When Tommy Stevenson was at Glencliff Elementary School, his teachers would take his classes behind the building and into the John F. Youngblood Wildlife Sanctuary, a scenic patch of woods, trails, streams and ponds.
His science class would go on the trails to study animals, plants and photosynthesis. His gym class would go out there for hikes or cross-country skiing.
“Kids don’t come out here anymore,” said Stevenson, now a freshman at Niskayuna High School. “When I went off to middle school, I guess it became overgrown and the little wooden bridges started to rot away.”
Stevenson, a Boy Scout, is seeking its highest rank, Eagle Scout. Part of this process entails an extensive service project that he is in charge of planning and executing. When he learned the school wanted to get kids back on the trail but needed maintenance work and a few new bridges built, he decided to help.
“I went to this elementary school,” he said Saturday in Rexford as he and about 40 others, many of them young boys, helped clear trails and build new footbridges. “I wanted to do this for my Eagle Scout project because it means a lot more than doing some random project in the community. This is the school that raised me up.”
Principal Shelley Baldwin-Nye said the school has long wanted to integrate the trails back into its curriculum.
“It was all overgrown,” she said. “The bridges are all falling down, which isn’t too surprising since they went in about 50 years ago. Over the years, we’ve had volunteers come in and refurbish the area, but it’s been a long lull. So here we are.”
On Saturday, volunteers were focused on rebuilding what’s known as the Red Pine Trail, a mile-long stretch of natural classroom that students have used since the 1950s. Clothes were smeared with mud, and the traditionally quiet rural setting was pierced by saws and power drills.
The district has a shared decision-making team of staff and parents who identify projects at their school that will support student achievement, Baldwin-Nye said. Last year, the Glencliff team identified the wildlife sanctuary as a project it would like to take on and applied for a $2,500 matching grant from the Niskayuna Community Foundation. The matching funds were raised through parents and donations, including one from Curtis Lumber for the material to construct the new footbridges.
Stevenson organized the whole thing, recruiting friends from high school and other Glencliff alumni to help out. He and a friend were drilling screws into a piece of lumber Saturday that would eventually be a new bridge.
“My dad has helped me a lot with yardwork and building things throughout the 15 years he has raised me,” he said. “And this isn’t rocket science. You put three planks down and put planking over it and then we screw them in.”
Baldwin-Nye said students should be able to use the Red Pine Trail by the end of the day. They plan to target other trails as the school year progresses.
“We were thrilled that he wanted to give back,” she said of Stevenson. “You don’t see that in a lot of kids his age, so we were happy.”