Tompkins County contains a wealth of trails, but some have fallen into disrepair and disuse without the care they need. A wooded trail in the Town of Dryden, between the Varna Community Center and the adjacent Hillside Acres Mobile Home Park, went many years without maintenance and became overgrown to the point of near-impassability. In 2019, Jonathyn Thornton took on renovation of the trail as an Eagle Scout project, leading a team of volunteers who cleared it, covered it with wood chips, and added benches, kiosks, erosion control bars in areas impacted by runoff, a bridge over a washed-out culvert, and a “Nature Nook” with benches and a table. Sustainable Tompkins awarded Jonathyn a Neighborhood Mini-Grant in October 2019 to pay for the bridge and the table. 

Now the trail is four feet wide and frequently used, offering pedestrians a scenic alternative to walking along a busy roadway between the community center and the mobile home park. The Varna After School Program at the community center uses the Nature Nook as an outdoor enrichment space. Future plans include supplying the kiosks with pamphlets on the surrounding flora and fauna.

Varna residents attest to the trail’s value:

“Having that trail open connects the Center much better to Hillside Acres.  We’ve seen people using it for walking and jogging. Especially in a time when outdoor activities are much safer, it’s wonderful to have it. Working on the trail was a great way to get closer to Varna’s natural beauty, and find out just how much is back there!”

“The outdoor Nature Nook has been a wonderful place for learning and exploring. We utilize this space for our students in the after school program to get them outdoors. The kids really enjoy being in the space and have stated it is cool to listen to the birds and seeing the deer walk across the trail when they are quiet enough. We have incorporated many new nature programs into our afterschool program now that we have this new space and the wonderful trail to walk.”

Jonathyn adds:

“The success of working on my Eagle project was gaining the valuable experience of building my leadership skills. I discovered that being a leader on a large project like this was very stressful and took a lot of time, thought, and patience. I feel I learned a tremendous amount from completing my project and seeing just how many people have been positively impacted by the job we did on this trail.”

The Neighborhood Mini-Grant Program provides seed money to diverse initiatives to build environmental, economic, and social resilience and well-being in Tompkins County. The program is sponsored by the Park Foundation, Beck Equipment, Craig Riecke, Natural Investments, Fingerlakes Wealth Management, and local donors. We need your support so we can help more citizen leaders act on their values. Please donate today and help us support more wonderful citizen-driven projects to improve life in our community.