Students at Hillside Elementary School don’t have to go far to connect with nature.
They can walk right outside their door and enjoy a new four-tenths-mile stone dust trail, which they helped construct, around the perimeter of the property.
The idea came from kindergarten teacher Christine Mathews, who was looking for projects that the children could complete. One idea was to create a map of a trail. Mathews thought: Why not actually build a trail?
Mathews’ class worked with the fifth-grade class of Chrissy O’Neill to design the project, obtain grant funding, research plants and materials and construct the trail. Students, parents and other volunteers spent a couple of weekends on the project. About 75 people participated on the final day of work on June 3.
“I was really impressed with the sense of community,” Mathews said.
The class also received grant funding, including a $1,000 GreenWorks! grant from Project Learning Tree, the environmental education program of the American Forest Society, $1,000 from the Niskayuna Community Foundation and $500 from the school’s PTO.
Tom Shimalla, coordinator for Project Learning Tree at the Department of Environmental Conservation, said the trail represents a dedication to service and to nature.
“It’s about getting students outdoors and getting them to experience everything that nature has to offer,” he said.
O’Reilly said it involved months of planning. “There were times I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a reality.”
Mathew said she would like to continue working on the project, including adding an entrance sign and some more trees and a map.
Principal Shireen Fasciglione praised all the children for their accomplishment. “This isn’t just their nature trail. It’s all of our nature trail,” she said.
After a brief dedication ceremony on Wednesday afternoon, the entire school got a chance to take a walk on the trail, which stays on school property. Its steepest section runs parallel to Balltown Road. No bikes are allowed because the path is too narrow and steep, according to Fasciglione.
Fifth-grader Fiona Leonard, 10, said she helped work on the logo that adorns the trail — much like somebody would see on a hiking trail. Even though she is moving on to Van Antwerp Middle School next year, she said she plans to continue to use the trail since it will be so close to her new school.
The effort included adding 10 trees along the way — crimson maple, cedar pine, white pine and willow — according to Tom Lennon of Liberty Farms. “People were sweating — working very hard.”
Another class planted a butterfly garden along the path.
“We researched what flowers and plants attract butterflies,” said librarian Debbie Ubriaco. “We’ve been working hard since October. It’s so exciting to see the project come to fruition. The kids have some ownership because they were involved.”
Third-grader Doug Gillooley, 9, said he liked “getting my hands dirty.” He plans to use the trail on the weekends.
Chuck Trimarchi was walking on the trail while carrying his 31⁄2-year-old granddaughter Chloe. His other granddaughter Sofia, 6, helped put down the ground cover. “I like that it’s around our school,” she said.
Her grandfather said it was a very labor-intensive task.
“It was great exercise getting all this brick dust to the top of this hill — I can’t imagine how many wheelbarrows full,” he said.