Providence College students spruce up Neutaconkanut Hill trails
By BETH HURD
Making use of the maxim that “many hands make light work,” students from Providence College spent two days of volunteering at Neutaconkanut Hill – Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 29 and 30. The 150 students, along with 25 upperclassmen who served as leaders, are participants of a college-sponsored program called Urban Action.
Neutaconkanut Hill Park, 88 acres of woodland and trails owned by the City of Providence, is on the Johnston/Providence line and was once part of Johnston. From the top of the hill, at 296 feet above sea level, one can view downtown Providence and “nearly a quarter of the state.”
“They began working with the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy five years ago (this is the fifth year) ,” said Elli Panichas of the NHC. "We realized last year that many had been with us for their whole four years at PC. For the past three years, UA has chosen our site as their only volunteer site; they love us and we love them.”
The Urban Action program was started in 1991 by two PC students as a program to get students out into the community; it started out with 17 students the first year, explained team leader Tim Fleming, of Wakefield, Mass. The program is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and is now so popular, they’ve had to turn students away; the school received more than 200 applications this year.
“We do love Neutaconkanut Hill the most,” Fleming said.
Fleming, Matt Gaudiano, Jeff Anderson and Maggie Cadigan – all seniors, and now team leaders – had gone through the program as freshmen
“The service is part of it, but we get to see the freshmen come together and bond. By the end of the week, they’ve already made college-long and life-long friends,” said Gaudiano, who comes from Methuen, Mass.
Panichas said NHC representatives do a ‘walk-through’ with the leaders the week prior to the workday. She also gave a PowerPoint presentation at PC showing the students work sites, plans and what the PC students have accomplished in the past.
“We provide these leaders with detailed, written and illustrated plans for each group so they are prepared when they arrive,” she explained.
Once at the site, the students divided into 11 groups, each with the letters that spell out “Lumberjacks.” Paired with their team leaders as well as members of the NHC “trail crew,” the groups worked on a variety of projects on the hill, including clearing brush, picking up litter, rebuilding natural steps and marking and leveling existing trails.
On Tuesday, Aug. 29, members of Team R were armed with tools for picking up litter and filled up many trash bags; members of Team A were filling wheelbarrows with soil, which were transported to parts of the trail that needed leveling.
At one part of the trail, two old Camaros half-buried in the ground now serve as trail markers; students cleared the area around them. Many of the returning students were surprised to see the amount of trail erosion that had occurred in the year since their last visit.
“This year we are concentrating on two major projects, clearing the upper meadow, and erecting barriers to discourage ATVs, that destroy the trails,” Panichas said. “You would not believe what [the students] accomplish.”
Other NHC volunteers erected 22 bird houses built by NHC members, and two bat houses on the property
A member of the trail crew, Alan Iemma donated the use of his ATVs and his time for both days. Fellow Johnston residents Anthony Ricci, Mike Lusi – a tree steward and a member of the R.I. Tree Council – and Doug Stephens, active with the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council and the Narragansett Bay Commission, also volunteered both days and helped to organize the volunteers at the site.
“I grew up on the Johnston side of the hill – it has the best view of Providence in existence,” said Lusi. "It’s great to be improving a place for families to be able to bring their kids."
Rob Fitzpatrick, another member of the NHC, talked about the decimation of other natural wildlife areas, including the cutting down of trees where the new BJ’s Wholesale has been built. NHC members are also concerned about tree clearing in the area along Atwood Avenue across from the former FM Global building.
“They left nothing,” Fitzpatrick said. “Working here, you see all kinds of wildlife.”
That the students volunteered their time on two of the hottest days of the year showed their dedication to the project. After lunch on the second day – boxed lunches had been donated by PC – the students went on a hike through the woods to enjoy the beauty of the newly cleared trails.
“I think it’s important for them to see what’s been done,” said Panichas.
A second group of Providence College students – incoming freshmen – was scheduled to volunteer on Saturday, Sept. 5, as a part of a program called Building Bridges. The program began last year, but was cancelled due to the post-hurricane conditions. As part of the program, which is mandatory, the college sends these students to sites around the state; about 150 were scheduled to volunteer at Neutaconkanut Hill.
“It is a monumental task preparing for the students, as we are very detailed in our planning and assembling tools,” said Panichas. "But it is well worth the effort – the kids are terrific.
NHC is looking for new members, new board members and professionals who might consider donating skills in legal consultation, accounting and grant-writing.
The park is patrolled by two park rangers as well as the Providence Police and the Providence Mounted Police; a twilight storytelling event is scheduled for October.
For more information on volunteer opportunities with NHC, call Panichas at 943-1219 or Susan Fitzpatrick at 946-6594, or visit the website at www.nhill.org