HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – During the summer, the Holyoke Office of Conversation and Sustainability has teamed up with Greenagers Inc. to improve the system at the city’s new Gloutak Woods property.

The Greenagers staff has been guiding a six-member crew of Holyoke teens to construct new trails, build a kiosk, remove invasive species, and build two bridges since the beginning of July.

“We are thrilled to hire and work with Greenagers to improve the visitor experience at Gloutak,” says Yoni Glogower, Holyoke Director of Conservation and Sustainability. “Their efforts are an investment in our open spaces and community both, training the next generation of land stewards”.

Greenagers Inc. is a non-profit organization founded in 2011 that leads paid crews of youth ages 14-24 to design and improve trail systems. Greenagers trail crews are typically based in Berkshire County and upstate New York, but the Holyoke collaboration marks their first in the Connecticut River Valley.

“Greenagers is all about empowering young adults to build a sense of place and fundamental work skills through conservation, environmental stewardship, and community engagement” says Elia Del Molino, Director of Conservation at Greenagers. “The Gloutak Woods project was a perfect match with that idea. We’ve been overjoyed with the product, process, and hope it’s the first of many”.

The City of Holyoke acquired Gloutak Woods from a private landowner in 2019 using $157,00 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) Funds. The CPA was approved by local voters in 2016. With a Conservation Restriction held by Kestrel Land Trust, the 51.72-acre parcel is managed by the Holyoke Conservation Commission for passive recreation purposes.

The Holyoke Summer Greenagers Crew poses on their recently completed bog bridging. L-R: Joshua Ruiz, Aiden Pares, Jason Rivera, Isaias Roman, Daniel Rodriguez, and crew leader Katelyn Leger. Courtesy of the Holyoke Office of Conversation and Sustainability.

Stuart Watson, Stewardship Manager at Kestrel, explains that “The purpose of the Conservation Restriction is to assure that Gloutak Woods will be maintained in perpetuity in a natural, scenic, and undeveloped condition”. Regarding the current trail improvement efforts being undertaken by Greenagers this summer, he adds: “An important co-benefit of the work is the opportunity for Holyoke high school students to learn marketable skills, develop themselves as professionals, and form a deeper connection with their local environment. This approach to trail work is a fantastic way of maximizing the social and ecological potential of Gloutak Woods.”

According to Director Glogower, most of the current trail system at Gloutak Woods was already in place long before the city bought the property in 2019. “The goal for the most part is to improve what is already there: reroute sections to better match the grade of the landscape and construct stream crossings. These improvements will enhance the visitor experience and result in reduced environmental impacts over the long term”.

Holyoke Mayor Joshua A. Garcia and members of the Appalachian Mountain Club New England Trail Crew recently joined the Greenagers crew for part of the morning to transport recently felled and split hemlock logs to the new bridge crossing locations.

As a result of the two crossings, the trail system can function as a 1.5-mile loop and connects key points on the existing trail.

Most of this season’s crew members have never done trail work or other outdoor stewardship activities before.

As a rising sophomore at Holyoke High School, Daniel Rodriguez shares that the experience taught him how to respect nature and motivate others. He agrees with fellow Greenager Aiden pares regarding the unusually hot working conditions this summer.

Rodriguez says that his time on the trail crew has taught him valuable lessons in “productivity, kindness and that there is no such thing as too much sweat.”

During the Gloutak Greenagers’ summer program, Katelyn Leger, a recent Holyoke Community College graduate, explained that she tried to integrate ecology and natural history into the technical trail building activities. “Being able to teach the kids what I know about nature is thrilling,” she said. “I have been able to reconnect with myself and learned new things. This is a great group that put in a lot of hard work and effort.”

Gloutak Woods newly renovated trails are open to the public every day from dawn to dusk. On Rock Valley Road, Gloutak Park parking is available.