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Hands on ax, eyes on N.Y.

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyKelsey Peck, right, a senior at Vail Mountain School works with the Youth Conservation Corps doing trail maintenance on the Grand Escape trail Thursday on Vail Mountain.
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VAIL ” The Grand Escape Trail was taking the teens to New York. Or at least a little part of the way there.

Vail Mountain School seniors were on top of Vail Mountain on Thursday, fixing a trail to earn money for the annual senior spring trip to the Big Apple.

“We’re pretty motivated to raise the money,” said Joely Denkinger, 17, between strikes of her MacLeod ” a raking-scraping tool ” into the ground.

Their class is so big by Vail Mountain School standards ” with 30 people, it will be the biggest graduating class the East Vail private school has seen ” the annual trip was at risk of being canceled.

So the students are banding together to raise the tens of thousands of dollars they need for the trip.

Thursday’s work would get them about $800. They’re planning to do a lot more projects to raise money.

“It’s a good class-bonding thing all year to raise the money for it,” Denkinger said.

The eight students were each making $10 an hour through the Youth Conservation Corps, which has two aims: to allow youth groups to raise money and to get needed forest projects done.

The corps was bolstered by Vail Resorts’ new partnership with the National Forest Foundation, through which customers can tack $1 onto lift passes and hotel rooms to pay for forest improvements.

Those funds got divvied out to local conservation groups, including the Youth Conservation Corps, which was created in 2000 by the Eagle County Board of Commissioners.

By the end of the year, the Youth Conservation Corps will have given out about $250,000 to youth groups, such as sports teams, church groups and school groups.

The Grand Escape Trail ” between Chair 2 and Chair 3 ” had become hollowed out by rain over the years, and hikers had made a second, parallel trail. The students were filling in the old, rain-gullied trail and making the newer trail a little more defined.

The Forest Service district has a trails crew of five people, but the agency still depends on volunteers to keep trails in good shape, said Don Dressler of the Forest Service.

And the Vail Resorts-National Forest Foundation money has been helping with that. “We’ve been getting a lot of work from those grant dollars,” Dressler said.

The Forest Service owns Vail Mountain, and the ski resort is operated under permit from the government. Vail’s Ski Patrol works during the summer to improve trails on the mountain.

The Youth Conservation Corps work is nothing new to the Vail Mountain School students.

“I’ve worked over by Tigiwon,” said Axie Navas, 17, another senior who was working Thursday. “Last year we worked up by Red Cliff. Hopefully we’re going to do another one next month.”

Service is part of the culture at Vail Mountain School, said Jeanne Macsata, a teacher there, citing its motto: “Character, knowledge, community.”

“To build character you do a lot of things that make you a good community member,” she said.

Macsata’s daughter, Elsie, 17, a senior who was wielding a MacLeod tool on the trail Thursday, said it’s rewarding to do work at the school’s namesake mountain.

“We ski here in the winter, so we might as well keep it beautiful in the summer,” she said.

But, she conceded, the manual labor was not easy.

“It’s a lot of hard work, but it pays off in the end,” Elsie said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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