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    Katonah - Lewisboro School District

JJHS Cross Country Team's Gift to the Future Passes the Halfway Mark

A lovely piece of Lewisboro’s hardwood forest is well on its way to being accessible to runners and hikers. The surprising news is that the heavy lifting is being done mainly by teenaged volunteers.  

Cross country runners at John Jay High School train about 30 miles a week, in and out of season. Putting that kind of time in, together, fosters a tightness and mental toughness unusual even among varsity athletes. Perhaps that’s why when Coach Nohilly proposed that the team dedicate extra time to their school and community by renovating a trail last fall, they were all in.  

“It’s fun! Last month my friends and I dug holes—in the rain—that were four feet deep!” said Bryan Ivey, a junior at John Jay High School, and member of the cross country team. He smiled as he remembered filling the holes with a bed of crushed rock and the end blocks to what would be one of three bridges along the trail.

These are the hiking / cross country trails behind John Jay Middle School and High School, which are celebrating the half-way point towards completion. The work is being done primarily by the cross country teams of John Jay High School, with funds provided by the school’s Booster Club.

This parcel is one of the jewels in Lewisboro’s treasury of open spaces that include the Leon Levy Preserve, the Old Field Preserve, and the Rose and Rockshelter Preserves. It brings to fruition the land use vision established in 1987 when Bayswater Development got subdivision approval for what is now Michelle Estates. The Town of Lewisboro required that sixty acres owned by the Homeowners Association be set aside and open to town residents for hiking. The Katonah-Lewisboro School District’s Board of Education became the lead agency in this trail project in September 2015, after the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) determined this renovation would have no significant impact on the environment. 

“Congratulations, this is a first class example of volunteer effort in the town,” said Lewisboro Town Supervisor Peter Parsons.

“We are delighted to be working with our neighbors Michelle Estates to establish this trail system,” said Andrew Selesnick, superintendent of KLSD. “These students are building something that will benefit the whole community.”

As long as anyone can remember there have been trails running through this property. “Old-time hunters and fishermen tell me that it was the most beautiful part of town; a clear stream running through a wooded valley to the Cross River Reservoir with some old apple orchards at the top of the hill,” said James Nordgren, a naturalist with the Lewisboro Land Trust. Over the years, planks were placed across the stream allowing wobbly single file passage.

The new trail will be serve as training space for John Jay High School’s cross country team, as well as a regulation 5K course for meets. “We have an outstanding cross country team. The girls won States last year, and just took Sectionals,” said Tom Nohilly, John Jay High School’s cross country coach. “But right now, we train on the side of the road for part of the time. When we have meets, we have to stop traffic while the runners cross the road. The school needs a better facility.”

John Jay Middle and High Schools plan to use the trail to augment class work in various disciplines. It is already an active learning lab. Assistant cross country coach, Paul Saloom, also an environmental science teacher, builds functional connections to ecology, topography, erosion control, wetlands, physics, geometry, and stress engineering into his work with the crew.

Students discuss heights, weights, and angles in building each of the three bridges. But the greatest lesson of the trail building may be teamwork.  Each time a group of runners heads out to work on the trail, they are immersed in opportunities to build on critical thinking and problem solving skills. They work independently and as a team to address an authentic problem.

Teenage and adult volunteers—typically Coach Nohilly, Rob Cummings, one of the runner’s parents, or Mike Surdej, who serves as the Project Coordinator—meet on weekends for brush clearing, cutting wood, bringing in woodchips, and other tasks.  “Students have put at least 1,000 people hours into this already,” said Surdej. “They’ve all been very enthusiastic, very motivated. They come out to work for serious business.” 

The team agrees that Jack Buckley, Libby Gressin, Brian Ivey, Greg Newman, Brendan Oates and Charlie Stewart, all juniors, are the core of the crew. “We know that we will be running on it next year,” says Ivey.

“We want it for them,” said Will Gaglioti, a senior. “But I’ll use it when I’m home from college.”