Dogs on the Hiking Trail? These Ones Rock!

June 15, 2016 | 

Rock bars provide leverage to move large rocks.
Rock bars provide leverage to move large rocks.

Three AmeriCorps crews are working hard in the field as 15 more crews prepare to head out this weekend. Laura Mills and Rich Basile are leading a crew that calls itself the Pepper Dogs. “[Corps Member] Nick blurted out one day and it stuck,” says Rich. “We have (tree) bark and (rock bar) bite.”

Nick has Corps experience out west, and he is learning to adapt to New England’s rocky and root-filled terrain. His crew mates include college students and recent graduates that are seeking hands-on experience.

Rich cites a new motto that reflects the crew’s strong work ethic on the job site: “We can talk as much as we want, as long as we can hear the tools.”


Retaining walls stabilize the trail’s tread.
Retaining walls stabilize the trail’s tread.

The Pepper Dogs are working closely with a variety of staff at the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation throughout the season. Every year, VYCC and FPR work together on high-priority projects that provide great learning opportunities for Corps Members. Their first week, the crew worked with Forester Rick White at Molly Stark State Forest. “Rick gave us a presentation on the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps,” Rich reports. “We picked up a lot of rock bar tricks working with him.” State park manager Scott Renker also worked alongside the crew a few times as they re-decked a bridge and installed stone stairs.

The crew has moved on to Ascutney State Park where they are working with Jim Lyall, a member of Sport Trails of the Ascutney Basin (STAB), to construct about one mile of new mountain bike trail. Ultimately, this will be a five mile trail connecting Ascutney State Park to the former ski resort’s existing trails. Rich explains, “Jim has been teaching us about the principles of mountain bike trail building. The terrain is pretty steep and rocky, so we’re learning how to build retaining walls upon which we can build treads.”

They are also learning how to build berms that slow bikers down before big turns, which prevents erosion. “We hear they are also a really fun feature to ride through,” Rich says while revealing that although none of the crew members are mountain bikers, they’re now interested in trying.

Rich was most excited about the crew’s completion of a stone crossing – about 12 feet long and three feet across – made of boulders weighing several hundred pounds each.


Visiting with a natural “lawn mower.”
Visiting with a natural “lawn mower.”

The crew has been soaking up opportunities to learn and engage with the community on weekends, starting with a visit to the Contented Butterfly Farm in Windsor. Owners Jen and Tim Cary gave a talk on their sheep business. The crew learned about the process of making yarn, and was fascinated by the farm’s ability to rent out sheep to “mow” lawns – especially that they eat knotweed, poison ivy, and other undesirable plants.

Despite “bark and bite,” the Pepper dogs make a point of being good campground neighbors, and are enjoying their camping experience. At Molly Stark State Forest, the crew had a big cookout with the campground hosts and park manager. Their neighbors at Ascutney are at the campground for a month. They have been dining together over freshly caught fish.

This is only the beginning for the Pepper Dogs, who have just completed the first four weeks of a sixteen week AmeriCorps experience. They leave Ascutney next week to work on the Long Trail.