Like others you might meet along the path, the Summer Trails Crew find themselves at different points on their own journeys.

Oli Connors just completed her second year of music studies at Oberlin College in Ohio. Mateo Florez has graduated in business from the University of Vermont, and is looking ahead to the LSATs and law school. Others are finding ways of their own.

For the next 10 weeks, they’ll share the path – many paths, ones that you probably hike yourself – building out the island’s trails network and keeping the way clear for all. For five college-age islanders, the Summer Trails Crew is a steady summer gig, important stewardship for Bainbridge parks, and often a good workout in the bargain.

“It’s how I stay in shape,” Colby Daniels said between mattock swings, as he and Florez trenched a new drainage line on a trail in Grand Forest East Wednesday.

“Early returns are, it’s pretty much like going to the gym – a lot of moving rocks, so that’s great,” agreed Ruark Bohonos, a recent UW graduate in finance and information systems. “It’s also nice to meet the public, see a lot of friendly faces, and it’ll be great to fix up these trails. I walk them a lot with my dog.”

Now entering its sixth year, the Summer Trails Crew program puts young seasonal workers to work in Bainbridge parks with a specific focus on building and maintaining trails. The Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District provides management and leadership, with funding by the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation.

Crew members often start out as seasonal workers doing general park maintenance, then step up to the Trails Crew when a position opens up. Several of this year’s crew have been with the Park District for two or more summer seasons, and one since high school.

This year’s Trails Crew work program has been extended to 10 weeks from the usual six or eight, thanks in part to grant support from the Bainbridge Community Foundation. BCF this week announced a $5,950 grant for the 2020 trails program, as part of its annual Community Grants awards.

“BCF have been wonderful supporters of the Trails Crew,” says Barb Trafton, Parks Foundation Executive Director. “They’ve encouraged us to ask for trails work funding, and we’re grateful for their enthusiasm. Their patrons share the same passion for our trails as so many islanders.”

The Summer Trails Crew is a key program of the Parks Foundation, which over the past few years has made trails development a central focus of its fundraising and outreach. Various new trails connections are in the planning stages.

“The Bainbridge trails network has quietly become one our island’s most appreciated features,” Trafton said. “We have islanders who hike a trail a few times a week or every day, and we know the trails draw visitors from off island just to experience them. The Summer Trails Crew’s work is essential.”

On a typical morning, the Trails Crew meets up at a chosen trailhead with team leader Sean Smith-Sell. Tools are deployed, and crew members tramp off into the inner reaches of the chosen park. The team may clip back vegetation to keep trail ways clear, or ferry in gravel to fill low spots where water collects in winter.

Trail standards vary by classification; some paths are kept wide enough for hikers to pass abreast, while others are left narrow for a more intimate natural experience.

To meet current public safety guidelines, this year’s crew breaks into two groups each day and use personal protective gear when working together in close quarters.

Smith-Sell, in his second year as trails program coordinator, got his start as a seasonal hire but soon joined the Park District staff full time and found his way to the Trails Crew.

“I just like working outside, so anything that lets me do that, yeah,” he said.

Often the work goes beyond maintenance to extending the system, now a surprising 39 miles and growing. Last year’s crew re-opened trail ways at Meigs Park in the center of the island, where the Park District has future plans to install boardwalks to access a scenic marsh. The crew also completed the new Kojima Trail, soon to be dedicated near Gazzam Lake.

This year’s team will devote some days to Sakai Park across from the school campus, beating new paths through stands of alder and blackberry and reopening several trails that were broken a few years ago but have since grown over.

The crew launched this week with a series of small projects in the Grand Forest, improving footing and drainage along the Trillium and McRedmond trails.

“The Foundation’s support through these special summer programs has played a vital role in our ability to provide and expand our great trail and park system,” said Dan Hamlin, Park Services Director for the Park District. “The community truly benefits from the hard work the Foundation does. Next time you find a new trail or connection, it will likely have been made possible by the work of the Bainbridge Island Park Foundation.”

Oli Connor worked on the Student Conservation Corps, a youth jobs and stewardship program for high school students partially funded by the Foundation and managed by the Park District.

Returning from college for the summer, she appreciated the chance to stick with the Park District for summer work, this time on trails.

“I like being able to work outdoors and enjoying the nice summer weather we have here, and taking advantage of that,” she said. “Manual labor has a more tangible reward to it. You can see the work you’ve done at the end of the day, and it’s satisfying.”