of volunteers who take care of the Greater Worcester Land Trust parcels sprinkled throughout the city.

“I’ve got the time. I’ve got the energy. And if someone didn’t do it, it wouldn’t be there to enjoy,” said Mr. Larrivee, a retiree who lives in Worcester. “It’s not art, but you are out there creating something.”

He’s been volunteering for trail work with the group for about two years now.

The trust’s executive director, Colin Novick, said it wouldn’t be possible to keep the trails maintained without the help of many dedicated volunteers.

“Not just sort of impossible. It would be completely impossible,” Mr. Novick said Monday afternoon as he and three volunteers crunched through the dry leaves along the Tetasset Ridge Trail off Mill Street.

“We’ve got a great crew of folks,” he said. “It’s all an act of love by dozens and dozens of people who live in the city.”

Mr. Novick jokes that he pays for trail work in coffee, cookies, pizza and gratitude.

The volunteers say they also get a sense of accomplishment and new friendships too.

“I like the camaraderie. Everyone we work with is great. They’re easygoing. They’re fun to talk to, fun to hang out with,” volunteer Paula Arsenault said.

Ms. Arsenault, a stay-at-home mom who lives in the city, said she first heard about the trail work from a Facebook posting.

“I decided to wander down and check it out. At first, I was doing the log hewing, but there was only one other person who does the routing for the signs, so they said, ‘Yeah, sure, give it a try.’ “

Nearly three years later, she still spends most of her volunteer time guiding a whirling router bit through oak planks, helping to churn out a series of trailhead signs to mark the trust’s many properties.

“She’s our specialist,” Mr. Novick said.

The handsome, rustic signs are intended to make the public open space more visible to residents.

While motorists might speed right past a hard-to-see footpath leading off into the woods, the signs supported by rough-hewn posts of black locust are bound to attract attention and curiosity.

Ms. Arsenault said she’ll keep at it with her router as deep into the winter as it’s possible to shovel out the trust’s work shed.

“It just kind of clears the mind. It’s so loud, and you have to pay attention to what you’re doing, so it just sort of blocks everything out,” Ms. Arsenault said.

Mr. Novick isn’t sure exactly how many miles of trails wind through the remaining woods of Worcester, but he has an intern working on the calculation.

The trust, which was formed in 1987, now manages 2,319 acres of mostly wooded open space in and around the city. While a small group of nature lovers volunteer for trail and sign work dozens of times a year, some people pitch in for one day, he said.

“We like to have a mix,” Mr. Novick said. “It’s a neat entree. People come out and volunteer for a day of service, and we say, ‘Come on back and use these properties.’ We see increase use of these properties as essential to protecting them.”

In his four years as a regular volunteer, Ron Sabulis of Worcester has painted many of the blue, yellow and red blazes that keep hikers on the right path.

A retired computer programmer and systems analyst, the 71-year-old volunteer said he got involved with the trust simply because he was looking for something meaningful and rewarding to do with his time. Outdoor trail work seemed especially appealing after spending his work life sitting in front of a computer screen.

“Off the butt and into the woods,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to meet people and get outside.”

Over the years, he’s become attached to the trails he works on. He finds some people are surprised to learn Worcester has an extensive network of hiking trails.

“We need to get out and advocate for these trails,” Mr. Sabulis said. “I don’t think people are aware of what a resource we have here in Worcester.”


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