By Edith Tucker
BERLIN — “Hands-on” is the name of the game this summer for five Berlin High School students who are spending six weeks constructing a rock staircase near the summit of Mount Jasper plus routine trail maintenance: Damieon Fawcett, Elijah Pinette, and Connor Welch, all of Berlin, and Aurora and Aiden Rymszewicz, both of Milan.
The New Hampshire-Jobs for America’s Graduates (NH-JAG) program and the Appalachian Mountain Club are project partners, providing paid summer employment for a Teen Trail crew to work on a significant community project.
“This is JAG’s 10th year on Mount Jasper,” explained Kate Johnson, AMC’s North Country Trails Volunteer Programs Supervisor. “It was in 2011 that the first BHS crew partnered with AMC to cut the Mount Jasper Trail to the 1,584-foot summit. The trail holds 10 years of students’ hard work!”
“I feel good about the work I’m doing on this trail,” explained Aurora, a BHS junior who is a second-year summer Teen Trail crew member. “It’s more fulfilling than schoolwork.”
Elijah, a BHS senior, said he’s not yet sure what his next steps will be after his 2021 graduation. “I have a lot of stories to tell; I’d like to be a writer, but I’m not sure I can make a living doing that,” he said. Elijah’s found using a computer for creative writing is not satisfactory, but that writing by hand is wearisome. A typewriter might better meet his needs, he said.
Two AMC seasonal employees — Alex Sabido and Matt Rebolini — work with the students every weekday, starting at 7:30 a.m., teaching and training them the specialized skills needed to maintain trails and build water-bars and rock staircases, designed to avoid soil erosion.
Renee Morse of Whitefield is also out on the trail with the students every day. Morse is the JAG specialist who teaches at BHS, helping prepare students for life after high school. She works year-round to support JAG students in their academic endeavors and to help them develop “soft skills” needed in the workplace, including being a team member, having respect for others, leadership and critical thinking. JAG program manager Courtney Frederick was also on hand on Thursday, July 16, up for the day from JAG’s Manchester office.
In order to operate safely this summer under recommended COVID-19 restrictions, the JAG-AMC partnership has provided each team member with a set of tools, masks, safety glasses, hard hats and work gloves, none of which are to be shared. Both those adults and teens who touched the cables and/or ropes used in the highline boulder-moving effort to create a waterbar and base to the rock staircase immediately used the available sanitizing fluid.
NH-JAG operates 10 high school programs, four of which are in the North Country: BHS, Kennett, Littleton and Woodsville. The NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs, Office of Workforce Opportunity, is a JAG sponsor.
The .6-mile-long trail — 1.2-miles out-and back — starts at far end of the Berlin High School parking lot. The trailhead kiosk is located behind a painted metal gate above Gaydo Field, that features a multi-lane running track. The trail — blue-blazed for most of its length — ends at the summit, which has panoramic views and steep cliffs. Next summer’s JAG project may include making more trail signs, including both arrows and “path” signs.
The first of the informative signs that were created by Michael Eastman on the trail’s edge explains why Mount Jasper in on the National Register of Historic Places. “Mt. Jasper, which is a small mountain at 1,584 feet, is prominent in Northeastern America as the only recorded Paleo-Indian mine,” the sign reads. “It was a natural resource critical to life of prehistoric peoples in New Hampshire, reflected in the long-term and intensive use of this site for tool building.”
A local rhyolite was likely first mined in Berlin some 12,000 years ago by early nomadic peoples who chipped the stone to make projectile points, scrapers and other tools. Although the Berlin Public Library is not now open to the public because of COVID-19 restrictions, according to head librarian Ann Brungot, a permanent display of Mount Jasper Paleo-Indian archeological artifacts is available for viewing at the handsome building’s upper level.