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Community event

Medomak Valley nature trail receives familiar name

Neil Lash, longtime MVHS teacher, honored during Sept. 17 ceremony
By Ken Waltz | Sep 21, 2011
Source: Photo and illustration by Holly Vanorse Neil Lash, left, and his son, Matt, show the banner showcased Saturday after the Medomak Valley nature trail was named in Neil's honor.

Waldoboro — In the woods in back of Medomak Valley High School and Medomak Middle School sits an outdoor gem, namely, a nature trail enjoyed by community members young and old, and one that officially is named after one of the people most responsible for its creation and continued growth.

Although the nature trail has been worked on and used by both young athletes and community members for some time, on Saturday afternoon, in conjunction with the high school's annual homecoming ceremony, the venue experienced a ribbon cutting and naming ceremony.

Neil Lash, longtime teacher and coach at MVHS and one of the most dedicated people involved in the trail project, had the area named in his honor.

The Maine School Administrative District 40 Board approved Lash as the recipient of the honor and it became official during Saturday's ceremony. The area now is the Neil W. Lash Nature Trail.

Lash showed up for the ceremony, along with Matt Lash, his son and longtime SAD 40 athletic director, and George Gould, longtime high school cross-country coach. All have been instrumental in literally getting the nature trail off the ground.

However, Neil had no idea the trail would be named in his honor.

"I was shocked, but also honored, when I realized what was happening," Neil said. "I had an idea at the dedication that something was up when my 94-year-old father showed up."

At that point, the cat was out of the bag.

Neil's father, Winfield of Friendship and Lash Brothers Boatyard, Neil's wife, Bonnie, Neil's brother, Irv, and Neil's four children and five grandchildren attended the event.

"It was good to share that event with so many of the people who have helped to make the dream come true," said Gould, who has coached at MVHS for decades. "The nature trail is the main focus of our cross-country training. As a coach, I know how much we have been blessed with this complex. Neil has put in an amazing amount of time and effort to see this project reach its completion. Neil, Matt, and so many others, have worked very hard since the first days of the dream until now."

And the dream started years ago when construction of the Medomak Middle School began in 2007. Gould and Matt knew the high school would lose about one-fourth of its cross-country trail with the new middle school.

"George, dad [Neil] and I walked around the perimeter of the construction site and new ball fields [back then], and we started to mark what the new trail might look like," Matt said.

Neil organized a $1 a foot fundraiser and the group received its first donation in October 2007. In the summer and fall of 2007, the group started clearing and chipping a new trail. In the spring and summer of 2008, the group spread stone dust on the new section around the MMS ball fields. In the spring and summer of 2009, the group widened, chipped and spread stone dust on the older section behind MVHS.

In 2010, in an effort to keep the entire trail system on SAD 40 property, "we found an abandon section behind the Medomak Valley softball field," Matt said. "We cleared, chipped, and spread stone dust and eventually connected back to the old section behind the Medomak Valley gymnasium."

In 2011, in an effort to gain hills, and extend the trail, "we completed the last section this spring and summer. Dad [Neil] built a bridge and we spread the last loads of stone dust."

Gould said there is about 3,800 feet of stone dust trail on the trail in the woods. He said all but about 200 feet of the trail are used for school cross-country meets, but different sections of the trail are used daily for athlete's training.

Matt thanked Gould, "who has had to rework his cross-country trail each time we add a section. I think we have run on a new course each of our last five homecoming races. He was there at each work day, chipping, raking, clearing. He has wheel measured our trail system dozens of time to design the best course."

Matt thanked the MVHS All-Sports Boosters for their time and money and Chris and Pam Packard and family, as well as Packard's Small Excavation, for assistance. "Chris brought out his excavator and Bobcat Skidsteer several times to help spread the stone dust. This project would not be complete without him."

Matt said the group used a Union Farm Equipment chipper several times on the project and that business donated part of the fee.

Matt said Moose Crossing Garden Center donated dozens of perennials for the trail; Dave Philbrook and Chuck Briggs also supplied support, as Philbrook thinned the woods at the entrance of the nature trail and he and Briggs built the gazebo for the trail; and George Knutson, who gave two days of labor and his tractor to spread stone dust on the first section of trail.

Matt said family members, from the Vannahs, Oceans, Murphys, Philbrooks, Rixons, Vails and Hunts, helped on work days, as have many parents and athletes from the cross-country program the past five years. Teachers from both schools planted flowers along the trail and MMS teacher Kelly Robbins and her classes, as part of their spring community studies project, work on the trail each June.

MMS and MVHS classes have worked on the trail and Neil Lash and his Lifeskills horticulture class made ornamental birdhouses. MMS cross-country coach Lorraine Knight and her runners have given time improving the trail; Storer Lumber donated material for the new bridge; Bill Dail and Downeast School of Massage donated a bench; Sheepscot General Store donated two pieces of art; Brad Robbins, and the Doughty/Hilchey families, donated time and the use of chippers; and Mid-Maine Rose Society and John Osier Sr. donated money for the trail, Matt said.

"And [I thank] all those who have donated money in memory or in honor of a loved one," Matt said. "These are represented with green and gold plaques along the trail system."

And, of course, he praised his dad.

"Without his vision and tireless work ethic, this trail would not be what it is today," Matt said. "What started as a need for a cross-country course, has become a community nature trail system with gardens, sculptures, an outdoor classroom, gazebo, flowers, benches, fairy village, bridge, birdhouses, and plaques. I cannot begin to count the hours [Neil] has spent, after school, in the summer, and on weekends."

This winter, Neil and a student will map the trail system to be placed on a post at the entry of the trail. "Recently, as this project has gained attention, many people have asked if we have a map so they can enjoy the nature trail," Matt said.

Neil said the group is in the process of having the trail registered on Maine Trails network, and certifying it as a cardiac rehabilitation trail. Increasingly, physicians are supplementing drug therapy with exercise, and the trail is fully handicap accessible for wheelchairs, Neil said.

"Although the length in the wooded section is in thousands of feet, it depends on the route one walks as to the actual distance," Neil said. "Several pieces of artwork have been donated; one is a Vermont marble carving and the other a beautiful piece of carved Monson slate. We are always looking for artists' donations and will add plaques to honor the artist. Many people are walking the trail daily and the new bridge section is especially scenic and tranquil. A beautiful bench was donated by Downeast School of Massage, and several others from other sources have been donated, and will be added along the trails."

Neil said thousands of hours of work have gone into the trail, and the grants and private donations to make it possible have totaled $7,000 to $8,000.

"This is an example of what can be accomplished when the community gets involved in a privately-funded, positive-impact project," Neil said, adding, "We will always need additional funds to maintain and modify the trail network."

VillageSoup Regional Editor/Sports Director Ken Waltz can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401 or by email at kwaltz@villagesoup.com.

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